I can explain your business by talking about Legos

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“Business expansion” is a great breathless term that executives love to toss and bally about. See, here’s the deal: most people believe the old adage. You know the one… “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” Although this attitude may be shifting a little bit, investors typically love high-growth companies. You add this entire meatloaf of factors together and, well, it’s important to understand business expansion models.

The problem is: a lot of guys don’t. (Females too!) Disruption: that’s a real thing. Change management and shifted business models? Yep, that’s happening. A lot of people like to bury their head in the sand and screech about what they already know and understand, but that’s counter to business expansion. If all you discuss is the pre-existing shit that you know, it’s hard to think your company will expand very much. Just my two cents (semi-logically) there.

Now, a lot of business expansion comes back to scale. Scalability. You need to make your thing (product/service) for the most amount of people at the least possible cost. And whatever your thing is, you gotta get it out there into the hearts and minds of the market! Quick! Hire a consultant to analyze the millennial mindset for you! (Actually, that would be a stupid idea.)

But for business expansion to happen, you need:

  • Something good to sell/push out
  • A lot of people to know about it and like it
  • A way to keep your costs down as you do the first two bullet points

And now you’re chasing business expansion, which means you’re hitting growth targets, which means someone might hand you a sweet-ass bonus for this quarter or FY. Holler at your boy! But … what’s the one thing we’re missing on business expansion that almost always becomes a problem? And how can we solve it with Legos?

Business expansion: A quick note on the psychology of work

The AI robots have not yet arrived, so work is still predominantly made up of human beings. As a result, it’s more an emotional place than a logical one. We absolutely always miss this and try to assign logic (process) to everything, which doesn’t always work. First off, people react to things differently than we want or expect. Second: introduce power structures and hierarchy (X can tell Y what to do) into it, and it’s complicated.

Phrased another way: how are you going to spend 12 hours at a place per day for most of the week and not have some emotions tied into that? It’s nearly impossible.

The other intersection to always remember is “I Need To Be Relevant” with “I Cannot Be Seen As Incompetent.” When those two attitudes hit at a right angle, you get all the problems of work. Micro-managers. Screeching and bellowing middle managers. Unclear priorities. Etc. It’s all a quest to be seen as relevant, competent, and good — and oftentimes, that supersedes stuff like “Business Expansion” or “Growth Mindset.” We claim it doesn’t — “Building the business is sacred,” some ass clown meows — but in reality, work is very much about your own ego.

You need to absolutely understand that before we move on. When Bain Capital says 94% of business challenges are now internal, this is some of what they mean.

Business expansion: What the eff is up with Legos?

Here’s an article about Molly Graham, who appears to be a Silicon Valley target-basher. She helped both Google and Facebook with business expansion and scaling, and you can argue those are two of the five most relevant companies on Earth right now, so she probably knows something. Here’s kind of the essence of what she is discussing:

That’s why her talk is about Legos. The emotions you feel when new people are coming in and taking over pieces of your job — it’s not that different from how a kid feels when they have to share their Legos. There’s alot of natural anxiety and insecurity that the new person won’t build your Lego tower in the right way, or that they’ll get to take all the fun or important Legos, or that if they take over the part of the Lego tower you were building, then there won’t be any Legos left for you. But at a scaling company, giving away responsibility — giving away the part of the Lego tower you started building — is the only way to move on to building bigger and better things.

This is a pretty good summary of how most people feel about work. I don’t really care if you work in some innovative Silicon Valley VR lab or you have a drone sales/marketing job in Houston. Business expansion is important, but it’s more psychological than we think — because as we expand, people will come in. Priority was probably already unclear (it often is), so now add new people. That’s more ambiguity. Is your perch being threatened? These fears lead to chest-pounding and under-cutting, and those things are harmful to business expansion. All companies report growth all the time, but the ones that are really growing — consistently and significantly — have found ways to undercut all the personal bullshit that happens. They’ve given away their Legos.

Business expansion leading to personal expansion

Let’s be really blunt about something here. Even though most HR “professionals” view job-hopping as a stigma, the real reason people job-hop is to make more money. It’s usually that simple. You have to job-hop because, if you don’t, you’ll get stuck where you’re at. Why will you get stuck? Because once you become the good little target-hitter of the bosses, they have no incentive to move you. Scroll above to “relevance” and “competence.” If you are doing a good job and providing that for someone else, why would that someone else want to promote you? Now he/she might look incompetent or irrelevant. So many people miss this element of jobs, but it’s extraordinarily real. People get stuck in roles because they’re good at them. How counter-intuitive is that?

I try to think about work in different ways, and I also try to call out some managerial BS we’ve all experienced. If that kinda sorta interests you, I do a newsletter every Thursday. Feel free to join up.

Now think about this Legos idea. Here’s what Graham says:

Adding people is the opportunity to find a new job (or the new version of your old job).

So what if … in this way … business expansion (new people) could lead to personal expansion (you get a cooler, better job)? It’s not that easy, obviously. There are pay grades and process and psychology to consider. But if people were a little bit better about giving away their Legos (green!) to go play with some new Legos (blue!), we might solve a lot of the bullshit and bluster that surrounds most white-collar work.

Business expansion and job roles

I could go down a deep rabbit hole here, but that wouldn’t benefit many people. So … let me just give you a little bouncing ball.

You can go from Bullet №4 back to Bullet №1 and see how the cycle keeps rolling. It’s fun! (Or it makes you want to stick your head in a toilet at 9:34am each weekday.)

I had a job once where I came in as like a digital editor or marketer or some shit. I honestly wasn’t even sure. Within the first week, I meet someone — in another city — who seems to have the exact same job. Our mutual boss can’t be bothered to explain the difference in role in between her commitments to her real job role, so we’re both floundering for about eight weeks. Now I’ve been at a place two months — average North American job tenure is about 50 months, so I’m 4 percent done, let’s say — and I have no clue what the fuck I’m even supposed to do on a given Wednesday morning.

My point there? If you’re going to do business expansion, think about job roles. Growing for the sake of growing just perpetuates that bullshit bullet point cycle above. Business expansion is great — you’re making money! You’re hitting targets! Self-worth is through the roof! But if it’s just more noise, in the end it’s meaningless.

What else would you add about business expansion and its intersection points with psychology?

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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