Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

More Freedom from More Structure: Say WHAT?!


In my last venture, we had a US Army Veteran join our executive team. He brought perspective (and volume!) to our discussions unlike any I have experienced since.  Never dull and usually controversial… his ideas almost  always brought huge value… if you could uncover it, see through his intentionally vague language, and really grasp the ideas.

One of his concepts that took me a long time to understand was the idea that our team would feel more freedom and independence if we can give them more structure, cleaner job definition, clearer expectations, better defined results that mean success.    WHAT in the world did he mean!?   It made no sense to me until we really dug in.

Here was the simplistic example he gave that finally clicked for me. He said when he was in the Army, his dress code was pretty well defined.   He knew exactly what he could, should, and should not wear any day.    He said this:

When I opened by closet in the morning, and I knew that my choices were A, B, or C… I had total freedom to choose between A, B, or C. It was liberating to know the parameters in which I operated!

He went on to say with a chuckle:

Since I’ve been out of the Army, it takes me 30 damn minutes to decide what to wear every morning! I want that freedom of structure back!

At the time, we were applying this to the positions at our company. We needed better processes, better communication of what success means in each role of the company, and better expectation management at every level. With more structure would come more freedom, and with more freedom would come more creativity and energy.

Since then, I’ve also found that I can apply this idea to my own life. Last summer I did a day long goal-setting exercise with a group of CEOs. The first half of the day was designed to help you define your personal Core Values.  If you’ve never done this, I highly recommend you do it soon!   What came from that for me is a set of 7 personal core values (and I will even share them in my next post) that give me incredible structure to my life. I now have the freedom  within these core values to be creative and  make decisions faster and more effectively.

Have you ever experienced more freedom through more structure? Does this sound crazy to you?



Category: Association, General
  • Michael Medwed says:

    This makes perfect sense to me. With my experience managing projects, when folks clearly understand expectations, roles, and responsibilities up front, I see much greater output.

    April 5, 2012 at 1:29 am
  • Michel says:

    Great post. Reminded me of Marissa Mayer at Google. Her line is Creativity loves constraint.

    See video

    April 5, 2012 at 2:09 am
  • Kathleen Wilson, CAE says:

    This is very good, Johnson. Makes me wish I wore a uniform. I could use the extra time in the morning!

    April 5, 2012 at 6:59 pm
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  • Noel Coleman says:

    I think another component of structure and constraints is knowing the structure of how you are made and the limits of your capacity. For example, I’ve learned over time that I’m capable of going all out on about 1 think in my life at a time. I know some who can take on 3-4 businesses or projects or hobbies and thrive. Personally, I just get mediocre at all of them. But if I put all my energy into one thing, have a defined goal for that energy output and then when I’ve reached it move that energy to the next thing I do a lot better.

    This takes a lot of experimentation, discipline and comfort with yourself though. I think most of us, if we were really honest, would find that our design and capacity doesn’t fit what life seem to expect from us. (i.e., do it all and do it all well and without messing up your hair.) But at some point you have to learn that a significant life comes from living in your zone of effectiveness, not the generic zone that life, culture or work tends to push you into.

    August 1, 2012 at 1:35 pm

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