People as Vectors [Fishkin]

Source: SparkToro

A neat post by Rand Fishkin, expanding on an analogy from a conversation between Dharmesh Shah and Elon Musk:

Why Elon Musk’s “People as Vectors” Analogy Resonates

The most useful insight from the post is explaining what we mean by the word “alignment” using this (overly-)simplistic analogy:

We can think of the people on any given team as vectors
People vectors have both direction and magnitude
When people all work in precisely the same direction, their magnitudes are added to each other
When people have any degree of deviation, the varying directions subtract (at least somewhat) from the maximum amount of productivity that could be achieved

The original talk covered alignment in three levels:

  1. Align people with the organization’s goals.
  2. Aligning individual teams (product, marketing, sales, service, etc.) with the organization’s goals.
  3. Aligning the organization’s goals with the needs of the customer.

And Fishkin offers decomposing each further to assess the level of agreement on the following questions:

  • Why are we on this team together? (motivation)
  • For whom are we building this? (customer)
  • What are we creating? (product/service)
  • Do we have shared respect, trust, and empathy for one another?

The last one seems a bit like the odd-man-out and ties better to the next section where Fishkin lists out the things that drive/hinder getting aligned:

  • Trust
  • Agreement on values>goals or goals>values. This one was not easy for me to understand, but it seems to have to do with deeper shared beliefs that the participants have on whether “where are we going?” (goals) is more important than “how are we going to get there?” (values), or the other way around.
  • Psychological safety

Lastly, Fishkin covers the importance of emotional buy-in and why he believes “disagree & commit” hurts alignment. This is the piece on which Fishkin and I are not aligned :) This may be because I support a narrower definition of “disagree & commit” which may mitigate most of the down-side that troubles Fishkin.

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