Letting Go to Grow

“Letting Go to Grow” — while Eric Schmidt never explicitly stated this phrase, it was a theme that surfaced again and again throughout the CS183C Q&A session last Thursday.

At Google, founders Larry and Sergey ceded control of managerial duties to Eric as the company transitioned into the Tribe phase of growth. In turn, as CEO, Eric also allowed Larry and Sergey the freedom to continue pushing their vision for the company forward. “I knew it was Larry and Sergey’s company,” Eric pointed out, “and I acted that way.”

Similarly, over at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg “let go” and brought in Sheryl Sandberg to handle the day-to-day operations of the company.

In hiring, Google had to “let go” of some of their existing hiring practices and change the entire hiring process to correct the unconscious biases that were precluding the hiring of talented women at the company.

Time and time again, we see that in the Tribe phase, founders had to “let go” in some way to allow their company to grow and develop.

I think that coming to a point in which you acknowledge that you have to let go of something you care deeply about in order to allow it to grow takes a significant level of personal insight and self-awareness. I can imagine that it’s a feeling not unlike what parents experience as they drop off their youngest child in college. It’s difficult, to be sure, but it must be done.

I believe this highlights a key component of the transition from the Family to Tribe phase of the company development cycle that, to a large extent, has not been explicitly discussed in our class — emotional maturity. It takes emotional maturity to be able to say, “I can do more by doing less,” or, “I need to give up some power, even as my company is becoming more powerful,” or even, “I should take active steps to educate myself and manage my unconscious bias.”

It takes emotional maturity to recognize and accept when something needs to change. However, I don’t think that schools today, Stanford included, effectively push students to develop this quality. A great deal of attention is given to memorizing facts and formulas, while very little attention is given to the development of emotional self-awareness and other soft skills that could prove to be just as — if not more — valuable in the real world and in entrepreneurial endeavors.

I look around Stanford today, and I see many people who are incredibly smart — certainly among the smartest people in the world. But many of these individuals have also lived lives that are relatively free from struggles and difficult decisions. “Helicopter Parents” took care of everything before, and “Helicopter Stanford”, providing everything from freshly cooked meals to dorm cleaning services, takes care of everything now. When are students ever given the opportunity to grow emotionally? If these students were put in control of a Tribe-stage company, would they be able to recognize their own shortcomings? Would they be able to let go to grow?