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Startups

The Power of Transcending Instead of Attacking

There’s something special about Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It makes me happy every time I read it on social media or elsewhere.

What it implies for me, is that if you change yourself, and only yourself, you have the best chance of changing things around you too. This is a very non-violent and conflict-free approach.

I believe this also extends to organizations as much as individuals. It’s something we try to apply at Buffer.

One of Buffer’s core values, taken from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People is: “Never condemn, never complain, never criticize.”

I’ve found that this is only possibly if the only thing you ever try to change is yourself.

Transcending instead of attacking

An awesome quote from Paul Graham reads:

“Startups don’t win by attacking. They win by transcending.”

The list of startups that have changed something by transcending is almost 100% of all successful startups:

  • Zenefits is in the middle of radically changing insurance software by making it free, without attacking any incumbent player directly.
  • Dropbox transcends the need for physical devices to hold files.
  • Spotify did the same for downloading music.

You can probably insert hundreds of others in this list.

What often happens when startups succeed by transcending is that certain things are simply no longer relevant. Here are a few examples that came to mind:

Salaries: Transparent salaries transcend negotiation

I read this quote on Twitter the other day regarding salaries:

“Negotiate. Accepting the first offer they make puts you in a weak position from the beginning of any new opportunity and causes your boss to doubt your ability to negotiate on behalf of your team in higher-risk situations going forward.”

In a world where salaries are kept secret, this seems to be really great advice. In a world where salaries are completely transparent, the need to negotiate is transcended. One of the most relieving things about making salaries transparent at Buffer was that we haven’t had a single salary negotiation happen.

I like this especially in the light of discussion around women and equal pay. A lot of initiatives aim to attack, to teach women to be more forthcoming and negotiate harder.

As someone watching from the sidelines, this discussion seems to have arisen because men tend to often be more aggressive and negotiate harder and partially because of that, end up with higher salaries. Making salaries transparent could completely eradicate this problem.

New business models transcend print media

Another prime example is print media. With hundreds of papers going out of business over the last decade, this is one of the most telling tales of how printed papers are being transcended.

A similar transcending is happening to taxi companies around the world right now as a result of ride-sharing startups like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar.

When something becomes less relevant, someone’s work becomes less relevant

Naturally, it’s much harder for us if we’re the one being transcended. It doesn’t feel great when our work is no longer relevant and we need to rethink how we can provide value to the world.

A natural reaction is to first fight against the looming irrelevance. This seems to only rarely work, or work only for the short-term.

Once we accept that we have to change ourselves and go through the exact same process that the person or company having transcended us had to go through, then we’re often surprisingly liberated. We get a chance to start fresh and to rediscover what contribution we can offer to the world.

Every time this has happened to me, however hard to bear it was at first, if I pushed through it, I felt like a new person at the end of it.

Here’s to being the change we want to see in the world!

  • Cory Keitz

    Inspiring post, Leo! Transparency is so wonderfully effective for addressing possible sources of tension; a good reminder for daily life.

  • Excellent post!

    Typos: arise -> arisen, comapny

    • Ack, fixed those! Thanks a bunch for the heads up, Henrik!

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  • Dori

    Hey Leo. First, thank you for these posts: following Buffer’s evolution is incredibly helpful in working with my own company to take on new practices.

    Second, you say that Open Salaries has transcended the need for salary negotiations, but its not clear to me how. I know you guys have a set formula for salaries… have you transcended the need for negotiations because the new formula just means people aren’t invited to negotiate because it’s up to the formula, not the negotiation? If that’s the case, then the formula has transcended the old paradigm, not necessarily the openness.

    I’d love to hear more about this — how has open salaries actually changed negotiations at Buffer?

    • Hey Dori, this is such an awesome question; thanks so much for asking it in such a thoughtful way! As it happens, we’re right now in the middle of rethinking the way we determine compensation for the team based on some of our findings from the book Reinventing Organizations. There have been some truly fascinating conversations that we will be sharing here very soon. The gist right now is that compensation soon will be self-determined, in one fashion or another (that’s what is to be determined) and it should transcend negotiation in a much more whole and evolved way (if we can get it right!) I’d love for you to stay tuned on this one!

      • Dori

        Hey Courtney, thanks for this update. I’m really interested in the comp practices in that book, so I can’t wait to hear about your explorations. Looking forward to it.

  • Kai

    Powerful post. Thanks. Lots to think about.

  • suyogmody

    Hey Leo – great writing as always. Could you correct Gandhi’s spelling – it’s Gandhi, not Ghandi. Thanks!

    • Ooh, great catch there! Thanks so much; I have fixed that up!

  • a fresh look at all of this. Nice. Thanks

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