In Guy Kawasaki’s book Art of the Start, he says it’s pointless to have a business plan when you start your company. The reason being that you don’t know what people will buy from you. I have found this to be amazingly true in all of my business ventures. Especially nGen Works.
When we started nGen, we were four people who wanted to try something new. Two designers, one designer/dev and a usability specialist. We never really thought about positioning ourselves. We only wanted to let everyone know that we were here and we were doing fun, innovative things on the web. The work we shared attracted our first wave of clients. Life was good.
As we became successful, we thought we needed to be a grown-up company. That led to a “business plan” and the beginning of some trouble. Not because we were trying to do things on purpose, but because we were basing our plans on what we saw others doing. What we perceived to be successful. As I’ve gotten to know many of the companies we admired in those days, I’ve found that a perception was exactly what we saw. Many of those companies were basing their plans on other companies they admired. None of us knew exactly what we were doing.
Over the 12 years nGen has existed, it’s been five different companies. Each reinvention wasn’t based on market changes or heightened awareness or landing a big client but on changes in the team. Sometimes it was as small as adding one person with a completely different idea of who we should be. Other times it was a slow shift to a new group who had skills and passions that changed what we could offer.
But I could never see the real reasons for the changes as much as feel we made good business decisions. That’s human nature, though. When something good happens we look in the mirror and say, “haven’t I done well!” And when things go to hell we look out a window and say, “look at what they did, those incompetent bastards!”
This newest iteration of nGen has grown based on the work that was coming in. Mostly design work with some dev needs. As the work needs grew, we built a team to support it based on individual character and skills. Like any company experiencing growth, there were challenges. Everyone had different backgrounds and different experiences. In many ways, the process was being developed as the team was being on-boarded and the projects were kicked off. The whole time more work was lining up.
With so many moving parts, it can be tough to figure out how to make adjustments. Recently we found that, with the best of intentions, we were becoming a culture of effort vs. a culture of delivering. The team was engaged and working hard, sometimes too hard. But we didn’t have traction. Some simple process shifts, specifically making and keeping good commitments, have already had a positive impact. As I watched the process of talented individuals learning to work together, I had a realization. We are building a team around our idea of what our company should be. What if we build a company around the idea of what our team could be?
What if this time we do it on purpose. Boil down what each team member is the absolute best at and put those capabilities on a list. Then see what, collectively, the team can be the best at when we add all the ingredients together.
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Joe Gibbs is one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. What makes him a legend wasn’t that he won three Superbowls. It was that he did it with three different quarterbacks. Not just different in terms of their names, but in terms of the way they played the game. A huge reason for his success was he never put together a plan and then assembled a team to execute it. He assembled a team and then put together a plan based on their unique capabilities.
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Jim Collins shares this idea in his book Good To Great when he says it’s more important to get the right people on the bus and then decide where you’re going.
So I challenge everyone reading this to take the next hour and ask yourself, what can I do better than anyone? Is that what I’m doing every day? Then ask what the individuals on my team are better at that anyone? Are they doing that?
We have to break out of this cookie cutter idea of what we offer as digital agencies. Just scroll down any one of our websites and you’ll see a variation on the same cool icons describing very similar processes.
Originality starts by focusing on what makes each of us different. So let’s embrace our quirky differences and let that uniqueness take the web back to a place of discovery and exploration.