Mediocrity Helps Growth
Across our companies (It’s Nice That and INT Works) we currently employ about 25 people full-time and many more ad-hoc freelancers and outside specialists.
This feels like proper scale to me. I know it’s not a ‘big’ company in the classic definition, but for a little idea hatched by a couple of graphic designers I’d imagine it’s bigger than the average (no research done here).
Loads of our peers and mates who went on to set up their own things rarely ever have teams more than 5 or 6 people, apart from the odd exception. On the whole creatives getting their studios to scale are few and far between.
So, why the difference?
Luck? Business structure? Willingness? New business pipeline? Probably a bit of some of these things, but mostly something else entirely.
I’m certain we’ve only achieved any kind of scale because we were never that good at doing the actual ‘work’. Will and I were both reasonably solid graphic designers (Will much better than me), but nothing special. We were also both pretty good at meeting people and striking up relationships, but also probably nothing special — just interested and passionate.
I believe if we’d have been supremely talented designers, or developers or something else, we never would have made a business of more than a handful of people.
In our mediocrity, we were naturally able to find people who were better than us. Which is liberating, and gets you excited about having a bit more scale and allows you to do certain things that are necessary for growth.
It’s helped us:
- Give responsibility to others; because they’re probably going to be better at it than you so there’s no reason not to. You have to allow people to thrive by doing what they are good at.
- Praise others for good work; if you’re the best designer in the world, you’re going to struggle to really appreciate much other design around you. If you’re not you’re impressed a little easier!
- Know when something’s not quite right; because if you could’ve done it, you know there’s something missing.
- Settle for ‘good enough’ sometimes; because when you started nothing was ever as good as it is now and we still managed to survive.
Looking at it from the other side of the binoculars also backs up this thought. Today, in our business the bits we’re finding hardest to scale now are also the bits we feel as though we’re best at (and enjoy the most) ourselves; New Business and building client relationships (for me) and the design of itsnicethat.com and the editorial strategy (for Will).
This obviously isn’t a science and I’m sure many would disagree with me. But what’s surely beyond doubt is that to grow a team or business you have to give responsibility and opportunity to others. In turn you also have to be able to get excited about someone else achieving something great in your team for it to have any chance of growth, and that must be much harder if you are brilliant yourself.