The one thing that demonstrates greatness

I’ve been really fortunate over my career to be in companies that were experiencing tremendous growth. As companies grow, hiring and getting the right team in place is important, multiple interviews and mistakes later I’ve landed on one key insight, one thing that I look for

creating playbooks > following playbooks

What is a playbook?

I define playbooks broadly as a set of processes, principles, required behaviors, and measures that lead to a repeatable outcome. A playbook is structured and is the key enabler for scale in the problem area of your choice. Problem: Hiring, figure out your playbook. Problem: User acquisition: figure out your playbook. Problem: High-velocity product delivery: figure out your playbook.

How to create a playbook?

A great playbook generally follows the following structure

  1. Clearly articulating the problem
  2. Defining the output that you’re  trying to achieve in a concrete way (measures)
  3. Come up with an initial set of steps and actions
  4. Implement version 1.0. Actually, do the steps
  5. Make mistakes 🙂
  6. Measure and revise the steps based on feedback (learning)
  7. Version +1 Go back to step 4, rinse repeat till you get your desired outcome

Why is creating playbooks more important than following playbooks?

The process one goes through when creating a playbook from scratch is where the magic and learning lies. Creating a playbook from scratch forces you to be extremely clear about the problem you are trying to solve and how you measure success. You become very output oriented and since you’ve been through the ups and downs of the mistakes, you have a keen sense of what works and what doesn’t. More importantly, you learn how to adapt to feedback (hit your head against a wall :)) and make the required changes.  Following somebody else’s playbooks doesn’t get you as close to the mistakes, mistakes are what make you learn. Following a playbook also makes you resistant to question the initial assumptions, you assume away a lot as you don’t have as much context as the playbook creator. It’s hard to know what assumptions can be discarded/are no longer true. You don’t know when the playbook needs to change.

By creating playbooks you learn to

  • define the problem really clearly
  • define measures – what does success look like
  • Understand how to take something ambiguous (a hazy problem) and break it down into solvable components
  • Actually try to solve it, make mistakes, learn from them
  • Be extremely output driven

i.e you learn everything that you need to solve a problem through and through, from start to finish. This is the most important skill, can the person deliver soup to nuts. This is the type of person you want on your team.

How to test in the interview process?

Ask directly “what playbooks have you created”. Dig deeper into how they created the playbook. What mistakes did they make? How did they change the playbook based on those mistakes? Digging deeper into what they learned from the mistakes will give you a good idea of if they actually did create a playbook or follow somebody else’s playbook.

Am I doomed, if I never get to create a playbook?

No. Opportunities for creation exist everywhere. It doesn’t need to be a big thing, have a current process that you think is not working? create a new one – how do I make this into a repeatable outcome driven thing? – there’s your playbook creation opportunity. As knowledge workers, our day to day job is filled with problems that need solving! Hang out folks who created playbooks, ask them what mistakes did they make, how and what did they learn from them?

Mistakes are where the learnings lie

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