smaller

As a species, we have yet to master coordination. Teams of any significant size devolve into inefficiency, stagnation, and eventual death. This is…weird? Right? Like we have literal supercomputers in our pocket. We have AI magic coming or perhaps already here. And yet…and yet we have not figured out how to coordinate materially better than standing around a fire and talking about our problems (a la standups at startups). You would think that we would have figured something better. You would also think more people would care about this topic, yet I have never read a great book or essay on it (and I have spoken with many of the so called best executive coaches in the world and yet my conclusion, which may be wrong but feel free to listen to it, is that we, as a species (not blaming one particular person), have not yet figured out how to build organizations in any *serious* manner.).

There are books to be written on this topic—this is not that book—and many downstream implications of figuring out how to build organizations that do not just spiral into mediocrity. And yes, based on our current sophistication and discipline when it comes to organizational design, the conclusion of mediocrity feels inevitable (not optional).

The only antidote I have seen—really the only protection against building an environment that default chooses BORING—is to keep things small. This is not a perfect solution but it really is the best we have with today’s infrastructure.

Academia understands this. Creative geniuses—professors and tenured researchers—have labs where they do their work. But labs are generally less than 20 people. And they are organized somewhat independently so each professor/researcher/etc. can ~control whatever research is going on in their lab but not horizontally. This experiment of sorts in organizational design respects the pareto principle and acknowledges that the best people are capable of producing the best results. Hell—they even have the creative geniuses name labeled on the walls of buildings and also as an author on every paper the lab produces.

Other industries lean into this idea as well. Architects, biotech, etc. all respect the notion of micromanagement, top down control, and small teams being the conduit for creating magic.

Why…then…are these industries not dominating the world? I mean you could argue they are contributing in a fairly meaningful way, but why are they not truly taking over the economy?

Well the problem with this model, although capable of producing amazing breakthroughs, is that it does not ~really scale. It does not really scale compared to Amazon capable of driving tons of sheep—literally millions of people—to ~basically do what they want. I say basically because they have not achieved perfect control but they are certainly the best at it today. The culture is still mediocre fwiw, and they will not be able to hire better people in 20 years. So consider the whole thing dead in 200 maximum (not trying to be a cynic, although I see how this could come off that way).

It just frustrates me that this is the supposed best we could do. Technology should be able to solve this problem for us. Technology is great at coordination. Think maps. Think FB. Think Airbnb. All coordination problems solved by the application of technology. One could say we do not have sophisticated enough technology. I think that is the wrong conclusion. I think we do not have an intense enough understanding of coordination. And the simple reason for that is that no one has really tried to really intensely understand it.

You could say that plenty of people give management advice out there. Plenty of people are management coaches. There are also management consultants.

To that, I say, bs. Those are not intense pursuits of understanding HOW TO COORDINATE. Those are, rather, marketing endeavors to proliferate motion.

How many people from McKinsey, those advising large organizations on how to get more juice from their team, have the gall to tell people what they really think. How many of them even know what they really think?

No. Marketing. Politics. Those get in the way. And for good reason—there is a lot of money in playing your life as an actor. And for some, leaning into acting is a great way to spend your prime, as you get money and can live a lifestyle that you enjoy. I would argue that acting directly kills you. Not in an instant way—but giving up authenticity over a long period of time KILLS YOUR SOUL. Hard to explain clearly in English, but if I saw your face and we had a conversation after your 20 years in consulting hell—I would know (and you would know) that your livingness score is LOW (not unrecoverable, hopefully).

So this all sounds dark and bad but what does it mean and what can we do?

If we change nothing about our infrastructure and understanding of coordination today, then I think the optimal route is to just stay small. You will see the emergence of small teams dominate industries over the coming years. Less people will create more effective work (and produce higher quality output).

If you are a large organization, you will probably adopt the GM model if you have not already and you will probably recognize that 5% of your workforce generates 95% of the value. You will give those people the resources.

If you are an individual who hates mediocrity, you will opt for smaller team. You will probably not join a 500 person tech startup. You will create a lab for you and 10 friends. Or you will join a lab with a creative genius and that lab will be kept small—under 20 people. Smaller is better.

You will see more of these options emerge in the coming years. Right now, there is not a great place for someone to go if they are really smart and ambitious and they do not want to work with anyone mediocre outside of academia? and finance?.

This feels silly? We should be able to better allocate human labor (and passion). I think it is one of the highest leverage things we can figure out as a species is how to get the most amount of the right people working on the right set of problems.

The other thing we can do is build a technology layer that solves this problem all for us. It can be the spine of organizations. It could be encoded with HOW TO COORDINATE and, even better, automagically coordinate for us.

This is not Slack. I mean Slack wanted to be this in some ways but who are they lying to. Slack is a social network. We need to build a military platform. A thing that DRIVES results. IRONMAN suits for people and teams. We need to help people get way way way more done.


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