The Genius ISMs: 17 Principals on Life and Work

Below is a revised version of the 17 basic principals that guide the work, culture, ethics, and interactions of employees at Genius.com.  For broader application to other people and companies I’ve generalized and reduced each principal to the key points.  For authenticity, wherever possible I’ve maintained the same language from the original description.  In addition to reading this list (or the original), I recommend listening to the A16Z podcast where the founders of Genius are interviewed about the thoughts that went into many of the principals.

It’s Not Not Your Job
Whatever it says on your business card, your real job is to make the company a success.  You can never say “it’s ok that we failed, at least I did my job well”.  You need to take ownership.

The Chaos will Not be Minimized
Building anything great is messy.  Pursue a results-maximizing strategy, not a chaos-minimization or comfort-maximization strategy.

It Should Be Fun
We won't succeed unless we all do great work, and it’s impossible to do great work unless you’re feeling inspired and enjoying yourself.

Only Hire A Players
Skills can be learned. Is the person smart? Do you get excited just talking to them? Would the person be effective in our environment? Is the person HUNGRY? Would we be devastated if they quit? Anything less is communication overhead.

Don't Fill Up on Bread
Choosing how to spend your time is one of your most important and difficult jobs. Always be asking yourself: “What am I working on? Is it the most important thing I could be doing?". Email is rarely, if ever, it.

Worse is Better
We have nothing to lose. If we fail it will be because we didn’t seize the opportunity, not because we made too many mistakes.

Run Into The Spike
Life is a battle against the evil voices inside that tell us to give in and take the easy way out. Whenever you’re deciding what to do next, pick the thing you least want to do. Chances are it’s the hardest and most important thing on your plate.

Take the Roast out of the Oven
An “almost done” project is just as valuable as a project you haven’t started. the worst thing you can do is get a project to “almost done” and quit. it’s far more valuable to ship one project than it is to get two projects to  “almost done”.

Being Busy ≠ Making Progress
Just because you’re not on Facebook and are feeling busy and  stretched thin and tired doesn’t mean you’re making progress. And 5 people meeting for an hour is like 1 person meeting for 5 hours, i.e., killing their day.

“What is Right?”, not “Who is Right?”
Very rarely should you do something because someone else wants it. Your job is not to figure out what the boss wants and make it happen. Your job is to figure out what you think is right and push for it.

Feel it to my Face
It’s especially important to be honest about the quality of someone's work. Is someone’s work output bad, good, great? Let them know. Be critical, but try to help. Feedback is a gift.  Err on the side of transparency.

“What do you Propose?”
Instead of just noting there’s a problem, push yourself to come up with a suggestion for how to improve things.  And “we should do X” isn't a proposal, you need to clarify who, and how.

Be Skeptical of Experts
An “expert”’s advantages in experience and knowledge is dwarfed by the advantage you have in knowing the full context and history of your problem. they also probably care much less about the problem than you do.

Pitch Like You Mean It
The most important aspect to being a good public speaker is being excited about the idea you’re sharing and being excited to be “on stage” / presenting it to your audience.

Write Like a Human
Whenever you write something read it aloud and ask yourself “is this what I would say if I were just explaining this to someone in person?” If the answer is “no” then make it more human and less “professional”.

Go to a Gym-esque Place
The healthier you are you are, mentally and physically, the happier and more productive you will be. Make time in which to step away from that glowing rectangle and take care of your mind and your body.

We’ll Figure it Out
Stay cool. It’s not as bad as it seems. In 6 months no one will care.  You get ZERO credit for being right that things were fucked, and a TON of credit for turning a crisis into an opportunity. Stay positive and look for one!

The original long description, with annotations, on Genius.com:

A great interview with the Genius founders on their principals: