Published on

Thinking In Public


Why it’s important for leaders to brainstorm and discuss ideas in a way that allows the rest of the company to interact and gain insights into decisions

Remote work has pushed us to messaging apps. Conversations that used to happen in the hallways of your office happen on Slack and Microsoft Teams and Discord now. However, the serendipitous communication that arose from in-person work is not gone with remote work. It just requires more intentionality.

Part of that intentionality is thinking in public.

At Pinata, early on—when the company was just four people—we knew dreaming big was going to be important, but we also knew the best way to dream in color was to share our thought process along the way. It started with a slack channel called #pinnies-dreamland. The channel was a start. It was permission to talk openly without fear of the what-ifs creeping in. It was permission to explore the possible and, more important, the potentially impossible. But alone, the channel was just an idea factory in isolation. In order to propose ideas with substance, a shared understanding of multiple concentrations was necessary. Where is the company now? Where is the company going? What could change the trajectory? What does the market look like? What are leading indicators? What are lagging indicators? And so much more.

In the often isolated silo of remote work, it’s hard to keep people on the same page, so constant communication is key. But how do you balance constant communication with the very real possibility that you run into information overload? I think the answer to this is to not balance it. In truth, more information, even if it gets buried, is better than no information. A company that has the opportunity to see the thought process of leaders and contribute to that thought process will have an advantage over one that discusses the future behind closed doors.

So, if we aren’t solving for information overload, we should at least optimize for information reception, right?

In a world where messaging apps like Slack become the de facto communication medium, it’s important that people understand where to look for info and how to contribute. I don’t think Pinata has completely solved this, but one of the things we instilled early one—back when we were a company of four—was that every conversation was open to every member of the company. If you read something that you felt applied to the business, you should share it. Give your perspective, comments on others’ perspectives. If you heard from a customer, share the insight. If you saw a market signal, you should share that with the team and explain why it matters.

This type of communication requires full trust. It requires respect. It requires a complete lack of ego. You have to be comfortable as a CEO or a CTO sharing ideas that even the newest hire might push back against. You also, as the newest hire, must be comfortable offering your opinions and having a back-and-forth conversation with anyone else at the company.

An all-hands meeting is a good way to convey information top-down. These types of meetings are useful, but they are not a substitute for thinking in public. All-hands meetings are less collaborative than open, asynchronous communication. They are good for distributing important facts but not for healthy discourse on the varied opinions a team might have on the company or market’s current or future state.

A half-formed thought, posted on slack or even shared in an email with others, can often lead to fully formed product decisions later. But that can only happen if you’re willing to share. It can only happen if you’re willing to participate when others share. Messages will get lost. But by at least providing the opportunity for others to share in your thought process, you are creating an organization of horizontal leadership. Ideas don’t form in isolation when you think in public. They form concurrently. They form across a horizon of shared understanding. And the company is better for it.

Optimize for participation, but don’t skip out on thinking in public just because you don’t have the perfect formula for doing so. Share, collaborate, and communicate without fear of being wrong, without consideration of titles and positions in the hierarchy of the organization. Work as the creative people you are, and you will find that the entire organization starts to pull in the same direction much easier.