Snow Days

For parents and kids, the first big snow day of the year has frustration before joy.

We dig through boxes in the basement, trying to figure out where the snowpants are, if there’s any long underwear that fits, if every kid has a pair of snow boots they can still put on, whether we still own a sled. An hour can easily pass, with hot, half-dressed kids itching to go out as someone searches for that last, waterproof glove.

This is the well-known fact of startup costs in the form of hidden basement boxes and kids itching to build a snowman.

We know, intellectually, that these same kids of startup costs haunt us every day in the real world, and yet…

…we see a fabulous video by a competitor and shoot off a note to marketing that says “we need to make a great video that gets a million views.”

…we write one big annual report, while under-investing in content production the rest of the year, and wonder why it’s so hard to get it out the door.

…we get to the end of the year and turn to someone smart and say “what have we learned this year, and why isn’t it captured well?”

…we gloss over the tough bits of a work relationship – a behavior that’s hurting other employees, an issue with under-performance that hasn’t been addressed – and when we finally bring it up, the ensuing conversation is explosive.

The reason our intermittent behaviors are so much less effective is because of the weight of startup costs: we crank the gears of a rusty machine and hear the groans and creaks of under-use. While we occasionally create something magical when we try for the first time in a long time, more often than not the process of doing so is painful and the results are less than we’d imagined.

If we want to be great writers, we must write often.

If we want to have great teams, we must show up every day in ways that strengthen trust and communication.

If our goal is innovation, we must create psychological safety and a system for getting the best ideas out of everyone, and a process for turning great ideas into fabulous products.

If want to create a learning organization, we must, daily, find small ways to question and to capture, consistently articulating our hypotheses and results.

A family that lives in a ski town can get out of the house on a powder morning in 15 minutes, while the eager tourists miss the whole morning just trying to get their ski boots on.