LEGO unicorn toy against a white background

How it feels to give away your LEGOs

Being a product manager at a growing startup means that I spend time reading in order to do my job. I read a lot. Most of the reading is centered around techniques for talking to customers, product strategy, and learning about data modeling.

But today I read an article called Give Away Your LEGOs: and Other Commandments for Scaling Startups. It’s based on the experiences of Molly Graham, who’s worked at Google, Facebook, and Quip. Although the specific focus is on startups that are rapidly growing—which is relevant to me know as we’re working on scaling Gatsby—it brought up several good points that I know I’ve felt in the past.

Overall the article discusses how startups can scale effectively, and that each team member should be thinking about “how to give away their LEGOs”. Working at a company is much like being a kid playing with LEGOs. When there are only a few of you, there are lots of them to go around. You can build anything!

As soon as more people start showing up, the LEGOs need to be shared—and that can be really scary. We know what it’s like to have all of them, and we also know that in order for us to be better, the LEGOs need to be spread out.

And that creates a lot of anxiety and questions. What if that person builds the wrong thing? I worked so hard on this and now I have to give it away? What if they’re better at the work than I was?

Change is hard

One of the biggest things I got out of the article was the re-affirmation that change can be hard. Working at a small company is exciting and fun, and also changes from day to day… and definitely week to week.

Change is hard, at least for me, because it’s happening fast. I’m never one hundred percent sure if I’m working on the right thing. There are enough people that we can get quite a bit done, but too few people to do everything.

That means we each get the opportunity to try our hands at a lot of different responsibilities. I find that really fun, but also don’t want to lose sight of my main professional goals.

Change is good

With every change we’ve had, and every new team member that we’ve hired, it’s been great to get additional help on what we’ve been working on. It’s also been fun to see how the ideas get exponentially better with each additional person we add.

But adding new people definitely starts to bring up the internal monologue of anxiety.

Graham says this happens when you get to 30–50 people, but doesn’t take into account remote-only companies. Working at a company that’s completely distributed, I think that this anxiety starts a bit earlier because you don’t see everyone face-to-face every day.

That means that you have to be very clear and do the work defining who’s responsible for what and where to go with specific questions.

You are not your job

The biggest takeaway was the confirmation that you are not your job. Giving away your LEGOs every few months is a great way to remind yourself of a few core principles:

  • Your job does not define your worth as a person
  • Your job is not your identity
  • You can figure out anything you put your mind to

Give away your LEGOs and be happy

I think by giving away your LEGOs, you learn to show trust, humility, and appreciation for yourself and others. It ultimately teaches you that letting go is a pathway to greater opportunity and creativity, rather than mourning a loss of perceived control.

To read more about great teams and personal growth, I also highly suggest reading The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, which gives an in-depth look at some of the world’s most successful teams and how they function.