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Great Leaders Replace

When someone is in a leadership position for the first time, their tendency is to feel responsible for everything. They define leadership as the ability to make all decisions and be the focal point of their team’s output. On the surface this is a noble effort, but the rookie leader doesn’t yet see the full picture.

Leadership is not just about one person doing everything. Leadership is about lifting the team up. It’s about making the collective better than the individuals. And it’s about leaving the team better than it was before. Great leaders don’t try and do everything forever, great leaders replace themselves.

To illustrate the point here’s a common story I’ve seen many times:

Meet Rachel1. She was recently promoted to be the head of her company’s engineering product team. The team is small with only about 6 full-time engineers but they do fantastic work. Before her promotion, Rachel was on a small product team as an engineer herself. Many on her team agree that she is the best engineer in the company. She has great leadership skills and she can speak to customers, management, and the technical team with confidence. She was a natural fit to fill the recently vacated team lead role.

Rachel’s first few weeks as the team lead were a breeze. She was still able to write a lot of code and help the team get better. Her team respected her and they came to her with their code puzzles, bugs, challenges, and ideas. She loved being able to help on each of the team’s projects and everyone’s work became better because Rachel was leading the team. Quality increased, speed increased, and the customers were happy with a steady stream of new features.

As the months in her new position went by, this cycle continues. Rachel is the focal point of the team. She immerses herself in every project and every decision. She loves it. She finally has the ability to speak into all aspects of her team and the team respects and craves her decisions. Everyone comes to Rachel for every crucial decision. She reviews all code before it is released. She white-boards architecture before every project kick-off. She handles indecision between the other engineers by making quick moves about which new cool framework to use. Rachel’s presence at the helm of her team is undeniable. She is so relied upon by her team that she often hears “I don’t know what we’d do without you.” This is extremely satisfying to Rachel, as she remembers back to a time not so long ago where she wasn’t even leading a team yet.

The company’s executive team catches wind of how awesome Rachel is. They already know her as a great engineer but now she can lead a team of her peers with ease. This is perfect because the company has a big new initiative coming up: a new product offering that they want to take to market next year. Rachel is again the natural choice to lead the new team and make it just as awesome as her current team. The decision is made, and Rachel is given a few weeks to transition to the new product team.

But wait. How can Rachel leave her current team? They rely on her for everything. Every line of code goes through her. She makes every major architecture decision. Every framework dispute is solved by her. Her team is full of smart engineers, but none of them have had to think about bigger decisions since Rachel took over the team. They have loved being able to just focus on their code and leave the high-level decisions entirely to Rachel. She is the focal point of the team and without her the team wouldn’t be able to function. At best the team would have setbacks as someone else was brought up to speed.


I’ve seen this scenario several times over the past few years. What’s the problem? Why would a team leader not want to make themselves the key focus and have everything go through them? Not only is that satisfying for them it allows the team to focus on doing great work rather than making every decision. There’s two pieces wrong with this thinking. First, no one on the team feels the desire to step up because there is no reason for them to. And second, the leader can’t move on to do anything else without damaging the team. A great leader is always working on finding and training their replacement. Their #2.

If you’re leading a team, stop and think: Who is my #2? Who am I training to replace me? Who am I lifting up so they can take my position when I move on to do something else? Am I actively working with my team to take more responsibility, or am I shielding them from it? These questions terrify many leaders. The insecure ones fear for their jobs. They fear being replaced and they fear someone else under them being good enough to take their jobs. If you’re happy being in the same position for your entire career, then don’t bother with your replacement. But if you’re ambitious and want to do bigger things then part of your job is finding a responsible way to leave your team in great hands.


Let’s finish Rachel’s story: She’s not able to take the new position to build the company’s new product right away. But she’s smart. She knows that another opportunity will come up, and the company will come asking again. So this time she puts her head down and gets to work preparing for that day. She identifies a great young talented developer, Jim, on her team that has been chatting in their one-on-ones about one day leading his own team. Perfect. Rachel’s potential #2 has been identified in Jim. She pours into him. She not only makes decisions and ensures quality of work for her team but she brings Jim into those decisions. She thinks out loud and allows Jim to ask questions about her thought process at every turn. It doesn’t happen overnight, but soon Rachel defers most of these decisions to the team, including Jim. The team recognizes this and also rallies behind Jim. Rachel is now better equipped to lead her team because she’s not running point on every day-to-day decision. She’s also set the team up for success regardless of her involvement.

