The biggest, random acts of generosity that have happened to me and changed my life

On occasion, I like to think of myself as a “doer”. Someone who can make things happen by himself, who neglects the role that help from others has played and over-estimates the things he’s achieved himself. Often, when I catch myself thinking like that, I’m a bit disappointed and I wish I was instead more connected to reality and the people around me.

When I pondered on that topic again the other day, I tried a short thought experiment, where I just went through my life and re-collected the many incredible offers of generosity I was able to receive, which completely transformed my life – all without me doing anything or being in control of them.

Here is a short list of some that stood out the most to me:

Being offered 35% of equity in a company that I joined 4 months after its inception

When I first joined Buffer in January 2011, I was 20 years old, had very few startup-like projects under my belt and ran into Joel through a Skype chat. He had already worked on Buffer for a few months, managed to get a handful of paying customers and was still open to having me on board.

After a few months of us working together, he offered me 30% of the company, which I felt was an incredible offer. What was even crazier and I often think about this today, was that a few months later, when we were already in SF and Buffer started to show some significant potential to be successful, Joel offered me another 5% to my existing 30%.

Out of all the things I can think of, this is one of the biggest acts of generosity I have experienced and one that changed my life completely.

Having someone vouch for us to get $120k in funding

Another experience I greatly enjoy recalling was when we arrived in SF, we barely knew anyone. In fact, we got close to crashing and burning and packing our bags and going home. None of the investors were interested in what we were building, much less so interested in giving us money.

And yet, one person changed it all. We had applied to AngelPad, an incubator that, if accepted, would provide us with $120,000 in seed funding. Our first call with Thomas Korte, the founder of AngelPad, didn’t go so well. We sensed the probing question and skepticism around our idea for Buffer. We had about 1 week left of cash and weren’t sure whether we’d make it after that. Only a few weeks earlier we had first met Hiten Shah, Hiten was and is one of the most well-known startup mentors, founders and investors in SF, that I know of and out of the many “no’s” we’ve heard from investors the first few weeks in Silicon Valley, he offered a “yes” in terms of advice, encouragement and mentorship to us.

In a last attempt to see if we could change Thomas Korte’s mind, we leaned on Hiten to help with vouching for us. This was the email we sent:

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 11.09.26 AM
We sent this email on a Tuesday and heard back from Thomas on Saturday to let us know we’ve made it into AngelPad – the day where we also realized we only had 1 week of cash left. Thomas mentioned a conversation with Hiten and it completely blew my mind what had happened.

Hiten, who was successful and well-known, had vouched for 2 kids he had met once for them to get investment and it worked.

I’m not sure what would have happened if Hiten wouldn’t have done that, and I’ll be forever grateful that he did!

Being able to learn English in the UK for multiple months, free of charge

I’m not sure why this story exactly, but it stuck in my mind too. When I was 17, many of my peers in Vienna started to think about going to University. None of my parents had done that, so I was particularly intrigued by the idea. Not only did my friends from school think about university, they thought about studying abroad, in the UK, in Switzerland and many other places with renowned university.

I had never dared to think that far and the more I pondered it, the more I was excited about doing the same. For whatever reason I concluded that I especially needed to have great English to be successful and my English at the time was poor to put it mildly. I realized that if I ever wanted to study at a UK university, I’d have to proof proficiency in English and I was far from being able to do that.

My great-aunt, who lives in the UK, then graciously reached out to ask if I wanted to come and visit her. She lived in Plymouth and offered to host me, pay for an English course and all other expenses and help me get my English in shape. I made that trip for a few weeks and then the year after again.

I often attribute her generosity to my success in speaking better English, which allowed me to study in the UK, which in turn allowed me to meet Joel and join Buffer.

Getting full freedom when picking subjects to study at school

The High School I got to attend in Vienna was very unique compared to most other schools in the country. It offered a course system, similar to a University, where one could pick and choose the subjects that they wanted. On top of that, we only needed to attend 70% of all classes. I was beyond excited about that.

There was one teacher in particular, our French teacher, who offered me more freedom than I had ever experienced before. He said that I didn’t have to come to French class at all if I didn’t wanted to, granted that I would do all the coursework still of course. The strange thing that happened was that because someone gave me the choice of just doing what I thought was right, without any pressure, made me go and work a lot more, now that I was free to explore my interest in learning French on my own. So instead of going to class 3 hours a week, I upped it to 12 hours, where I attended an extra course in French history and philosophy, as well as advanced French.

