Why Build A Calm Company (Instead Of An Aggressive Startup)

Why Build A Calm Company (Instead Of An Aggressive Startup)

“We need an aggressive go-getter who can wear different hats and work without a lot of direction in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment.”

If you have been at any side of the recruitment process, I am sure the above statement rings a bell.

It has become even more prevalent in the last few years with hundreds of startup raising millions of dollars and chasing fast growth.

As Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, puts it, “It’s crazy at work” has become quite a normal thing to say.

Many factors contribute to this craziness at work, in which people are working a lot harder, but getting little done.

  • The tendency of founders and managers to try fixing a problem or get something done fast by throwing more people into it.
  • Trying to grow too fast before putting proper systems and processes into place in order to please investors.
  • Buying into overnight success stories and glamorization of successful entrepreneurs and business executives by the media.
  • The concepts of hard work and hustling being misinterpreted as not taking the time to look after your life and health, instead burning the candle at both ends.
  • New productivity tools, trends, buzzwords, time management techniques, communication devices and more emerging at an alarming rate.

As a result, it’s no surprise that people are finding it hard to get work done at work. They are working late nights and weekends, 80 hours a week.

What’s really sad is that this crazy, messy routine is considered normal, a part and parcel of life. In fact, not just normal, but honorable.

Are We Getting More Done?

Here’s why things can’t get any dumber and far from the truth.

With all the hustling and trying to get more done with all the tools and energy you can muster, the burden should be getting lighter right?

Hell, in any case, if you are putting in more hours, you should at least be getting more done. Isn’t it?

But what’s happening is quite the opposite. Instead of getting more done with less effort, we are doing less with more effort.

With all the distractions pulling us in different directions, we hardly get the time to focus on the actual work, which only leads to waste of time, money, energy and attention.

Companies with crazy, messy cultures and processes (masked with shiny labels like fast-paced, high-energy and such) aren’t good at working, but wasting.

Of the 80 hours people pour in their work every week, not many are spent on the actual work.

Instead, they are wasted away in bureaucratic office practices, water cooler chats, unnecessary meetings and other distractions.

So the solution to get things done isn’t putting more hours on the line. It’s eliminating the nonsense. It’s reducing, not creating pressure, anxiety and stress.

You may think that stress can be contained, that work stress will not affect health and relationships, but it always does.

And then you find yourself lured towards even more time management courses, productivity tools and other products that promise to make life simple and efficient.

Stop The Craziness

It’s time to stop the transfer of stress from organizations to managers and managers to employees.

Not only it doesn’t work, but even brings down the amount of morale and productivity that’s already there.

Businesses should be placing more value on long-term customer satisfaction and retention.

And that’s only possible when you let your business, processes and people learn and grow at a natural pace.

The artificial quest to achieve rapid growth and meet unrealistic targets is triggered by greed and ego, not actual need.

The time has come to stop celebrating aggression and messiness. As Jason Fried says, what you should really work on is creating A Calm Company.

That’s what they have been trying to do at Basecamp for the last 17 years. A calm company isn’t about:

  • ASAP rushes
  • all-nighters or late night crunches
  • unrealistic commitments
  • over-crowded teams and meetings
  • stretching projects or missing deadlines
  • keeping artificially busy
  • unnecessary pressure and stress
  • rapid growth at any cost
  • decisions driven by ego or competition

Despite being a calm company, Basecamp has done extremely well for almost two decades of operation.

Instead of playing the fast-growth game like every other startup in Silicon Valley, Basecamp has intentionally kept itself small, and calm.

There’s no pressure to respond to an email at 9 pm Wednesday when it can be done at 9 am Thursday, or to put in extra work on Sunday when it can be done the next day during work hours.

“Noise and movement are not indicator of activity and progress — they’re just indicators of noise and movement,” writes Jason.

Basecamp has not just been surviving, but thriving, in one of the most competitive industries – project management.

Many big and small ventures have tried to compete with Basecamp over the years, some of which were backed by millions of dollars in VC capital.

Do you know how much money has Basecamp raised from VC investors? Zero. How do they get the money to grow?

The whole media coverage of startups raising a lot of funding in a short time has made has forget of a much better and effective way to grow a company. The old fashioned way.

Basecamp grows from the profits they generate. Customers buy and fall in love with the product and the experience and treatment they get from the company.

How Basecamp Does It?

Every employee benefit offered at Basecamp is designed to get people to finish the work on time and get out of the office. Not to trick them into staying longer.

Fresh fruits and veggies aren’t stocked up in the office refreshment area, but delivered to employees’ homes.

If an employee wants to learn to play guitar in their own time, Basecamp not just supports but also pays for it.

If you want a massage, the company will bear the expense, but won’t bring a masseuse at the office. Why loosen up for an hour, only to return to tense back and hunch on your desk.

There are no “stay here” hints. The message is to wrap up an effective day, get home and live a healthy life.

This is not to say that there are no stressful moments ever. But Basecamp tries hard to make sure that they are exceptions. Not the norm.

And they do it purposefully, by taking different decisions than other companies.

Basecamp’s upcoming book – The Calm Company – identifies the problems looming over today’s workplaces and shows a better path.

It breaks down the myth that chaos is a normal part of work, anxiety is required to get things done fast, or success requires sitting in meetings or working in collaboration with others all day.

A calm company is characterized by reasonable expectations, small teams, ample recreation time, meetings as a last resort, independent work and sustainable practices, and being profitable.

Hitesh Sahni

Hitesh Sahni is a freelance writer, educator, consultant, marketer, and web designer helping people and businesses grow.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. In as much as every firm desire to grow, it’s best to eliminate pressure and anxiety in all activities geared towards the growth of any firm. I’m glad I read this article; if only many entrepreneurs can read this and follow it, there would be a better working niche.

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