Our annual offsite at Yosemite this year was a memorable one. We camped in airstreams, hiked up mountains, and spent a lot of time together as a team (which is a special joy for me since I work from home in Pittsburgh).
Each year the company picks a book to read for the offsite, and I volunteered to be a part of a team that led the book discussion for this year’s pick: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. One of the main tenets of the book is that a startup’s culture and its core values are key for its success. He defines culture as how employees think, act, and interact with each other. And core values are a formalized expression of culture. They form the “default way of thinking for the entire organization” and create “alignment between employees.”
Having been part of a handful of organizations and engineering teams previously, I had never truly connected with the idea of organizational core values. For me values were words on slides presented every once in a while as an obligatory reminder of what should be guiding us. But it was more like an afterthought.
My Suki experience has been quite the contrast. I feel lucky to be working with a passionate group of people that truly care about Suki values and make them part of the way they work. And, I’m not the only one based on the survey we conducted during the book session. Not only did everyone believe that Suki values were visible and represented in their day-to-day way of working, they also made their way into their everyday lives.
We discussed our core values reflecting on the book and in other sessions during the offsite. People talked about which values they related to most, and how they think about the value at work and at home. That would be no surprise to Hsieh since he said it is only when individual values align with the organizational values that everyone wins and the organization succeeds.
Suki’s five values are:
- Every pixel is in the service of the doctor
- Deliver quickly, but think long term
- Be a team of champions
- Always be learning
- Walk the right path
My favorite value is about delivering fast while thinking long term. I think it is especially important in health tech where one has the option of taking upon a myriad of open challenges waiting to be solved. We need to be mindful of whether the solutions that we build are going to be merely quick fixes or something that could help bring about a bigger change in the long-term.
I started thinking about this balance a lot in grad school while working on my thesis on applying Natural Language Processing (NLP) on clinical text. Without a well-defined problem, it was easy to lose track of the bigger picture or chase after shiny problems which didn’t contribute towards something compelling in the long term. Instead I needed to to define smaller projects which could be built upon towards a PhD thesis.
The way we work together, the way we work with our partners, and what we choose to build are directly influenced by our culture and expressed in our values. With clinicians at the center of what we do, a balance of delivering for the moment and the future, a humble and talented team - I have no doubt that we’re going to create something awesome and impactful.