I often reflect on that time and the teacher and the effect it had on me then and even today. There was really no pressure from anywhere to offer me this level of freedom and yet the school and this teacher in particular thought it was the right thing to do, I’ll be forever grateful for that.

Getting help from someone to drive hundreds of thousands of visitors to buffer

A last story I wanted to share, was how a then complete stranger helped me and Buffer to share our article and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors for us. His name is Dave Larson and he operates a very popular Twitter handle called @TweetSmarter.

I first discovered Dave’s blog when we were trying to find ways to market Buffer, which we struggled with for a while until the idea of content marketing and guestblogging opened itself up as an opportunity. Through Dave’s prolific writing, I asked him many questions in the comments, some I would deem overly aggressive today about helping us and yet, he never showed me anything but generosity and kindness.

Eventually, I asked him if he could help us share articles from the Buffer blog to his hundreds of thousands of followers. Again something that I would probably deem to aggressive a thing to do from my side. And yet, he helped us and shared dozens of our posts, if not hundreds of them. Each of them garnered thousands of clicks of engaged marketers who would find Buffer helpful.

Whenever I feel like I’m not in a great mindset of wanting to help others more, I go and read Dave’s Twitter bio, even today. His only mission that he states on there is to help others be successful on Twitter and Social Media and he’s been doing that for 8 years. He’s never monetized his efforts and simply enjoys helping people.

 

The immediate next thought I had was about the many acts of generosity that I couldn’t mention in this post. The many people that have helped me along the way, starting with my parents, teachers and friends, all of which I haven’t talked about here. There is way to many of them to fit them all into one post and so if you’re reading this and have shown great generosity towards me and I haven’t mentioned it here, I want to say I’ll be forever grateful for it and try my best to pay it forward.

I’d love to invite you on a similar reflection. If you’d like, take a few minutes out of your day to think about the people that have done things for you without expecting or receiving anything in return. The ones that have just helped you and in doing so, changed the course of your life significantly for the better. If you feel like it, write them down and let these people know about it. I hope this’ll give you a great deal of joy for your day! :)

Homogenous vs Diverse teams: What should you aim for?

Last night I watched a VICE documentary about North Korea from 2008. There was a line from Shane Smith about what North Korea is trying to do that really stuck with me. He said

“This country is trying to create the most homogenous people in the world.”

In communism, that seems to be the goal. And of course, the way I was brought up and think about the world, is that letting everyone live out their own beliefs and desires is a much more fulfilling way to live life.

Then, as I often do when reading or watching something, I related it to myself, and more specifically our approach to building Buffer. We have a set of values, that we largely aspire to live up to. I think they are very helpful to the team and me personally to live a fulfilled life. We try to hire and fire according to these values and I’m quite happy with the discipline we’ve applied to it over the last few years. There’s very little compromise we’ve made on our values.

A quote that I like to share with team members and others when it comes to hiring is Sahil Lavingia’s:

“Less time trying to convince people. More time trying to find people that are already convinced.”

So essentially, we could argue that we’re also trying to build a largely homogeneous team at Buffer, hopefully one that is self-selected and not forced upon anyone that doesn’t enjoy our set of values.

Homogenous vs diverse teams

The core belief I have and want to question a bit with this reflection, is the idea that the more homogeneous you are as a team, the more clearly you can all pull on the same side of the rope. If you constantly have nay-sayers, or people that criticize your approach, it’ll be hard to get anything done, especially when you’re a very small startup. That’s where I think a lot of our approach to a value and culture driven company is rooted in.

The other side of the coin seems to be that stark diversity sparks strong discussions, which to some extent then sparks innovation. Previously people have said to me “Isn’t it good to have some people who disagree strongly with your approach on your team?” or “I always like having people on my team who fiercely argue my points, they help me get to a better perspective.” Consciously or not, I often dismissed them and said “no, I don’t want that”. Now I’m not so sure anymore. I would say that this is not how things work at Buffer. We have great discussions and people are not afraid to speak up about ideas, yet we don’t have this full-on debates and heated arguments, where we really fight it out.

I’m not sure whether we should have that. Or whether we shouldn’t. I just thought it’d be interesting to reflect on how homogenous or diverse a team should be.

I’d love your thoughts on this on Twitter:

No waste

In a forest, there is absolutely no waste. Every single element is reused in a continuous cycle. A tree produces leaves. The leaves fall to the ground and become compost. And the forest uses every last ounce of the compost to put it back into its ecosystem.

