“Where is this all going?”
This question woke me up the day after I, like millions of others, was laid off due to the market conditions created by our current global crisis. While we can run on autopilot for a time based on our last known destination, without realignment, pursuing a direction that is “idealistic—big, bold and ultimately unachievable” (Simon Sinek, The Infinite Game), we lose the plot, floundering and fixating on problems that rarely advance the plot. Now that the specifics of my former role wouldn’t write my day, I needed to pick up the plot.
We experienced losing and regaining the plot at Bonfire, where I led the engineering team. Bonfire was born out of a big vision and experienced a season of rapid growth in 2017-2018. Paradoxically, in that season of expansion, our shared narrative contracted to revenue growth rendered in sloping graphs. While a corporate narrative may sound philosophical, it shapes everything, including things as practical as developers’ pull requests, the units of code added to software. We needed our story to be more compelling than revenue curves, so we picked up the plot and started telling a better story:
At Bonfire, we’re reinventing the neglected public procurement sector to better our public life, so we can all have better cities, hospitals and schools.
In hindsight, this was always our story. With this just cause in hand, we made hundreds of daily decisions congruent with our story. Our code was better, with all the downstream benefits accruing. Reconnecting with the sense of meaning and direction that inspires our work moved us to our best work and enabled us to live graciously and compassionately in the face of conflict.
At this time of global crisis, Bonfire’s true mission is more relevant than ever. Public procurement challenges make the nightly news as countries struggle to source the equipment needed to care for their sick. Bonfire leaders recognize this crisis has disrupted public procurement for organizations unready for remote work, so they decided to give free access to Bonfire’s platform. Is there any better way to live into a story bigger than revenue growth, than to forgo revenue for the sake of helping public procurement in this moment of need?
On reflection, leading at Bonfire deepened my understanding of the bigger story of my life:
My plot line has always been to translate beautiful ideas into tangible products and services, and to inspire good-hearted people to go places they doubt they can reach.
During my time at Bonfire, Alex Millar, Bonfire’s CTO, and I developed a practice of leadership that involved three components:
- Thoughtful preparation for interactions (meetings, one-on-ones and collaboration)
- Focused presence with our teams
- Clarity on agreements and follow-through
To support this style of leadership, I built a software tool called Plot. We used it to overcome the challenges of our modern work environments that conspire against the steady leadership we aspired to deliver. My teams and leaders at Bonfire used Plot for thousands of hours of significant collaboration with their teams, projects and managers.
Plot is designed to amplify our best intentions to lead with clarity and generosity.
This personal plot twist is a call to adventure — to bring Plot to a wider audience. I can imagine nothing truer to my story than crafting a product that produces thoughtful and inspiring leadership. My hope is that many more leaders and teams will discover these rhythms that strengthen them and produce their most inspired work!