• Donald Davis

Survival – it’s not about doing the same stuff over and over

Over the holidays I was introduced to the show Alone. Alone is a survival show where contestants are placed in a location “alone”. The most recent season I watched was where contestants were placed in Antarctica.

Survival shows like Alone and Naked and Afraid seem to highlight several items that to me also relate to scaling a company. The initial phases seem simple on survival shows: shelter, fire, water and food are sorted out in that specific order regardless of the show. Note: this does not follow Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which would put getting food and water first.

Similarly, when I speak to leaders in life sciences it seems like they are very focused on those initial survival elements for their business (i.e. fundraising, monitoring development, etc.).

After watching a few of the survival shows it becomes apparent that the people that will survive work on things outside of their immediate needs. They continually are working ahead gathering food, reinforcing their shelter, and thinking through what might happen next.

As organizations grow they face different problems and leaders have described to me that there is not one “valley of death”; there are multiple valleys companies face at different stages of organizational growth. The challenge for many leaders becomes that they get used to adding resources at each one of these valleys to overcome the challenges they are facing. As you build out your finance organization, project management team, supply-chain, etc., it is possible that you become less and less efficient with each addition of resources. Although this concept may seem counterintuitive it can be proven using some basic math.

In Blitzscaling, Hoffman & Yeh (2018) talk about adding resources using combinatorial mathematics. “Combinatorial mathematics tells us that this means you need to manage the relationships between six pairs of individuals ([4*3] / 2). Now imagine that you hire two employees, for a total team size of six. Now you need to manage the relationships between fifteen pairs ([6*5] / 2). You increased the team size by 50 percent, but the number of relationships you need to manage went up by 150 percent.”

When an organization grows the focus of the leaders needs to become clearer and clearer so that the communication can also become clearer. Without this clarity, the newly added resources will spend time and effort trying to best support crossing their valley of death.

As you think about growing your organization, what will the newly added resources need to know in order to ensure that what they are looking to solve is the right point on the horizon?

Hoffman, Reid; Yeh, Chris. Blitzscaling (p. 76). Crown. Kindle Edition.

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