We have the exact same idea for buffer’s organizational design as we’re moving towards a self-managing company. Without any processes, save 4 essential ones, there is little to no occurrence of waste.

As an example, we are at our 5th buffer retreat right now in Sydney, Australia and have changed the design of this week of work and play completely to fit the no manager paradigm.

People can suggest sessions, talks, work groups, yoga groups, whatever it may be and people can opt in to any of them – almost like a barcamp. This ensures that no sessions are imposed on anyone and therefore nothing is kept alive artificially. Even a session that might be extremely popular this retreat can easily “die” on the next one, if no one chooses to join in. In my mind, this creates a certain level of lightheartedness and fluidity that organizational structures often lack.

Swim or sink

With the territory of a forest comes the somewhat harsh reality of no tolerated inefficiencies. For an organization, I believe this goes to the point of getting rid of the idea of job security. If at any point your offered expertise isn’t requested anymore there’ll be no more work to do. You might either pick up a new expertise fast or you’re out.

When nothing is kept alive artificially things can organically grow and die based on demand from other team members and ultimately the customer. This is the best possible outcome for a company and the world in general I believe.

Working less

I also believe that through this, self-managed companies and buffer in this example can work less to get more done. My estimation is that a self-managed team only has to work 6 hours a day to get the work done that normal companies do in 8 or 10 hours a day. Since self-managed orgs have no “zombie meeting” or bloated processes they can operate and create the same results in much less time.

On the flip side this requires a lot of responsibility from the individual to plan their day effectively. It’ll be interesting to observe whether this holds true for us in the future.

One way to deal with life’s biggest regrets and mistakes

On the plane going from Austria, where I grew up, back to San Francisco, where I currently live, I was lucky to see a documentary about Ghandi, from 1982, that I completely immersed myself in. There was one scene that made a particular impact on me. A man, his name is Nahari, had killed a kid and couldn’t live with himself anymore. Here is how Ghandi helped him:

Nahari: I’m going to Hell! I killed a child! I smashed his head against a wall.

Gandhi: Why?

Nahari: Because they killed my son! The Muslims killed my son!

[indicates boy’s height]

Gandhi: I know a way out of Hell. Find a child, a child whose mother and father have been killed and raise him as your own.

[indicates same height]

Gandhi: Only be sure that he is a Muslim and that you raise him as one.

I thought to myself “wow, what an incredible way to make peace with oneself. I was immediately reminded of another story from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “No Death, No Fear” (If you’d like to read this book, I’d love to send it to you for free, please email me leo@bufferapp.com), which offered a very similar perspective:

“There was an American Vietnam veteran I knew. The guerrillas had killed his comrades, and he was determined to take revenge on the people of the village where his comrades had died. He made sandwiches of bread with explosives in the filling and left them at the entrance of the village. Some children came and found the sandwiches and began to eat them. Soon they were writhing and howling in pain. Their parents ran to the scene, but it was too late. The area was remote, without ambulances and medical equipment, and the children could not be brought to the hospital quickly enough. All five of them died.

After he returned to the United States, the soldier could not overcome his guilt. His mother tried to comfort him. She said, “My son, those things happen in war. There is nothing to feel bad about .” But still, he suffered so much. Whenever he found himself in a room with children, he could not bear it. He had to run out.

During one of my tours in the United States, a retreat was organized for war veterans. I taught them how to walk and breathe in order to transform their fear, guilt and suffering. I said to this veteran, “You have killed five children; that is true. But you can save the lives of hundreds of children. Do you know that every day, tens of thousands of children die for want of food and medicine? You can bring food and medicine to some of them.” He practiced as I advised, and that person who, twenty years ago, had killed five children was immediately reborn in the past as someone who saved the lives of twenty children.”

Then, more recently again, I saw another movie, called “American Sniper”. It showcases the story of an American sniper, who, after 10 years of service, returns home. His biggest regret, is that he couldn’t help save more of his fellow soldiers in Iraq, so he was haunted every day by this feeling of regret.

One day, he met with a therapist who told him: “There are many soldiers, right here in the United States, that need your help.”. And from then on, he made it his mission to help war veterans suffering from PTSD and helping them reintegrate into society and through that he was able to reintegrate himself into society.