As Rachel suspected, the next big opportunity in the company comes within another few months. The executive team once again turns to her and this time she’s ready. She recommends Jim to take over her team. After a period of transition, Rachel is now in charge of one of the company’s biggest initiatives to date. Her old team is still running at a high pace and hasn’t skipped a beat because its leadership is already in place. By the time the announcement of Jim’s new position comes, the title is just a formality because everyone knows he’s already been doing the job. And, he’s learned from Rachel well. He immediately starts working on finding his #2.

Bad leaders are afraid of being replaced. They fear the young upstart on their team that is slowly taking more and more responsibility. They work themselves into every situation, every meeting, and make themselves irreplaceable. Great leaders quickly identify their replacements2 and train them to ensure the team’s long-term success. Great leaders want to tackle new challenges. They want to be replaced so they can move on to something even better.


  1. I’ve never worked with anyone named Rachel. This is a fictional example to protect the innocent. ↩︎

  2. Leaders replacing themselves often should not be confused with ladder-climbing. Nobody likes the person that is always ditching his team to do the next important thing and climbing the ladder quickly. Don’t be that person. ↩︎

Great versus Average

At a recent fireside chat, we discussed average versus great work, average companies versus great companies, and average careers versus great careers. Most everyone can quickly describe great work, especially in the form of design, development, or a particular product launch. But we had a tougher time describing the qualities of a company that had achieved greatness. The question seemed impersonal and cold. What if we flipped the question to a different angle and asked a more personal question: What are the hallmarks of a great individual career? What are the hallmarks of simply an average career?

We came up with a giant list, including just a few here:

  • In a great career, my work became an inspiration for others.
    In an average career, my work had little lasting significance.
  • In a great career, I grew myself and grew others around me.
    In an average career, I only grew myself.
  • In a great career, I celebrated victories.
    In an average career I rarely celebrated.
  • In a great career, I continually pursued new things and pioneered new ideas.
    In an average career, I sometimes flirted with new things and executed on others’ ideas.
  • In a great career I created an inheritance for my family.
    In an average career, I provided for my family.
  • In a great career, I overcame obstacles and persevered through adversity.
    In an average career, I was rarely challenged.
  • In a great career, I spent time with my kids while they were growing up.
    In an average career, I worked all of the time.
  • In a great career, I enjoyed the journey and the destination.
    In an average career, I enjoyed only the destination.
  • In a great career, I reached something that others said couldn’t be done.
    In an average career, I never reached for something big.

And, one of my favorites:

  • In a great career, I looked forward to Mondays.
    In an average career, I looked forward to Fridays.

The list goes on. Once we got the ball rolling it was tough to stop thinking of the differences between great careers and average careers.

Throughout the discussion, it was important to clarify that an average career does not mean a “bad” career. There’s nothing wrong with “average.” Many people have average careers. They provide for their families, they have a steady paycheck, they do their work well, they eventually advance in their positions. There’s nothing dishonorable about an average career. But we’re not reaching for average, we’re reaching for something great.

When I look back upon my life’s work I want to see a great career. I want to see great impact. I want to see a tradition of new ideas, creative thinking, and a pattern of challenging status quo.

The secret formula to building a great company is filling it with people that want to achieve greatness themselves and in their life’s work. A great company is not simply a corporate entity doing all of the thinking and the planning for us. We are the company and our life’s works shape its future.

The exercise of discussing great versus average is a healthy act in discerning what is important to us as individuals so that we can archieve greatness together. Once we had identified what defined greatness for the individual, we easily swapped the words ‘career’ with ‘company’ to chart our path as a group.

The Hiring Balance

People often ask me, “What is the biggest barrier to your company’s success?” The answer is always the same: finding and hiring great people. I’m not alone. This problem is top-of-mind for nearly every company I know. Finding a list of names isn’t difficult — there are tools out there to make searching and networking quite easy. The difficult part is figuring out if someone has the right blend of skills to be successful and make an impact.

Over the past three years, we’ve been very successful at finding great people that fit and grow our company culture. Some of the hiring wins were intentional and by design. Other wins, I’ll admit, were happy accidents. The common thread throughout every great hire (and every hiring blunder) was simple: the balance between hard and soft skills.

