Capturing the value of time

Move fast

“The toughest thing is to figure things out; if you move fast, you’ll learn fast. Many decisions and actions are reversible, and many mistakes don’t have a significant cost. Moving slowly does have a significant cost.” – David Jackson

Leadership principle number 7 of Seeking Alpha, I believe, is the hardest to internalize: time is irreplaceable.

The speed at which a company moves is directly correlated to two variables:

  1. a company’s tolerance for risk
  2. the number of people required to approve decisions.
  1. A company’s tolerance for risk

Moving fast leads to carelessness. Moving fast leads to bugs, errors, poor user experiences. Moving fast creates a high pressure stressful environment which is unhealthy for employees.

Moving fast simply leads to mistakes. And, people are afraid of making mistakes.

The cost of moving slowly is time. And, time is a commodity that cannot be replenished. It has a huge opportunity cost:

  1. fewer ideas are tried
  2. teams get frustrated by the time it takes for their idea to be tested.
  3. teams put unnecessary and unhealthy pressure on each other,
  4. teams, investors, and clients get frustrated that nothing is changing.

In the 20th century people quipped  — “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

In the 21th century everyone knows — “if you’re not innovating your going bankrupt”

Seeking Alpha does a great job reminding employees that making mistakes is OK as long as we learn something. It is more important to incur the costs of imperfection and mistakes which can be fixed than the cost of time and move slowly.

  1. Limit the number of decision makers who need to approve a decision

How does Seeking Alpha make sure that we move fast?

The speed of iteration at SA is not an accident. It is the deliberate obsession and focus to optimize process flow.

We follow several key principles:

  1. We empower employees at all levels to ask for permission to test their idea.
  2. We think deeply about every idea. We make sure that the idea is a potential home run.
  3. We prioritize ruthlessly around the idea.
  4. We simplify the idea so that we can test the minimal viable product
  5. We limit the number of people who need to approve tests to the minimal – usually 1 person.

The bottleneck: #5

We understand because each additional person who needs to be asked stymies the speed of innovation. Every part of the company has a direct, identifiable “owner” that can authorize a test or product change. To get permission from 3 or 5 people can take a week, with each person requesting minor changes. With 1 owner, a test can be authorized over a cup of coffee.

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