What Seth Godin & Jim Collins Say About Building A Culture of Discipline

Jim Collins on "The Culture of Discipline"

"Entrepreneurial success is fueled by creativity, imagination, bold moves into uncharted waters, and visionary zeal. As a company grows and becomes more complex, it begins to trip over its own success—too many new people, too many new customers, too many new orders, too many new products. What was once great fun becomes an unwieldy ball of disorganized stuff. Lack of planning, lack of accounting, lack of systems, and lack of hiring constraints create friction. Problems surface—with customers, with cash flow, with schedules."[1]

And to continue with a paraphrase: But then, out of a need for organization and to rein in the mess, a new wave of playmakers are brought in to bring order to the chaos, to help the organization grow into it’s next level of maturity. With them comes necessary procedure and process and structure. But if not implemented with intention, they risk killing the entrepreneurial spirit and slowly suffocating the egalitarian environment. As I’ve noted before the purpose of any policy or proceedure is to seek the highest good (for the individual and the organization).

As Jim Collins notes, veterans begin to get disenchanted that these forms and processes and procedures are slowing down the ability they once had to GTD, and the “creative magic” begins to slip away. What was once an innovative entrepreneurial culture is replaced by hierarchy and bureaucracy and mediocrity.

So how do we guard against this from happening? 

How do we stay organized and efficient, but also continue to push the boundaries, innovate and be massively effective? 

Here’s what Jim Collins continues with:

"…the purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline—a problem that largely goes away if you have the right people in the first place. [Yet] an alternative exists: Avoid bureaucracy and hierarchy and instead create a cultures of discipline. When you put these two complementary forces together—a culture of discipline with an ethic of entrepreneurship—you get a magical alchemy of superior performance and sustained results."[1]

Similarly, this reminds me of a post by Seth Godin where he affirms this human-first approach. Seth says,

"The most important part of a race car is the tires. Good tires will always beat bad ones.

The most important part of a cup of coffee is the beans. The grinder, the machine, the barista pale in comparison to the quality of what you start with.

And the most important parts of an organization are the people you begin with. Not the systems or the policies or even the real estate. Great people make everything easier.

And yet...

And yet we spend money on 4 wheel drive instead of snow tires.

And yet we upgrade our coffee maker instead of buying from a local roaster (or roasting our own).

And mostly, we run classified ads to find the cheapest common denominator employee and spend all our time building systems to protect our customers from people who don't care..."[2]

What Jim Collins and Seth Godin are saying here has been true in my experience as well.

Once upon a time, I had the unique experience of serving in an organization going into its second chapter of maturity. I was blessed to serve under the founder and in a culture that was super scrappy entrepreneurially-driven culture. I watched the transition of the founder to new leadership, and I played a key role in fostering a new culture — one of discipline and organization. As I reflect, the moments where a culture of discipline and a culture of innovation both seemed very far off, were the moments when, looking back, we can see that we had the wrong people on the bus (or in the wrong seats).

What we’ve seen work, and what Seth and Jim have validated—

Focus on the right people (not everyone, necessarily).
Focus on building a culture where your a-team can flourish and perpetuate their 'a-team-ness'.
Build a culture your proud of — one that naturally expels the cancers, and attracts the playmakers.
Give your team freedom to navigate their way into the right positions to best serve your organization.