The Hard Skills

Most companies focus hiring on hard skills. If you’re a developer: can you write great code? Can you solve complex architecture problems? Can you self-manage your tasks? Can you ship code on time, without a lot of bugs? If you’re a designer: Can you use Photoshop? Do you have a great feel for user-experience design? Are you well-versed in color theory, typography, and whitespace? I could ask these questions in an interview and get a basic idea of how adept someone is at the hard skills for the job.

Asking questions is easy, yet hard-skills interviews are tough. How can you tell in a limited amount of time how someone will perform when given the tasks of the job? The tech industry has done a poor job of assessing hard skills in recent years. There are horror stories from established tech companies weaved with tales of confusing white-board drills, puzzles, and lame exercises that seem more geared toward fueling the interviewer’s ego than identifying a great candidate. Even if someone passes these tricks and teasers with flying colors that doesn’t mean they will be a great fit for a company, or will even be any good at their job.

The challenge of hard-skills interviewing can be solved by not relying entirely on those skills. In other words, hard skills are important, but they aren’t everything.

The Soft Skills

There are many soft skills that make up great people and great teammates: Leadership. Critical thinking. Empathy. Humility. The ability to handle stressful situations with clarity. If this was a grade school report card, we’re also trying to check the all-important box that reads “plays well with others.” Soft skills are crucial to assess during the interview process, and they are often overlooked in favor of great hard skills.

Great emotional intelligence — which I’ll loosely define as identifying and using emotions to communicate effectively with those around you — is the biggest difference maker between good and great hires. Emotional intelligence is watching someone’s facial expressions when you’re talking with them. Are they interested? Are they leaning forward or frequently looking away? Are they engaging with two-way conversation or have they been talking for the past 10 minutes uninterrupted? If someone can’t pick up on the nuances of a normal conversation, then they have room to grow in their soft skills. Poor emotional intelligence leads to awkward situations, mistrust, and productivity misfires.

We’ve all worked with someone that went on long tangents in meetings and dominated every conversation. Eventually it doesn’t even matter what this person is saying. They may be on the right side of a debate, and they often are, but the room has tuned them out. This person doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to realize that they are monologuing and everyone has turned them off. When we focus on hiring people with great soft skills, we keep people like this out of our company.

Soft skills are important, but just like hard skills they aren’t a silver bullet. Depending on someone’s specific role, they will always need to have some amount of hard skills. If they are a programmer, no amount of emotional intelligence is going to write that line of code. The perfect employee and teammate is someone that matches hard skills with soft skills.

The Perfect Balance

Most companies hire for a majority of hard skills and some passable soft skills. They bring in someone with great technical skills, but find out later that no one wants to work with that person because they have such a huge ego or they are miserable to be around. This type of hire is cancerous to a company culture. I don’t care how great someone is at design, if they are a jerk and treat people without respect they have no place on my team.

I believe in a 50/50 split between hard and soft skills. This means that we emphasize the ability to relate with others, the ability to think critically, and the ability to work with other humans with just the same (if not higher) priority than someone’s ability to use Photoshop, or write amazing code. Many companies hire with a huge emphasis on hard skills. The opposite is also true. If someone is emotionally aware, a joy to work with, and always brings clever ideas to the table yet they show few hard skills then the chance of a hiring success is also slim. The ideal situation is a pure balance.

Universities and colleges have known this for decades. It’s the reason your parents pushed you to join clubs and put outside activities on your college applications in addition to your GPA. University admissions officers know that just because someone earns good grades that doesn’t make them a well-rounded person to bring into their school. Yet, so many companies do exactly the opposite when looking to hire: they find the best, smartest, and most talented people and bring them on board without thought around soft skills and cultural fit. I want that kid that earned good grades and was able to live their life outside of a classroom, learning how to relate to and work with others.

With a clear focus on the balance between hard and soft skills, we can hire a company of people that are well-adjusted, smart, great at their jobs, and great at working together.

A Year With Unlimited Vacation

Unlimited vacation policies are surprisingly controversial. The name sounds too good to be true. The skeptics have the same basic argument: unlimited vacation policies will make employees take less days away from work and are therefore bad for employees, but good for the company.

The theory behind the argument is that companies have a set amount of vacation time and it expires at the end of the year. Basic human tendency dictates that we don’t want to “lose” something that we’ve earned, so people try to use all of these earned days. Employees use their vacation days – but not too many – and everyone is happy. A set number of vacation days is safe, predictable, and is the industry standard for benefits.

