Controlled Burns and Firebreaks

As startupSQUARE closes in on it’s first friends and family release the work is piling up and I’m reminded of the need to develop firebreaks for the company. Those are the areas where a lack of vegetation, natural such as in the case of a river or man-made as in the case of a road, prevents a fire from spreading. In work context, a firebreak is any sort of barrier which prevents a mistake from starting a domino effect and becoming a catastrophe.

In my last company the exec team spoke frequently of running around putting out fires all day. This was almost a badge of honor. Theses were brief, flare up emergencies with customers, personnel, cash flows, etc. which would threaten our business. But our main problem wasn’t all these small fires, it was that the execs spent so much time dealing with the emergencies that there was no time left over to work on the underlying problems which were creating the fires: poor hiring practices, poor customer service, and a poor product not well fit to the market. Continue reading