How I used this technique in the past

  • A relative of mine, who was already late in her 80s recently passed away. I always loved spending time with her, but in recent years, with the work on Buffer, I wasn’t able to make the time to go and see her, although I wanted to. When she passed away, I was quite sad, but i remembered the story from Thich. I remembered, that I had another great-aunt who I also hadn’t seen in a long time and who I equally greatly enjoyed spending time with. As she lived in the UK and her husband had already passed away, I arranged for her to come to Austria and spend time with myself and my family. It was one of the most joyous Christmas’ I’ve had in a long time and this helped me so much. I plan on inviting her again next year.
  • I was very glad that my parents taught me to take care of my teeth and I was always very happy with them. When I started to focus fully on Buffer, I neglected my teeth and I didn’t go to the dentist for I think about 2 or 3 years. At first, I was a bit angry with myself, but then, I thought that I could do my best to take care of my teeth going forward. So I arranged several appointments and managed to give my teeth the attention they deserved and they are in a much better state now. I’ve also made flossing a habit as well as regular cleanings. It has been much easier to adopt these new habits with my intention to simply take care of my teeth going forward.

We often find ourselves in a situation where we have made a mistake or have a huge regret about something we did or didn’t do in the past and sometimes we see no way out. If we learn from Ghandi and Thich Nhat Hanh’s example, we can use those past experiences as inspiration for where we want to do good in the future and we can transform ourselves to live a happier live again.

We’re turning Buffer into a forest

I remember a conversation with Joel, when we first heard about a company operating without managers. We were absolutely baffled. There was no way, we thought, that Buffer could ever work in that way. How can any work get done without managers? We concluded that this is one of the things we will just never understand. I remember us saying that possibly, in the same way that people are baffled when they hear Buffer is a distributed team, we are baffled that some companies work without managers. And that’s where we left things at and moved on.

Fast forward some years later, Buffer is in the middle of becoming fully self-managed. And whenever we throw the word “self-management” or “no managers” around, we get seemingly similar baffled looks to how we ourselves first reacted to the idea of being fully self-organized without bosses.

The best explanation I’ve found to date, is one that describes a simple analogy that everyone already knows well: A forest. From the book, reinventing organizations, this quote describes it very fittingly:

In a forest, there is no master tree that plans and dictates change when rain fails to fall or when the spring comes early. The whole ecosystem reacts creatively, in the moment.

Whenever I describe Buffer’s change to someone in that way, it seems to click for many and they can relate to many of the new ideas we’re implementing.

What I like particularly about the forest analogy, is that one can seemingly dive into any detail of the forest as an organism and relate it to how things are working at Buffer now. One element of that is that things from the outside look messy, if you walk into a forest, there’s leaves everywhere, and dead wood lying on the ground. There seem to be no paths to walk and everything looks chaotic. And yet, everything that needs to happen is able to happen, almost effortlessly. The only difference is that there’s no one that controls it.

One thing I believe is that the reason we organize many things in such a rigid way in most current organizations, is because people need to have control beyond themselves. If you need to control 10, 20, well as the CEO sometimes thousands of people, you need a structure that allows you to do that. If no one is in charge, then everyone can go and develop their own ways and what follows is an incredibly diverse set of workflows and initiatives.

Another question I like to ask myself, to find out whether we’re unconsciously falling back into the old methods of working at Buffer is “How would this work in a forest?”. It helps me to catch ideas that are putting constraints and processes onto others early and avoid working on them, and instead explore solely my own workflow and how I might want to change it.

And lastly, the aspiration to become the living and breathing ecosystem that a forest is, is purely a very happy imagination in my head, that makes me feel like we’re on the right track.

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The lost opportunities when picking sides

Two new friends were kind enough to grab lunch with me the other day and amongst many fascinating things, we talked about a recent article on Growth I’d written. What we reflected on was that in today’s startup world, many companies are oriented on the growth aspect, which means revenue growth, user growth, you name it. Focusing less on growth, interestingly still doesn’t mean to me to stop focusing on it completely. Growth, has it’s important place and Dick Costolo once put this incredibly well:

“We think of revenue like oxygen. Essential to life but not the first thing you think about in the morning.”

By his definition, everyone would agree, that oxygen is pretty important to our lives. What I realized when uncovering this, is that in most aspects of my life, I’ve been in a situation where I had to pick sides. Where it was either the one thing or the other. Here is are a few examples that I remembered to have been asked to choose between:

For profit or not-for profit

Democrats or Republicans

Revenue and growth oriented or Social Impact oriented

masculine or feminine

Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or another religion

Real Madrid or FC Barcelona

True, false, neither true nor false, both true and false

In Western thinking, thanks largely to Aristotle’s discoveries of logic, we have adopted a right or wrong approach to looking at things. If one thing is right, the opposing thing to that, has to be wrong. In many cases, I’ve found this approach helpful, and also, in many I’ve found it to be quite limiting.

