Photo Credit: Medium, Ian Tang
Scalability refers to a company’s ability to increase its production profitably. – Merriam Webster
This is a new concept for me. Isn’t that like growth or profit? It’s like waking up out of a deep sleep and terminology in the workplace has changed. Is scalability the same as reproducibility?
What if profit comes out of something beyond scalability? Or at least is it possible to be successful without changing who you are as a business? These questions pop up for me when I hear the word scalable.
[Hang on, you faithful readers…not a usual topic for me, but what I learned was highly satisfying…hopefully for you, too.]
Sometimes learning about a new concept is enhanced by reinforcing what it is NOT.
Following you will find quotes from three business leaders who talk about the positive nature of things that don’t scale or reverse scale.
Shawn Askinosie is a lawyer turned chocolatier. Then he wrote a book about the journey. Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul. In a recent blog, Askinosie wrote exquisitely about scale and reverse scale. See what you think?
We write about reverse scale extensively in the book. What is it? It’s a practice of recognizing the value of not scaling…. We’re conditioned by our business culture to believe that unless the idea is big and capable of rapid scale then it has little value. Can we take a step back and reconsider this dogma? Could we assess value even if our idea helps only one person or if it only transforms us? True sustainability lies within the answers to these questions. If more of us answered the call to action on the supposedly “small” ideas then imagine the kind of social problems the world could address.
We tend to think “more” and “bigger” will always be better, that somehow they will allow us to finally breathe easier when we arrive. The problem is that it’s often an illusion because we never really arrive at the place that’s just out of reach. Scale demands that every single person in the chain focus on what’s next and on finding someone to do the thing that’s now ‘below’ them in order to move themselves up. Anything less than that and you will lose the race for scale, because someone else is more focused than you.
Reverse scale could also be called human scale. It is in the smallness of one on one relationships that we find meaning because we’re not insulated from the pain and sorrows of these connections. We tend to lose this when we’re so focused on scale and growth. – Shawn Askinosie
This guy, as you can tell, has no interest in blowing out the roof on profits. He wants to deliver a quality product with the help of a small company of people who he wants genuine relationships with…and he wants margin to focus on his definition of what really matters in life. Cool, huh?
Investor and thought leader Paul Graham is also one who advises entrepreneurs to Do Things That Don’t Scale. The infographic below was inspired by his article. His ideas are almost revolutionary in today’s high-pressure workplaces, yet his thinking is also that of some of the greats, including Steve Jobs , co-founder of Apple, Inc.
Paul Graham elaborates (read his whole piece; the following speaks to a couple of components):
The question is ask about an early stage startup is not “is this company taking over the world?” but “how big could this company get if the founders did the right things?” And the right things often seem both laborious and inconsequential at the time.
You should take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users, but also to make them happy…Your first users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they ever made. And you in turn should be racking your brains to think of new ways to delight them.
A lot of startup founders are trained as engineers, and customer service is not part of the training of engineers. You are supposed to build things that are robust and elegant, not be slavishly attentive to individual users like some kind of salesperson.
Delighting customers scales better than you expected.
Recruit users manually and give them an overwhelmingly good experience. The unscalable things you have to do to get started…change the company permanently for the better. If you have to be aggressive about user acquisition when you’re small, you’ll probably still be aggressive when you’re big….and most importantly, if you have to work hard to delight users when you only have a handful of them, you’ll keep doing it when you have a lot.
I am enthralled by the thinking of these men. They have started me thinking about the whole idea of scaling…and also doing the things that don’t scale but still have tremendous value.
Check out the pieces/examples below which also support the strong foundation, in any size business, of a work culture where people matter first and then the product/service rolls out of that.
Photo Credit: Beyond the Guitar, Patreon