December 28, 2009

Learning How to Stop

Learning How to Stop

This is my last post about thoughts I had coming out of the NYC Lean Startup Meetup that I spoke at a couple weeks ago.  Being lean, the discussion went at this event, means not doing extraneous things.  While it’s true for startups that it’s important to make great decisions about what to do up front, it’s also true — especially as companies get larger and more important older — that organizations and individuals have to be vigilant about stopping activities that become extraneous over time.

This is HARD.  Once things — product features, business processes, reports, ways of communicating or thinking about things — get ingrained in an organization, there’s never a natural impetus to stop doing them.  Even the smartest and most thoughtful individuals often find themselves doing things that once made sense but no longer do. 

We encourage people at Return Path to create space to work OTB (on the business), not just ITB (in the business).  Take time not just to perfect what you’re doing and do it, but take time to reexamine what you’re doing and ask whether or not it needs to be done.  My staff is going to start doing an exercise at least quarterly around pruning/simplifying activities.  

Focus is not just about saying “no” to new tasks.  It’s also about saying “no longer” to old ones.

7 responses to “Learning How to Stop”

  1. Cory Levy says:

    Awesome post, Matt. You nailed it with the last sentence: "Focus is not just about saying "no" to new tasks. It's also about saying "no longer" to old ones."

    -Cory Levy

  2. Thanks, Cory! How are things?


  3. Cory Levy says:

    Things are going very well. I am now a second semester senior :), and I am waiting to hear back from a bunch of colleges. Back in November I ran my first conference at Stanford. I planned it remotely in Houston…and flew up to CA a couple of days before the conference: Currently, I am working on a couple of interesting side projects.

    How are things going with you?

    If you'd like we can chat in further detail. cory AT corylevy DOT com.


  4. Good luck – I remember the months between December and April as particularly nail biting!

  5. Ahmad Majid says:

    Indeed; thanks for sharing!

    I definitely get ensnared in old habits, practices but since noticing it, I've made efforts to be more mindful of it and correct myself when I catch it.

    Best in 2010!


  6. fxgeorges says:

    I was suddenly awakened with this story. Being humans, we tend to prioritize our feelings which sometimes lead to wrong judgement. I agree that we can only write our own story. Other than that, we cant hold of the truth and we cant judge others with their behaviors because we do know the reason behind those acts.

  7. Smithson says:

    This is certainly an important truth to keep in front of you always. Not easy to do, though!

    I find this is something that is especially important to remember if you are a teacher. Its easy to forget the difference in power one has as a teacher, in relation to a student, and how this colours the way they act towards you.

    In their story, you are part of the school system, and have power over them. In your story, you are an individual, and why are they being so challenging?

    I'm beginning to accept that every time I get really upset at some one, it is because I think they are passing some kind of judgement on me. And so often, they are not. Its all in my mind.