There is a certain amount of responsibility that exists in every family, friend group, or organization at any one moment. Think of this as a “weight” that must be borne for things to function properly. Whether it is a parent planning the entire winter vacation for his or her family, an executive team that is operating in an intense period of growth or decline, or a group of friends deciding what to do all weekend, in each of these scenarios there is a weight to be carried.
The default case is for the designated leader in the group to bear the majority of this weight. It could be from a sense of duty, a fear of asking for help, or just a plain old-fashioned sense of responsibility.
Transferring any of this weight must be done carefully. If it is handed over all at once or delegated in a haphazard way, it could overwhelm someone not used to handling that load. It needs to be given with plenty of context and support.
We’ve found at Next Big Sound that as we distribute the weight from the shoulders of the founders to a broader and highly competent team, that success and functioning improves tremendously. That said, while the load becomes lighter for the leaders that had traditionally borne the brunt of the responsibility, there are strange areas in the hand-off process that become warped and threaten stability.
The weight of responsibility is not so much like the iron weights at the gym that can be easily handed off and passed around gracefully.
It’s more like a giant water balloon filled with iron that seeps and drags and finds the spaces least prepared to handle it. It must be handled gently because if it is punctured, it could cause irreparable damage.
During the handoff certain executive team members may have to paradoxically carry more weight as others adjust. Individual contributors, exposed to the weight for the first time display lots of unintended symptoms and it can be a confusing, disorienting, and uncomfortable process. Cracks in the system appear either instantly, like the bursting of a dam or, become a slow liability over time like a leaky roof.
In spite of the risks, there is almost no scenario where this weight shouldn’t aim to be distributed in some form or fashion. Of course this exists along a spectrum but in its ideal case – it creates an anti-fragile family, friend group and team and allows everyone involved to shoulder some of the weight that ultimately impacts them.
This post was originally published on Alex’s blog.
August 18th, 2008
The day I quit my job.
“Hi Ed, I’ve decided to work on my company full time and won’t be starting in NYC on my scheduled start date next month.”
“Sorry to hear that, Alex, we wish you the best of luck on your new music venture. Robyn will send over paperwork and we’ll need you to return the signing bonus.”
Ed was the Chief People Officer of the management consulting firm I was scheduled to join in NYC in September of 2008. I had signed my offer letter in January of 2008, winter of my senior year. I had my NYC roommate figured out, opened a NY bank account, and was so excited to move to New York City, but that was 8.5 months earlier. That was before I’d taken Troy Henikoff’s entrepreneurship class and started working with David Hoffman and Samir Rayani. Before we’d launched nextbigsound.com, before we’d raised $25K, and before I realized that instead of consulting, business school, more consulting and then starting NBS, we had already started it!
I quit my job, mailed back the $10K signing bonus, and told my friends I wouldn’t be joining them on a summer trip around the world or moving to NYC. David and Samir were starting their senior year at Northwestern. I moved into David’s spare bedroom for a month or two and then downtown with three friends who had just moved in with one another. At this point my task was simple: to raise $150k seed round for a streaming music site as a 22-year-old recent graduate and first time entrepreneur.
Anyone alive during the Fall of 2008 knows what happened next. The economic apocalypse hit — sending the economy into the worst dip since the Great Depression.
The timing of this recession, right as I was entering the workforce and starting Next Big Sound, has made a deep and lasting impression on me. Like a plant in the desert that adapts to survive on very little water, we started our business with a very specific set of environmental conditions and thought it might always be that way. Given my starting reference point, the monster seed rounds of 2010-2015, the seed and A prime-prime-primes, the proliferation of angels, and the accelerator explosion have all been pretty mind-blowing to watch.
As if a rainforest has bloomed in the desert. I love what the last 5-6 years have done for entrepreneurship, technology’s impact on the world, and the proliferation of strong startup communities — but I’m curious if 2016 will be the year where I’ll get to see what a sustainable temperate climate looks like, in between the desert where we started and the rainforest that roared to life.