The efficiency of working in small groups is not a new idea. The two-pizza rule, generally attributed to Amazon‘s CTO Werner Vogels, is one of the more recent instantiations of the concept — a project team shouldn’t include more people than can be fed by two pizzas.
The two-pizza rule recently came up at the Silverchair Executive Colloquium. What was interesting to me was what happened next. The audience started making comments like: How many toppings are on the pizza? Are they 10″ or 12″ pizzas? How hungry is the team? You get the idea.
We just can’t keep it simple.
I can hear you already. “It isn’t simple. We have constraints. There are membership considerations, revenue targets, limited staff, diverse audiences, limited money for investment, processes that are built around print, the tenure system . . .” Yes, there are all of those things. However, if we can’t distill our issues and market opportunities down to actionable items, focus on targeted questions, experiment, interpret our results with an open mind, and build on that, we’re going to continue to be rendered relatively motionless by complexity. In fact, the search for “the big idea” can be almost as paralyzing.
Everything we see that is large and good started as something small and good and kept growing . . . take the person with the big transformational idea and lock them out of the building. Clay Shirky
We also tend to reject ideas that don’t align with our view of a market or don’t immediately show a reasonable return. Ryan Jacoby, the head of IDEO’s New York practice, puts it brilliantly in, “The Seven Deadly Sins that Choke Out Innovation.” Pay particular attention to #4: Being Smart.
Innovation is all about discussing new ideas that currently have no place in the real world. If you’re only comfortable talking about things that don’t strike you as alien, chances are you’re not talking about real innovation.
Publishing (commercial and non-profit alike) is full of very smart people who see where we are today and are genuinely attempting to forge a path to the future. The problem is we’re starting with where we are now. We’re starting with our biases. We’re starting with the notion of preserving our position.
Instead of asking how can we transform our current organization, we need to be asking what our mission truly is. What business are we in? What is the core problem we’re trying to solve? If it were a brand new problem today, how would we build the solution?
Then, and only then, can we consider whether the organizations we have now can deliver on that, and what to do if they can’t.
If we decide our core problem is figuring out how to stay in business or protect what we have, we’ve already lost — because we aren’t focusing on the needs of the market, the external forces (see Deadly Sin #1) that should be shaping what we do.
So it’s time to order the pizza and pull in the 8-12 people you feel can think about the future. If they’re all saying the same thing, reconstitute the group. Repeat this process until you get some real dissent. Then identify the places you want to experiment.
Remember, no one (but us) cares whether or not we’re in business 10 years from now. It’s all about the users.