Starters vs. finishers

November 24, 2018

Starters start things; finishers finish what the starters start.

My view, I suspect like many Americans, used to be greater respect for starters. Starters initiate; they're Founding Fathers, leaders, the people who "get the ball rolling".

But as much as I respect the George Washingtons of the world, working on large software systems has taught me to respect the Abe Lincolns, too: those who come in, take something that's incomplete, or in crisis, and work it into better shape. Often incrementally. Or just the plan-old finishers who do all the annoying, fiddly detail work after the starters have moved on to the next shiny thing.

Any idiot can pound out a v1, incorporate a company, or put their name on a town. What's much rarer is being able to work on something big without breaking everything, getting yourself chased out of town in the process because some essential service stopped working. Or just sticking it out to completion more generally.

Honoring finishers feels very Asian. I'm not sure why. But when I think of some hard task that requires a ton of patience and sticking with it—building a ship in a bottle, folding 1000 origami cranes, or doing some intricate, tiny woodcarving—it feels less surprising that the person who did it is from China or Japan, vs. some impatient American who would've moved on to something else about a quarter of the way through it.