In Zen tradition, I’ve discovered a view of looking at the world, that has completed reversed that. It finds that things can be true. Or they can be false, or they can be neither true nor false. Or they can be both, true and false. I reflected on this for a while and at first I felt like I was making a knot in my brain, it simply didn’t comply at all with how I was seeing the world at the time. How can something be both right and wrong at the same time?

Over time, as I let go of a fully dogmatic view of things, slowly this started to make sense to me.

Embracing both, seemingly opposing sides

One concept that helped me understand this much better was the concept of “wholeness”, which I was introduced to by Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organizations. It describes what it sees as the most advanced level of human consciousness as one that embraces every element of something, without excluding other elements.

Since then, I realized that one can focus equally on revenue growth, in the same way that one focuses on social impact. One can learn as much from the viewpoint of Democrats as one can from the viewpoint of Republicans. I learnt that observing how non-profits run their organizations (like transparent spending for example) can offer terrific learnings of how one might want to run a for-profit organization.

By reading the Bible, the Koran, the teachings of Buddha, the Gita and many other religious scriptures, I found that I can agree with and find incredible value from each of them and combine them in a holistic view of seeing the world. When seeing a soccer game, I can enjoy the game of both teams, no matter who is scoring more goals.

Oftentimes, when we only choose one side, the incredible amount of learning and wisdom that happened on the seemingly opposing side is lost to us. We block ourselves from any learnings we might be able to take away from it. Avoiding that, and learning from each element is what I understand to be true open-mindedness. It has also opened me to so many new experiences that I would have otherwise, likely never encountered.

Do what you came here to do

Recently, I attended a lecture of a buddhist nun at the SF Zen Center and there was one line that stood out to me more than anything else when she recalled a discussion. She said that oftentimes, people complain about various situations in their lives or the Zen Center itself and how many things could be improved and aren’t working well right now. She said that she agreed with most everything that people brought up. And yet, she added, she always tells people that they should do what they came here to do.

I reflected on this and realized what great advice that was. When we set out to do something, we are often faced with lots of obstacles. We might not like how certain things are or we get agitated when things don’t go according to plan. We believe things should work better or that the environment should be more friendly, exciting, whatever it may be. And yet, we all set out to do something and these things can get in the way. They sidetrack us and make us lose focus on what it actually is we wanted to accomplish in the first place.

Whenever I uncover similar thoughts about myself now, when I am in a certain situation, where I find fault with something or experience a situation to be different than I had anticipated, I aim to remind myself with the simple thought “Do what you came here to do”. It’s very refreshing and quickly helps me frame things much more positively and sparks my creativity.

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Leaving the well-trodden path

The other Saturday I took a short trip to Montara State Beach, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite beaches, very quiet and you can only access it through a mini-hike on foot, there’re no cars down there. I like to go there to lie down on the sand and nap for some time and read on my Kindle.

On my way to the beach I usually take the well-trodden foot path that many visitors of the beach have paved over the years. Only this time, on my way back to the car, I remembered a story that Leo Babauta kindly shared with me, which will be on the cover of his new book:

The Parable of the Forest

The laborer walked through a small forest from his home to the fields where he worked, the same way each day out of routine. The forest was constantly changing, but he didn’t notice.

One day, a tree fell to block his path, and he became upset and kicked the tree. Limping in pain, looking around the forest, he realized he’d allowed his fixed routine to make him angry. And it had stopped him from seeing the changing forest.

His fixed path had killed the forest. He let go of this map, and explored the forest, really seeing it. Free of fixed ideas, he found new possibilities for what the forest could be.

Suddenly, the fields where he worked became fields of possibilities, and he found joy in work. And in his wife, his kids, his neighbors, and himself.

So upon remembering it, I tried to do the same thing. I realized that the hundreds of steps being taken on the very same path over and over again were probably not very caring for the ground. Although the vegetation was just small bushes and not really a big effort to find my way through, it did take me some getting used to.

