A Startup is Like a Band

Daft Punk’s new album titled “Random Access Memories” is in the lime light right now, so let’s use that as an example. It contains a fascinating mashup of styles that was made with many collaborators. These people have been interviewed and discuss how they were transformed through the collaboration process. (The full set is on Spotify). My favorite was Chilly Gonzales. He explains how he was given the task of creating a subtle bridge between a block of tracks in A-minor to others in B-flat minor. The unusal challenge helped him discover how to use the F-chord as a transitional bait-and-switch. The changing of musical key was both mathematical and emotional.

When a group endeavors to craft something new, creative tension shapes and reinterprets the taste and abilities of each individual. This diversity of taste can provide songwriting a wonderful multi-layered complexity, which is difficult for any solo artist to reproduce. Members feed of each other for their mutual improvement.

A small technology team operates through a similar process of challenges and reciprocal inspiration. 

Here’s a simple example. When discussing a new feature among the group, everyone brings a different point of view. The designer values simplicity, the business person might value configurability, and the engineer might value performance or control. Further, they all have different taste. The arguments that happen remake everyone’s thoughts and a new path is discovered — far better than any one person’s initial opinion.

This collaboration between different kinds of skill is most powerful when everyone has strong opinions and remains open at the same time. If you’re just a naysayer, you’re not helping. Thoughtful discussions can be like rungs on a ladder that lead to further insight. The really exciting moments happen when the group gets confronted with an impossible abyss and discovers how to construct a scaffolding large enough to climb over to the other side. 

We ask each other to solve strange problems, which are different from the problems we might create for ourselves. This brings out hidden abilities we didn’t even know we had. It is a range of differences working together that creates this dynamism. Managing growth is the art of allowing freedom without losing that delicate balance between tension and synchronization.