I was a guest speaker for a program that a friend was facilitating last week, and she asked me what motivated me to write the first version of Gather the People (what was it, 5 years ago now?). I started telling the story of getting laid off from &yet and having 60 days until the money ran out, and suddenly it hit me how surreal it is to be CEO of the company I was previously laid off from. Sure, it had occurred to me, but it hadn’t really sunk in until talking about it with someone who was looking at it from the outside.
From the inside, it makes sense. Before &yet, I was founder and CEO of a strategic web firm for over a decade. During my tenure at &yet, we’ve needed a more predictable sustainable pipeline, but it has been so hard to shift a team skilled in solving a variety of hard problems into one committed to solving a more specific one. We’ve tried a few different directions over the years, sometimes giving in to being extremely veteran generalists, other times testing the waters in a specific direction. But it felt impossible to find the one thing that was a common denominator for the whole team.
Last fall, we started doing this magical thing called “annual planning.” (I’m being intentionally facetious because we’ve historically avoided anything that faintly smells of hierarchical management, though good folks like Sally Mohr and Mark Brault have pushed for planning more intentionally in the past.)
Anyway, through that process, we were able to see just how many competing priorities we had as an organization, and that we needed to stop testing the waters and actually commit to one specific direction. We took stock of our resources, including our past wins, our strengths as a team and as individuals, the problems we cared about and were interested in solving, and most especially how we could best help our clients grow and get to where they want to go. We worked with a consultant to add some objectivity to the mix and ultimately decided to focus on building strong customer relationships through creative technology.