Trouble in Paradise

Let’s pretend you start a new business.

Maybe you go at it alone or maybe you have a partner. Either way, you are navigating all kinds of new obstacles, working extremely hard to survive, and having a ton of fun.

It’s akin to finding yourself marooned on a tropical island. Only this island has plenty of food and water and fun things to do.

At first you and your partner just naturally find a way of doing things on the island that you are good at and that you enjoy. One of you picks the pineapple and hunts the wild boar, the other gathers firewood and water.

It works. Things are good.

But then you think, “this is so great, let’s get some more people over here.”

So you build a telephone out of coconuts and invite some friends to join you. A lot of them are interested, too many in fact. So you interview some of them to find out who truly deserves to join you.

Now there are a lot of you on the island and it still feels pretty good. So at first you let everyone keep doing their own thing, just like you did when you started. But pretty soon it’s clear that won’t work. Certain things are getting neglected. People are stepping on each others toes.

A week goes by with no pineapple picked.

So you start writing down some rules.

“You must put the fire out if you are the last one awake.”

“You must sweep out the shelter if you bring sand in.”

“No relieving ones bowels upriver.”

These rules are good, they keep everyone safe. They rovide order.

Everyone is happy still.

Next you start divvying up some of the tasks. Everyone likes fishing (it’s the easiest and most fun), but you don’t need everyone doing it.

So you make a head fisherman. And soon a fishing department pops up.

You are really loving all of this . . . structure! You used to stay awake at night worrying if there was going to be enough pineapple for everyone, but now it will never be an issue again for all eternity.

After a few days though, you start to realize that people aren’t as energetic as they used to be. The fishing team is starting to call in sick a lot and there are grumblings from the wood gathering team that they want more time to sunbathe. All of this is starting to feel a lot like  . . . work.

Then someone comes to you and let’s you know they are quitting. They are leaving the island. Soon others follow.

You can’t understand what happened. . .

What happened, of course, is you fell victim to the siren call of bureaucracy. Like some island vine, structure and process and safety crept in and overtook everything.

When you actually do create your own island (or business), by all means, give it a little structure.

But please, please, please allow for a little chaos and crazy from everyone as well. That is the only way you will ever capture that creative energy and enthusiasm that brought everyone there in the first place.