I recently wrote a post about how you should embrace being an amateur. There’s one addendum I’d like to make. Often times this predilection that companies have for “professionalism”, i.e. rigid, slow processes, comes from a sense of importance. Every startup has to be a little self-important. That’s what gets employees and customers to buy into what’s honestly a pretty risky proposition.
But this self-importance can backfire. If you believe that the mission of the company is so grand and important, it’s easy to be afraid of making mistakes. After all, if this mission is so important, we can’t screw up. People are counting on us, so we need to avoid mistakes at all costs. More subtly, a startup’s mission is often that there is this big, huge problem, and the company is the anointed, predestined savior for this problem. If those are the expectations, people start to get scared about making mistakes. After all, they’re supposed to be the chosen ones, and the chosen ones can’t screw up!
This is a classic issue of setting expectations. The expectations that are required to pitch a startup, to get funding, etc. are not the expectations that are healthy in your day to day work. At the end of the day, the people in the company are still fallible human beings. Everybody will make mistakes. Especially at a startup where you won’t have existing institutional knowledge or processes.
Also, if everybody’s so afraid of making mistakes, they may refuse to acknowledge when something was indeed a mistake. I’ve been in situations where we all know that a decision was a mistake, but nobody was willing to talk about it.
In short: If you’re afraid of making mistakes, don’t work at a startup.