The trap I always fall into when I imagine running a business

Why people are not simply a necessary burden in your enterprise.

I think about not having to work for an employer a lot. Like, basically everyday a lot.

Inadvertently I always land on this blissful thought:

I don't have to work with people I don't like anymore, because I can choose who I employ, if at all!

I know this is outwardly untrue externally. Running your own business means your boss shifts from an employee from the same company to an employee of another company – that of your customer!

Internally it may be more true. You can choose to do away with employees, or be extremely selective of who you admit into your company.

The problem is, if you have a neurotic mind like I do, you might read "colleagues I don't like" and think, fallaciously, that colleagues are just a necessary burden.

Working with people is a burden. That's certainly one way to look at it and on any given day, I'd even say this is how I feel about working in a company.

  • Working with people entails constant communication. No, let's be honest, it's more like constant 'careful not to step on toes but remember to give credit yet don't forget to show your contributions' communication.
  • Working with people entails reiterating yourself so your original point is understood the way you actually meant it.
  • Working with people entails justifying your points with evidence and thorough thinking. You can't just be lazy.
  • Working with people entails putting on a smile to be personable, even when you don't feel like it.

And that's just the beginning what being a colleague requires of us. I find it therefore very easy for one to dream of escaping to a utopia where one could work without the burden of having to interface with other human beings.

But this is where I think we are wrong. It is what I am prone to being wrong about, too.

Working with people is not just a burden

I'm on a video call with my colleagues, trying to come to a shared understanding of a hard problem. We need to find a way to tag each product we rent as being financed by a particular financing entity in our systems, and it's proving to be tricky.

I arranged the call, so I do a quick briefing on what's been discussed so far. I tell them that I have already had a call with Paul and another with Bernd yesterday. I tell them that we talked about the accounting process and the drawdown process from our financing partners. Then I tell them that even after those conversations, we still don't know when we'll be able to determine the financing entity for each product.

The VP of Finance, who has the high-level understanding of the entire finance back office operations, gives a preliminary answer.

I respond to this with another question.

He gives another answer.

The accountant, who has the grounded understanding of day-to-day finance operations, asks a different but related question that sprang from the VP's answer.

I note down every noteworthy thing. I can see that we have a few more concrete points of understanding than before. I can almost feel the fog of unknowns being lifted.

The senior software engineer who has built the billing and invoicing system chimes in with a point of clarification.

I note down some more things.

I then reiterate the last point that the software engineer asked, which I direct it to the VP of Finance: "So far we haven't built anything that touches the finance back office operations. We've been generating reports, which the back office then uses to do payments and accounting. What do you think about us now introducing a concept – the financing entity – that will stretch over to that realm? Does that fit into your understanding of where we should head?"

The room is silent. I can see the VP of Finance considering my question. It's like his mind has just been given a cute prototype to fiddle with, and it's fiddling with it.

I feel a sense of pride for having pushed the conversation in a useful direction, like the sail of a sailboat catching the wind.

The virtual meeting goes on like this for another 10 minutes. I laughed a few times, which made a few others laugh. We laugh at how ridiculous some of the things we've done are, and just how complex the Fin in "Fin-tech" is when we go down to the details.

This is the power of working with people.

Each individual is an expert from different a field, and we come together to create something new and valuable. We wrangle complexity and codify them into software that takes the toil away from customers and partners.

As we collaborate, we discover more about our strengths and weaknesses as much as we discover those of our colleagues. We learn to respect them and ourselves more. We feel good when we collaborate with people we like. It brings out more of the good in us.

Over the ages, this power of working with people has manifested technology to communicate at the speed of light, medicine to treat our maladies, and an understanding of how the universe works down to the subatomic level.

There is also beauty in working with people.

I enjoyed that call, mainly because I left feeling good. I had a few laughs and so did the folks on the call. We commiserated on the hardship we're going through together.

We also left the call feeling at least slightly more certain about what is important to build and what is not. Main outcome, achieved. Bonus learnings and fun came for free.

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