In contrast, an unlimited vacation policy lacks a fixed number of days and therefore lacks the urge to use vacation days before you lose them. The popular belief is that without the fear of losing vacation days, employees will take less time and end up working more hours and more days. With this belief the company ends up getting more overall output under the disguise of a new employee benefit. Is this theory true or is this the skeptical Human Resources manager working hard to justify a complex and limiting benefits package? There is also the general fear of the direct opposite: employees will abuse the privilege and take entirely “too much” vacation time.

Both arguments had a hint of paranoia, but I couldn’t be sure until we tried it ourselves.

A New Policy

Prior to beginning 2014 we decided to change our vacation policy from a fixed number of days to an unlimited policy1 of “take what you need” with no strings attached.2

At the beginning of the year, I was concerned about the basic negative arguments on unlimited vacation policies. Many questions crossed through my head: How can I keep a culture that thrives on results but also encourage a great work/life balance? How would I approach situations in which people abuse the policy? Did I have a hidden meaning of what policy abuse meant to me, that was unclear to everyone else? How could I encourage vacation for those people that tend to not take breaks and were made worse without the fear of losing vacation days?

When we created our unlimited vacation policy our thinking was that we are all adults, and we are all working hard towards our personal goals and the goals of the company. We specifically hire people that have a passion for great work and results. We know that we have great people that work hard, but we also wanted to reward that behavior with less process and restrictions around personal time away from work. If someone is crushing it all year, I don’t want to hold them back from taking all of the vacation they want. We are adults and professionals and we know what it takes to make something succeed. Each employee also knows how much time off they need to rest and recover. Let’s leave the decision of when and how much vacation to each person and trust their judgement, just like we trust them to do great work.

A Year in Review

Now that 2014 is in the record books, I took a look back at the numbers.3 For comparison, before instituting the unlimited vacation policy in 2014, we had a very reasonable policy already in place during previous years. In 2013, we offered around 4 weeks of paid time off. I don’t believe in forcing people to accrue vacation time, the practice always seemed weird to me, so from the time you start at the company you could have taken up to 4 weeks time before 2014. The average actual amount of vacation taken in 2013 was just over 3.9 weeks. The least amount of vacation time taken by any employee that was with the company for more than 6 months was 3.2 weeks. Roughly, vacation time was about 8% of the total hours logged for the entire year. During 2013 no one took advantage of vacation, and everyone took what they were allotted or just a bit less. It is also worth noting that only one employee took time off for a new baby paternity leave during 2013. More on this later.

Starting with January 1, 2014 we began the policy of unlimited vacation. The average number of weeks vacation across the company was just under 6 weeks for those employees that were with the company for the entire year. The average for all employees in the company, regardless of starting date in 2014 was about 5 weeks. Across the board, people took more time off away from work in 2014 than 2013. Even those that tend to not take as much vacation ended up taking more time during 2014 than before. The least number of weeks taken in 2014 was 4.3, barely up just a few days from 2013 but still overall better. In 2014, the time spent on vacation was about 13% of the total hours logged for the entire year.

For both 2013 and 2014, the time of year when vacation time occurred was fairly predictable. Most people spent a few weeks of vacation during the summer, and a few weeks towards the end of the year for the holidays. Then the rest of the year was sprinkled with weekend trips and the occasional week away. Overall, the lack of limitation on vacation time did not negatively affect a single project or product milestone. In general, people were respectful of their project teams and scheduled time in advance or around these milestones to avoid conflicts.

In contrast to 2013, where only one employee took paternity leave, we had 5 employees take several weeks off for paternity leave. The vacation policy was a blessing to these people as they were able to be with their families during these times, without having to sacrifice their entire year’s worth of vacation. I was excited to be able to let them focus on their families, knowing they could take the time they needed then and throughout the rest of the year without penalty.

Does it work?

The numbers for unlimited vacation met my expectations and overall the policy has been an incredibly positive experience for the company. The time spent away from work increased incrementally for most people, and in very few cases did anyone take advantage of the policy.4

There are a lot of criticisms of the unlimited vacation policy. Every company will be different in how it handles and manages time off for its employees. In our case, we had nothing but success with the policy. People had more time away from work to spend with their families. The company met its goals, and shipped great work. As with anything, we’ll continue to work on our vacation policy and adapt it over time to ensure we have a sustainable great place for people to work. Despite the criticisms, an unlimited vacation policy can work, and we’ll be putting it to use again in 2015.


