We are all familiar with financial debt.
Engineers and programmers are familiar with technical debt, which tech startups often incur in the early days when they are building fast. The code works fine for the moment, but it is not structured in a sound way, and ultimately as the company grows and gains more users they must spend a lot of time, money, and human capital restructuring (or "refactoring" in engineer speak) a bunch of code to make systemic improvements that the end user will never even be aware of.
There is also another kind of debt. Yesterday I read this short essay by entrepreneur and writer Steve Blank on organizational debt.
Steve describes organizational debt as:
"people/culture compromises made to 'just get it done' in the early stages of a startup. Just when things should be going great, organizational debt can turn a growing company into a chaotic nightmare."
Working for a fast growing company, this essay resonated with me. How do we grow a well-structured, sustainable organization and culture at the same time that we are growing in so many other ways?
It also made me consider the existence of organizational debt in my non-work life.
Do you ever get that feeling that you're just playing catch up? Catching up with work, catching up with sleep, catching up with exercise, catching up with friends.
I've had that feeling at certain times in my life and it doesn't feel great. I think that "catching up" may be the interest we pay on the organizational debt in our own life.
How to Incur Self-Organizational Debt:
- Sacrificing sleep to do other things.
- Not exercising.
- Eating unhealthy food.
- Reacting to other people priorities, rather than setting our own.
- Focusing on efficiency, rather than effectiveness.
- Spending time with people who suck our energy or bring us down.
- Not giving ourselves time for personal reflection.
The theme between all of these? We (may) get a short term benefit, but at a medium to long term cost.
It isn't sustainable. Eventually the benefits diminish at the same time that multiple costs compound. (When we over commit to things we don't get enough sleep. When we're tired from lack of sleep, we don't want to exercise or cook healthy food…and so forth).
On the flip side, when you have a clear, sustainable structure and framework for your days and decisions, you can actually build organizational credit in your life.
Self-Organizational Credit Results In:
- More energy.
- More time to spend with people you love.
- Better health.
- Less anxiety and stress.
- More time for creative and non-work pursuits.
- More mental space for high-level reflection of our priorities.
- An increased ability to care for others and give back.
When we build self-organizational credit we set ourselves up for sustainable growth and a high performance level at work, in our relationships, and throughout our lives.
A great organization at work begins with a bunch of strong organizations of one.
Peter Koehler's Writing Archive