What was most interesting to observe was how I felt – I felt like I was doing something wrong, something illegal. How could I think of taking a different route directly through the bushes and ignoring the well-trodden, the right path that so many others have taken? And then I remembered the ground again and how that must feel, getting a break from not being trampled on thousands of times from my own and other people’s heavy feet, but instead walking on areas that have never been walked on and would much more easily recover and possibly not take any damage at all.

After I was walking through the bushes for a while, I realized how freeing and exciting it was, compared to walking on the path. I had to watch my every step and try to be careful not to break off too many branches from that small tree or that bush. It was much easier to be fully present and explore directly where I was. I saw a small bunny jumping out in front of me, when I had never realized before that there were any animals in there. I have to admit, I also looked anxiously around a few times whether there’d be any snakes. At the end, although it being a pathetically short, 300m walk through small bushes, I felt like I had been on a mini adventure and I felt truly accomplished and in tune with everything around me.

Then I remembered having had this same feeling for our recent change at Buffer, where we started to work completely without managers, where we made everything we could think of transparent to the public, from salaries to fundraising, to pricing. And I recalled the few moments of the same anxiety of looking around and not seeing anyone else doing what we were doing. The same thought “How dare we leave the well-trodden path?” briefly flashing in front of my eyes, and vanishing faster with every new change that we made, that was different from most, all other companies.

Getting comfortable with leaving the well-trodden path seems to take some time, and applying it to all areas of my life is especially humbling as it feels like a new discovery every time it gets applied to something else. And luckily, whenever I get a moment to be quiet and listen deeply, I notice that nothing feels more “right” and in tune with things around me than doing exactly that – exploring, questioning and finding our own paths, no matter the circumstance.

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Crying

It hit me a few months ago that over the last 10 years or so, I couldn’t remember having cried once. For some reason, and I’m trying to trace back why, I trained myself to not ever cry. I explored whether that was my environment and concluded it wasn’t since I have seen all of my close family members cry without feeling shame about it. Then I thought whether there just weren’t any opportunities, because my life was too good and that’s largely true, but there were definitely moments where it’d have been more than appropriate to cry, like breakups, the passing of family members and friends.

I tried a few experiments to observe myself in and explore this further. I realized that one of the main reasons I wasn’t crying was because I had labelled this as “weakness” in my mind somewhere. Just imagining myself crying made me feel embarrassed like few other things would. Even in front of myself, with no one around, I felt that same embarrassment in case I was to cry.

When I intentionally tried to watch some sad movies, I couldn’t cry, it was like I was forcing myself not to. I didn’t actively try and do anything, it was like a trained mechanism to hold tears back with force. The more I pondered the fact that I hadn’t been crying the more I felt like I was missing a valuable release valve for my emotions. So for the last few weeks I tried to see if I could relearn crying.

Practicing crying

I watched several sad movies, starting with “The Pursuit of Happiness” and struggled quite a bit to cry, but I felt like something was loosening up. It felt like trying to move a huge stone door open, that just didn’t want to move at all. Slowly, over a number of weeks, I felt it was loosening up and opening.

What eventually helped me cry for the first time a week ago or so, was a really touching video that you might have seen make the rounds on Social Media, which is Taylor Swift sending gifts to her fans – awesome! Several friends recommended it with the caption “this made me cry”, which I found very encouraging. I teared up for a few seconds, but it was a truly amazing feeling.

What was particularly interesting was that throughout the whole day and the next one my eyes still felt a bit sore, like having done something they haven’t done in a while. I then watched another movie titled Le Havre and I managed to properly cry at the end scene, which is again exceptionally freeing.

All of this has been extremely humbling and I feel like it’s opened doors to insights I’d kept closed before. I’m excited to experiment with my emotions further and share my findings!

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The best kind of change: transcending instead of attacking

There’s something special about Ghandi’s quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” and 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. And I believe this also extends to organizations as much as individuals and is something we try to apply at Buffer. One of Buffer’s core values, taken from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends is to “Never condem, 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.”

What happens when startups succeed with something is that certain things are simply no longer relevant. Here are a few random examples that came to mind:

Salaries

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, aim 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. And making salaries transparent could completely eradicate this problem.

Zenefits, Dropbox, almost every successful startup

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.

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 changed by being transcended.

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. Because that means that the work we’re doing is no longer relevant or drastically less so. This happened to print newspapers. This is happening to taxi companies around the world right now. 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, which seems to only rarely work, or only for the short-term.

Once we accept that we have to change ourselves and go through the exact same process that the person 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’d feel like a new person at the end of it.

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

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