  1. Unlimited vacation isn’t truly un-limited and the term is misleading. If someone decided to never work in 2014 this would obviously be a problem. I’m using the term ‘unlimited’ lightly and would prefer to call the time ‘uncapped’ or ‘open’ vacation, but the industry term for what is meant is ‘unlimited vacation’ so I’m sticking with that. ↩︎

  2. The only minor clause was that we asked people to check with their project teams before taking an extended period of time off and to be mindful of taking time off during major releases or significant project milestones. ↩︎

  3. We’re mostly a consulting services-based company, and therefore all employees and contractors are required to track hourly time. Tracking time isn’t anyone’s favorite activity, but it is a necessary evil in our industry. The added benefit of having such accurate time data, is looking back in the aggregate to see where vacation time was taken and how that affected our business. ↩︎

  4. Hiring new people presents an interesting challenge with this vacation policy. Sometimes new people want to take a few weeks of time before starting a new job. Other times new employees have previously scheduled vacations and we always accommodate the time even for someone just starting out. This presents some opportunities for abuse in the event that someone doesn’t work out in the long term. In theory, someone could begin work, take a bunch of vacation time and not pan out. I see this as low risk, but worth noting. We do our best to ensure a great fit for new people before they begin at the company, but there are always exceptions. ↩︎

Great People Everywhere

Paul Graham’s latest thought-provoking essay has touched a nerve in some circles. His basic premise is spot on:

The US has less than 5% of the world’s population. Which means if the qualities that make someone a great programmer are evenly distributed, 95% of great programmers are born outside the US.

The solution to this dilemma according to Graham: Let’s reform immigration to “let” these programmers in so that they can be in San Francisco. I’m paraphrasing the last part a bit, and Graham doesn’t come out and say as much, but this is what is being implied.

Almost everyone agrees that immigration policies need some work in the United States. I also believe that we’re only hurting ourselves by refusing to allow talented people to legally enter our country.

Graham’s point is valid, but he misses on one mark that Matt Mullenweg, creator of WordPress and famously remote-only Automattic, writes this week:

If 95% of great programmers aren’t in the US, and an even higher percentage not in the Bay Area, set up your company to take advantage of that fact as a strength, not a weakness. Use WordPress and P2, use Slack, use G+ Hangouts, use Skype, use any of the amazing technology that allows us to collaborate as effectively online as previous generations of company did offline. Let people live someplace remarkable instead of paying $2,800 a month for a mediocre one bedroom rental in San Francisco. Or don’t, and let companies like Automattic and Github hire the best and brightest and let them live and work wherever they like.

Graham’s basic premise is solid, and I completely agree with it. However, I’m with Mullenweg and most of the related Hacker News thread that people should be able to live where they are happiest, and work remotely.

Over the past year, I’ve worked with many people in our Dallas home office. In that same time period I’ve worked with people in Argentina, Germany, London, Canada and a half-dozen other states outside of Texas. We’ve sponsored visas for some and have just worked with others on a contract-basis. We use many of the technologies that Mullenweg mentions: Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, Screenhero and good old-fashioned phone calls. It works great. We ship software, we produce great work for our clients and we don’t rely heavily on finding perfect people just in one town of one country.

We’re lucky to have a strong base of great people in one location, but we wouldn’t be the company that we are today without great people outside of our base.1 One of the reasons a small shop with a quirky name in Texas can compete with much larger companies is because we’re not biased by where we find great people. We’re not limited by what’s in our backyard and we hire the best people we can find.

Immigration policy needs reform in the United States, yes. But let’s not wait for that to happen to start hiring great people from around the world. Great people are out there today and they’re ready to make companies awesome.


  1. Shameless plug: we’re hiring, regardless of where you live. ↩︎

Fireside

In the years following the stock market crash of 1929 and during the course of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered a series of radio addresses that became known as “fireside chats.” The goals of these chats were to inform and convince the American public about various concerns of the day, new government policies and the direction of the country during an extremely difficult period of history. After Roosevelt, the radio addresses were not as prevalent or frequent until 1982 when Ronald Reagan began the longstanding practice of a weekly Presidential radio address that is continued today.

