‘Don’t let go, Jack’ implores Kate Winslet’s character in the closing scenes of Titanic. Sensible advice for people clinging to wreckage after an unfavourable encounter with an iceberg. However, there are times when letting go is important and essential. The founder of a growing business will eventually need to delegate and let go of certain aspects. The question is how do you decide which aspects?
Perhaps the iceberg can help. Icebergs are handy metaphors thanks to their famous characteristic of being roughly only 10% visible. Due to this seen/unseen nature, icebergs have inspired and visually supported many theories, including ones relating to culture, content marketing and change management. The earliest ‘Iceberg Theory’ derives from literature though.
Hemmingway’s Iceberg Theory is also known as the Theory of Omission. In his reporting and storytelling he would use a minimalist style, focussing on key elements and allowing the deeper meaning and detail to be inferred.
Very crudely put, the reader’s imagination is better than any writer’s prose and so the more blanks that are left for the reader to fill in themselves, the better the story. Knowing that a better alternative exists is a useful indicator of where you should delegate.
Many business owners employ IT specialists right from the beginning – they have let go of this aspect without necessarily realising it. Perhaps this isn’t you; IT could be your strong suit, but most people have a skills area they are more than happy to offload. They are well aware that experts exist who are better at it than they are. Honesty and self-awareness can help identify other areas which you could delegate.
Letting go is not necessarily tied to capability though. Returning to the iceberg, it may be visibility which dictates what and how you delegate. If your business is built on your reputation and expertise there will be certain aspects clients will expect you to carry out personally. Depending on how your personal brand is linked to your business brand, you may find it impossible to delegate visible tasks, and so should look to the ‘below the waterline’ areas.
However, for some, it could be more straightforward to let go of the tip of the business iceberg. Sales and marketing are visible (that’s the idea!) and as such they are more easily measured, defined and linked to a timeline. Whilst you can delegate the role, you are still able to keep tabs on progress. Letting go of the more abstract work that goes on below the waterline can be more nerve wracking for the precise reason that it is less visible.
In short, once you’ve realised the need to let go there’s no simple formula for how or where to do so. There are however, several logical ways to decide. Snowflakes are unique but businesses are more like icebergs – each one different but with common characteristics and structure. This allows for rational assessment, whether it’s based on capability, enjoyment, or visibility. A thorough understanding of your own iceberg clarifies the decision and thoughtfully allocating the tasks enables continued success.