Zuckerberg moved too fast, and it broke

"Move Fast and Break Things" was Facebook's motto back in the day. The concept was, you're not going to get it right on the first try, but at least it's a start in the right direction - we'll adjust as we keep trying.

It's a great mentality to have as a startup founder when success seems decades away and failure lurks around the next sunrise. Time is in short supply, cash to run the business is running out, and competition is breathing down your neck - getting the most highly operational and successful product out as quickly as possible is likely the difference between life and death for the company.

Thus, life for that startup is founded on its initial success borne from speed and some caution being thrown to the wind. And success can be intoxicating. When moving fast and breaking things works, it works fast, and when it works in the right circumstances with the right ideas, it can become huge - it can become Facebook. And so moving fast becomes a trademark of success - it becomes the goal.

But we know there's a balance. "The early bird gets the worm," sure, but there's also "look before you leap" and "look both ways before you cross the road." The lesson? Great success can come from acting quickly on instinct - but assessing the risk incorrectly could mean trouble.

When one of a company's primary goals is speed, security and quality control inevitably suffer. It's the throttle vs. the brake. Security and quality control are the forms of cautionary reason that assess the risk of growth of a product.  If the risk posed by making or releasing a product too early is greater than what the leader of the project is comfortable with, the leader is then responsible for empowering security and control mechanisms to restrain development of that product until the risk is reduced to an acceptable level.

This is hard for startups whose success is founded on "Move Fast and Break Things." A startup's founder, whose passion, intuition, and innovation were required to create great technologies, now must inhibit those instincts with security and quality control, slowing down a product's release.

But we call it balance on purpose. These two necessary but competing requirements must be held in balance by a leader. This leader must learn to harmonize the drive and instinct required to try new things in the face of doubt, with enough maturity and responsibility to know when to temper her passion with control and security to reduce risk in order to protect her customers, her employees, her company and herself.

Why? Because the founder's successful startup will grow. What used to be small groups of comrades getting together whenever a problem arose or project shifted in order to scribble on a whiteboard becomes teams scheduling meetings on planners with agendas. The company grows and it's infrastructure - HR, accounting, legal, engineering, operations - grows along with it in order to sustain the success.  And the size of the company will grow fast, just like success came from moving fast.

The question is, will that startup founder become a leader and make sure that the right security and quality control measures grow fast enough and work well enough to reduce risk and protect what matters most? I know I hope I do the right thing when the time comes.

"Move Fast and Break Things" sounds like a great motto when there aren't really any perceived consequences. When I was 12, it might've been something I said playing Mario Cart.

But when I was 18, I was in Army ROTC and I was training with our Ranger Challenge team.  Our Special Forces Master Sergeant noticed I kept screwing up a knot because it was dark, I couldn't see far enough in front of me, and I was rushing - going too fast. He came over to me and I became even more nervous. This was a Green Beret who never yelled, could run with a rucksack on for days, and had pictures on his wall of him and his old teammates in the back of a C-130 with masks over their faces and guns - I was a tad worried my lack of success would piss him off.

He was definitely intimidating, but he was also a man who knew that rushed success, when not balanced with control, can lead to the lethality of failure.

He came up next to me and instead of yelling at me to go faster, he calmly laid one of the most mature, badass, and useful quotes on me that I'll never forget: "Lembright - slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."


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