These are not rules or gating functions—rigid structures are often brittle, or anti-fragile—but serve as a North Star.
1. We don’t sell; we invite and showcase.
You can always pay to acquire new leads or customers but it will be at a loss if your product is not great. Along those lines, the best marketing is word of mouth and we are dedicated to earning it. We believe confidence is best instilled in customers through demos/doing instead of billboards and language.
We also believe that the people we serve want to know that (and how) we operate on specifics rather than in generalizations. Therefore, we embrace “T-shaped” everything—being intensely vertical—moving across a multidisciplinary plane with enthusiastic dives into technical depth.
Paul Graham once wrote that it’s better to make a few users love you than a lot ambivalent, and we agree philosophically, and practically, as a foundation of our organization’s success.
2. We obsess over small victories.
Especially in science, little wins—namely, preliminary data—mean progress. Although we seek those paradigm-shifting approaches and applications, those are often a result of incremental progress. To this end, there is no force quite as powerful as momentum (ρ):
ρ = mv
where m = mass, v = velocity
Here, we remember that mass is density × volume, and in this analogy, this is community buy-in, excitement, investment, and potential impact. However, mass asymptotes or comes as impulses for organizations (ie, hype). Real momentum is sustained by its velocity, or change over time (ie, dx/dt).
The last consideration for velocity is that it implies a direction. The Air Force warns of “all thrust—no vector,” or putting a lot of energy into the wrong things. This is why we emphasize communication, planning, and clear roadmaps.
3. We prefer tangible to theoretical 10:1.
Nothing brings you closer to the final vision—the end product—or garners more excitement than seeing, holding, or testing something in real life. There is no model or substitute for seeing a rain cloud to know if you should bring an umbrella. Until an invention is demonstrated in the real world we hardly trust it, and that is why creating tangible goods is important to us. This relates to the tactical, but not strategic “fail fast” mentality.
4. We are not a “maker space”.
Maker spaces or hacker labs are incredibly useful, inclusive, interdisciplinary places that allow people to learn, create, and execute themselves. Although we support those ideals, we are distinct in the following ways:
- We focus on the specific, not the general. Although we need to serve some general capabilities, failing to focus (or create focuses) is a rate and progress limiter. We are not afraid to Do Things that Don’t Scale.
- We are not overwhelmingly subsidized. Most maker spaces have mechanisms that support staff and tooling. We run more like a business—this means we can pivot faster around trends and community needs.
- We are not entirely open to the public. While we invite people to use our equipment and shop, we want to be intimately involved in each project. Training/caring for equipment, and finding the right/best solution is a top priority.
- “Do it yourself” is not always the fastest route to progress. We want to see robust solutions and accelerated timelines. We want to develop trusted, repeatable methods with good documentation. Achieving these goals is not always consistent with a DIY ethos.
Rather than a maker space, we strive to be a premier research and development studio (e.g., Skunk Works), constantly curating our focus and offerings to community needs.
5. We believe ideas and solutions are cultural currencies.
We deeply value the richness of diversity, not only as a cornerstone of social responsibility or ethical imperative, but as a wellspring and incubator for innovative ideas, creative problem-solving, and superior solutions. Diversity leads to higher profitability, greater overall success, and more innovation. This is often “hard” because we dislike our beliefs or biases being challenged, but ultimately, we must seek out those perspectives to grow and become more thoughtful leaders and doers.
6. We are a team.
Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix, famously challenges the notion that colleagues are “family”. Several valuable points are made around this topic that we find redeeming:
- Work should be a fruitful, collegial, and caring community of like-minded people
- Attending a son’s baseball game is more important than most things at work
- An employer should be able to be honest about value, compensation, and skills
- Great teams cheer for each other, pick people up, and find value in hard work together
The “radical acceptance” we often extend to family or a spouse is usually not compatible with the workplace, nor does it need to be. At work, we should believe that we are replaceable if we are not excelling. We believe it is worth partitioning our efforts between work and home and identifying, foremost, when work is taxing our health or family values.
7. We expect extraordinary justification to tell you “no”.
Amazon (and Jeff Bezos) famously implements the “Institutional Yes” as a method of allowing good ideas to stick around. This means that when an idea is brought to the table, management must accompany a “no” with a short essay laying out exactly why. In the same way, we believe saying “no” to collaboration requires a thorough explanation for why it is either not possible or outside our scope. This maintains good relationships and allows us to introspect and evolve our services, capabilities, and approach.
8. We empower our people.
The number one reason that empowerment is important is because it enables decision-making—and thereby, ownership—at all levels.
While new tools and techniques are the what we do, training is the how we do it. Training instills confidence throughout an entire organization and allows smart, informed, automatic decisions that support high-speed progress.
We also strive to be an instinctive rather than a reactive organization, seeking out training (or information) before we are asked to use it. The British statesman, Benjamin Disraeli, supported the idea that the secret to success is to be ready when opportunity shows up. Along those lines, famed boxer Joe Frazier said, “Champions aren’t made in the ring, they are merely recognized there.” We should be ready, confident, and capable.