Great job, you’re fired 

How start-up gunners avoid the competence trap and self-assign their way to victory

James Buckhouse
Feb 27, 2014 · 6 min read

Part I

The competence trap

Your boss turns in her chair, faces you, and calls out across the desks, “I’ve got an assignment for you.”

Part II

If you always wait for your boss to assign you something, you will eventually get fired, but if you self-assign, you will win.

http://youtu.be/u6XAPnuFjJc?t=5m10s

PART III

Think like a gunner

I used to play in a med school basketball league. I loved playing hoops with the med school ballers because all they wanted to do was win—to be the best, and to beat each other in the name of excellence.

  1. On rotations, always think from the point of view of the Attending Physician. Always try to guess what she needs and immediately offer to do it. Don’t wait for her to assign it to you; instead, always try to volunteer for the best, most helpful, most interesting job immediately—so you’ll stand out and you’ll get a chance to shine. Otherwise, you’ll get stuck with the grunt work (which med school gunners call “scut”).
  2. Don’t screw over your peers, just out-hustle them. Win through excellence, not treachery.
  3. Getting every answer right is not enough. You must also have a side project going that advances research, improves a process, or helps the institution.

PART IV

How to be a startup gunner

Do everything your boss assigns you (obviously), but then do more. Here’s a list to get you over the top.

  1. Work up an MVP for each idea in advance of product sprints. It is much easier to say yes to something that’s already in process and has a chance of shipping than to an “idea.” My most successful pitches involved walking in with working code.
  2. Instrument your projects so you can track your own progress. Have all the hooks in place so you can see if your hypothesis holds true. Don’t just do stuff and see what sticks; have a thesis and work towards the best outcome. Iterate against a thesis, not against a button size or a particular shade of blue—those details matter, and have a compound-interest effect on the product—but they are not a substitute for thesis-driven design.
  3. Don’t say yes to bad ideas. Do what your boss needs, not just what she assigns. See Don’t Say Yes to Bad Ideas about how I dealt with this while reworking story problems on Madagascar.

Design Story

Complements to the human condition.

Thanks to Kate Lee

James Buckhouse

Written by

Design Partner at Sequoia & Founder of SequoiaDesignLab.com Ex-Twitter, Ex-Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford’s GSB & d.school https://linktr.ee/buckhouse

Design Story

Complements to the human condition.

James Buckhouse

Written by

Design Partner at Sequoia & Founder of SequoiaDesignLab.com Ex-Twitter, Ex-Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford’s GSB & d.school https://linktr.ee/buckhouse

Design Story

Complements to the human condition.

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