Day 2: Learn the Guts

So, here is my first insight following on the topic of things I have come to appreciate, learn, or discover while starting a company: learn the guts.

Everyone loves to be the ‘50,000 foot’ thinker – tackling problems from a high level then delegating the small parts – it’s where the glory is after all! Come up with a grand vision, and let everyone else build it. Don’t get me wrong, we need strong managers and executives in all industries… just maybe not as many. However, I think there is a lot of value, no matter what level of management you are, to getting down into the guts of an operation.

Imagine you are the CEO of a large car company. It would be very easy to get out of touch with the problems the front line workers face if you were up in the clouds. You could focus on car design, style or any other ‘surface’ feature, but you might miss out on huge developments below the hood – a new drive shaft system, a new brake pad, or a new chassis. I am not advocating that every CEO join the assembly line, but I am advocating that they spend some time on the assembly line.

Over the last few days, I have begun building (read: coding) the product I am going to be putting the next few years into building (hopefully!). I have to say, whether or not I am the one coding it in a year, it has been a fascinating adventure laying the first stones of the foundation. I have no doubt that when we release a second version down the road, this version will get totally demolished, but at least I have a DEEP core understanding of the underlying technology. It’s something I think too few CEOs/Managers appreciate.

I have to say I saw this shine through working at my last start-up. The CEO was very good about asking very granular questions of the code – what called what, where the code went, what process initiated what process, and so on. It changes so many things within the group’s psyche. It shows the company that the CEO values the builders and is taking an interest. It helps the CEO understand how long the process takes, and it educates everyone (think of all the ideas the CEO can come up with now that he knows how the code works!)

So, I encourage you to dive in and learn the guts of where you work. If you work at a tech company and you’re in sales, ask to sit with one of the developers. If you work at a consumer packaged goods company and you’re in marketing, ask to visit one of the plants. Whatever it is, get down into the guts of the operation – I promise it will give you a new level of insight and appreciation, and it might be the genesis for some great new ideas.


Blair Livingston


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