If 2021 was a year of expansion—taking on funding, hiring a team, feeling like we could do anything and everything—2022 was a year of focus. The reality is that you always have constraints. When a lot of the constraints you’re accustomed to are lifted by an expansion of resources, it can be easy to lose sight of that. Constraints never go away, they just change.
People default to ignoring the constraint of time. Learning this is usually accomplished the hard way. It’s an error of joyful optimism that often goes unrecognized—only a creeping sense of “what have I actually finished building?” over a longer time period triggers the realization (or some external forcing function).
It’s the person who, hemmed in by the constraints of a day job (“we never get a chance to do anything right!”), treats a side project as an unconstrained playground. And then a year later realizes that it’d take the rest of their life to actually get anywhere with it at the current tempo. The removal of the constraints of work leaves only the constraints of time—which can feel infinite until it’s not.
This description, of course, isn’t directly applicable to my year at Arrows, but it’s the more broadly relatable version that rhymes with a couple of bootstrapped founders going from a team of two to a team of eight. It’s easy to slip into feeling like you can (and should) be every thing to every one, the One True Product.
A team of eight is still extraordinarily constrained. 2022 was about learning those constraints and how to work within them. This resulted in extraordinary focus and progress—focus on who we were serving, what problem we were solving, and focus on a platform that enabled us to do both (HubSpot).
A related idea is a diagram from an old Dan C post about the creative process. It’s a process of expansion and contraction—he refers to them as brainstorming and culling. With every expansion you remove some constraints, broaden boundaries, explore new paths. With every contraction you keep the new good bits you discovered, and rediscover the now larger gem of goodness within what you’re building.
Without enough creative expansion you never identify and expand the best parts of what you’re building. Without creative contraction you never formulate the new identity that enables the next expansion.
2022 was a year of contraction in that sense. Sharpening, focusing, polishing, improving.
Hope you also had a great 2022, and here’s to 2023!