|This article is part of the Internal Disruptors Series, a special edition of our blog where Disruptive Technologies thought leaders contribute with their industry expertise.|
Throughout my career, whenever I have changed jobs, it has been to go "back to a startup". I love the feeling of working in a new venture, and I've sometimes wondered: Why?
What is in that "startup feeling" that I return to?
Working in a startup is honestly not that great, looking at it on a surface level.
Startups are usually quite resource-constrained. This means that you can't do all the fancy stuff that the big companies do:
You can't always buy the tools that you need, so you somehow make do with cheaper stuff. You cannot hire the people you need to cover all functions that a company eventually needs. Procedures, playbooks, checklists, guidelines are all AWOL. And you may have to live off mediocre pay (at best) for a few years with really no guarantee that it will get better.
Oh, and don't start reading startup failure rate statistics if you want to sleep well.
But if you dig a little deeper, this resource constraint and uncertainty kindles all sorts of good traits: focus, prioritization, dedication, nimbleness, strong collaboration, team spirit, autonomy, and ownership - all of which can be written a lot about.
But above all these, it fosters creativity.
I think the freedom, or almost obligation, to be creative is one of the key elements in that hard-to-define "startup feeling".
Early days: Pål Øyvind Reichelt during a Disruptive Technologies company gathering
At Disruptive Technologies, we set out to make a product that was, well, disruptive. Our first line of sensors had to be so small that the sensors could be installed effortlessly in places that were inaccessible with current technology.
Also, they needed to have a long enough battery life to significantly change the landscape of the total cost of ownership. We knew we had to do better than existing products by several orders of magnitude on both the sensor volume and energy consumption.
The process of getting there was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. We had gathered a group of highly skilled technical people and had done some basic groundwork showing that our goals were physically possible, with technology that was accessible to us. In theory, it was only a matter of being creative enough to find those methods and architectures that properly unlocked the potential available in the technology.
And so, we established an unwritten mandate for creative freedom. This meant being free to question the seemingly obvious, to combine a multitude of new ideas at once, and, more often than not, spend a lot of time researching and discussing avenues that turned out to be dead ends. Importantly, those dead ends were not seen as failures, rather as successful discoveries of ways it won't work.
Despite the risk, this strategy paid off and has left us with a highly competitive product.
As a company, we continue to embrace the idea of creative freedom in several ways. One of those is to arrange a monthly Hack Day where all employees are encouraged to spend the day using that creative freedom.
During Hack Day, everyone can do whatever they want, as long as it is at least vaguely related to Disruptive Technologies. And during this time, people learn new skills they have wanted to try out, try out crazy ideas that otherwise would be hard to justify, work on that little thing that improves the work efficiency or workplace for them, find new ways to use our sensors or sensor data, or just read a book to broaden their horizon.
It is hard to put a value on this activity, but several of our best products and product features are direct results of these Hack Days. Also, the satisfaction it gives to choose whatever you want to work on is priceless.
I don't have the recipe for keeping that "startup feeling", but at least I know that creative freedom is essential to me. When companies let talent and creativity flow together, that's when the magic happens.
This blog post is a result of a Hack Day.
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