The Founder’s Paradox: How to Create Space for New Ideas in a Company That Is Already Wildly Successful
What does it mean to “create space”? It is interesting because the word “space” is both vague and specific. It can be a blank area or a boundless expanse or even the physical distance between objects. But even when you think about it in these esoteric terms, it is clear that creating it requires action — make room for it.
For company founders, the space you create can be double-edged. Because how you choose to use that space can impact the team more than anyone.
You see, this ability to create space is imperative for growth. Both the growth of the company and the individuals on the team. But the value of those ideas is less clear when the company is already wildly successful.
Successful businesses have already done a lot right to get where they are. Usually, this means there is also a set of operating principles in place that help people make good decisions and drive the business forward.
How do you hold true to those principles, stay committed to building upon the success you have found, and still create space for bold new ideas?
This is not easy. And the conundrum is not uncommon. It is something that most successful founders struggle with. I know I do. The challenge is continuing to do what has led to that success, but also open the company up to fresh ideas and approaches.
I do not claim to have it all figured out. But I wrote down what I try to do based on my experience founding several successful companies and doing it again at Aha!
Breakthrough ideas made you what you are One idea starts a company. And that first idea was a breakthrough one — it made you a success. But numerous great ideas are required to build something meaningful and lasting. You will need many more breakthrough ideas to be what you hope to be.
Keep leaning on your goals Your company has been successful in part because you have very clear goals and prioritize all your work against them. So, focus on the objectives and do not mandate how work is done. Allow your goals to arbitrate what creative new initiatives to pursue. Embed this discipline into the organization — because even the most productive teams can only do a few things and do them well.
Test new ideas to drive insights Not every idea that the team has will land. And that is fine. You can try different things, but it does not mean you are committed to operationalizing them or doing those things forever. You can look for learnings by testing. For example, we recently offered quarterly pricing plans at Aha! The thinking was that the longer time frame would reduce billing friction for customers who were not ready for an annual plan. But we learned that customers preferred a monthly option. That was a valuable insight.
You hired learners A company is only as successful as the people behind it. If you are successful, then the team you have built is filled with lifelong learners. These are smart and ambitious people. They need the freedom to experiment. Allow those smart people to continue to contribute — both in growing the business and themselves.
New challenges require fresh thinking With business growth comes new problems to solve and new opportunities to meet. Customers, markets, and teams change. You must open up and be vulnerable at times to meet those challenges.
Grow or wither It is not that only the paranoid survive — it is that only those who keep growing prosper. You can either aggressively pursue the future or hide, then retreat, and fade away. You likely prefer to be out in front and stay there. The choice between growth and being overly cautious is not a choice, really. Not if you want to build a lasting company.
Honor the dreamer Not everyone will start a company. But many, many people will make an impact on a company — a meaningful insight or bold action that changes the course of a product or company. New ideas are fragile beasts. So, handle them and the people who have them with kindness. Remember that you had a dream when you started the company and the space to pursue it. Give the same opportunity to others who are eager to show value and commend their ambition.
When people on your team want to contribute in unplanned or unforeseen ways, allow your goals to answer whether they should, but celebrate their ambition either way.
This is difficult stuff for both the team and the founder — it requires transparency and kindness on both sides. And it demands that you assume people want to contribute in profound ways to the company and their own development.
Read more of The Founder’s Paradox.