Maintaining Chaos

December 14, 2009

It can seem at times like being part of a small company is just day after day of trying to keep total chaos from overwhelming everything. Things are happening so fast, there’s so much to do and so few hands to do it, that just getting through the day without collapsing seems like an achievement.

And it’s natural to think that anything you can do to suppress that chaos is a Good Thing To Do. So we come up with checklists and plans and processes, all designed to stamp out chaos wherever we find it. It’s certainly been my instinct all through my career — find chaos, and CRUSH IT.

Sometimes meetings at FreshBooks can resemble a bit of a free-for-all, with everyone chipping in ideas and taking the conversation in all sorts of unexpected directions. Sometimes we lose track of what the meeting’s “supposed” to be about and end up exploring totally different ideas. Iteration planning sessions turn into feature brainstorms, and brainstorms turn into analysis discussions. Sometimes people have to duck out early, and sometimes they come in late (or without having been invited).

Now, I’m someone who takes a VERY organized approach to running meetings. I try to have an agenda, I try to stick to a timetable — running meetings is something of a specialty of mine, and in general I tend to run smooth, productive meetings.

So sometimes it’s especially hard for me when a FreshBooks meeting goes off into uncharted territory. My instinct is to stomp down on the burgeoning chaos and bring it all under immediate control. But I have to admit, my efforts to do so are not always full of success.

One thing I’ve learned is that in fact a certain amount of chaos (of the RIGHT kind of chaos) is useful — maybe even vital — to a company’s health. It’s out of that chaos that true creativity can emerge. One of the things that often happens as a company grows is that well-meaning people like myself work so hard to stamp out the chaos that they kill off everything that made the company successful in the first place. Small companies have access to creativity because their employees are always living in a chaotic environment, so innovation is always required.

Now that said, innovation also needs some sort of predictability in its environment in order to survive and flourish. And at FreshBooks we work really hard to be VERY disciplined about things like how we test and deploy software, and how we handle customer information and so on. Some parts of our business cannot have the slightest chaos in them. But meetings? Not so much.

And so part of my journey at FreshBooks has been about learning to maintain chaos where appropriate. To not shut down conversation just because it’s veering from my carefully-worked out agenda. Because in that chaos is where much of what makes FreshBooks such a great place to work lives.

Have you ever found your business stifled by an excess of rules and process?

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.