The history lesson is an important reminder, but it isn’t the moral of the story. What is the goal of a radio address or fireside chat? It was a time for everyone (with access to a radio) to listen directly to the President discussing the topics of the day. An open and candid conversation1 with all interested parties. We can apply this same concept to the way we work with our teams and in our company.

Several times per year, and usually in 8-10 week intervals, we gather the entire company — in-person and over video chat — to participate in company-wide fireside chats. In larger companies I’ve worked with in the past, these events are labeled as ‘all-hands’ meetings, ‘town halls’ or some other corporate name. We use the term fireside chats. We put a digital fireplace up on the television and talk about everything important to the company.

The content and direction of these chats vary. Often times, there is a new direction in the company, a new venture, a new major client or just some big news. These chats are more one-sided as we explore the vision and ideas behind a new direction. Other times, the chats are a conversation. We’ll email the team a list of questions or topics a few days before the chat, and open it up to the floor. Company news, updates and general questions often follow regardless of the opening format.

The importance of the fireside chats can’t be underestimated. We’re all incredibly busy. We’re building a business, growing steadily and forging ahead into new territories daily. The chats give us a time to — even for a few hours — work on the business instead of always working in the business. Or, put differently, we’re working on our company rather than working on our business.

Working in the business is easy: we plan, design, develop, measure and iterate on software. This is what everyone in the company is good at. This is why we’re here. There are millions of tiny details we can choose to focus on every day. We can busy ourselves with these details and get lost in their mix incredibly easy. If we’re not careful, we wake up months (or years) later and wonder why our business is where it is. It is incredibly difficult to focus on the big picture, and overall company direction when we’re in the weeds.

By focusing during the fireside chats, and the preparation in advance, we force ourselves to focus on where the company is going. Where do we want to be? Can we clearly articulate to ourselves and the entire team what our goals are? What defines success for our business? How do we align everyone with a common goal and direction so we can achieve success?

Yes, these are all-hands meetings. Yes, they take up precious time when we could be building software. That’s exactly the point. If we don’t know what we’re building towards, what things are the most important and what defines success then we’re not aligned and moving towards a consistent vision as a company.

Comparing the day-to-day operations of a small business to the country’s economy as a whole during the Great Depression can be seen as a bit of a stretch. However, it does illustrate the extreme ends of the challenge of unity, alignment and belief in a common goal. Clear articulation of vision, open-communication and focusing ourselves on the bigger picture aren’t lofty goals. Whether it be for a business or an entire country, when we’re working together on a consistent vision, the future is brighter for us all.


  1. “Conversation” is a stretch. These were one-sided radio addresses. ↩︎

The Mediocrity Magnet

Creating special work is difficult. Special work requires extra drive, effort and fortitude. But there is an unseen force inside every one of us that drives us away from greatness, away from something exceptional and away from special work. I like to call this invisible force “The Mediocrity Magnet.” This magnet is constantly pulling on us as we try and create something new. It is pulling us away from the exceptional, and back towards our normal default of comfortable decisions, stagnant innovation and the desire to fit in with those around us.

Creating exceptional software is especially hard. Design, engineering and product leadership all have to be working at a consistently high level. The Magnet may be invisible, but it isn’t hard to see. It can start with simple corner-cutting like, “we’ll figure out a better way to do this in v2,” or “this is super hacky, but it works” or more commonly “let’s just use what those guys did and that should be fine.” Fine. It sounds like a reasonable goal, and sometimes it may be. But exceptional software is created by resisting this force, and not settling for “fine” or good enough.

The main goal of a product lead, especially in software, is to be a constant force against the Magnet. When immersed in a text editor or Photoshop, developers and designers can easily get lost in the mix of the nitty-gritty details of a product. The details are incredibly important. But product leadership needs to rise above the details and understand what is truly great and what simply meets expectations. A product lead needs to constantly rebel against the pull towards normal to keep everyone working towards something great.

How do we fight this Magnet of Mediocrity? How do we keep ourselves from settling for “fine” as we make decisions about a product’s future? The answer is to constantly ask questions.

How can this be better?

What are we not thinking of?

What can we strip away to get to the core of the problem, while surprising and delighting our customers?

And, most importantly:

What about this product is special?

Special is not doing things the way everyone else has done them. Special is not accepting the norm. Special is taking the long route, but hopefully the one that is most rewarding in the end. If we’re constantly asking ourselves and our teams “what is special” about what we’re doing, we can fight the Mediocrity Magnet that pulls us all away from our real goal: special work.