Superfluidity: The Anti-Framework for Getting Shit Done
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August 8th, 2022

Or as I like to call it (and will be naming my eventual podcast):

“Strong Opinions, Weakly Weekly Held”

Introduction to Superfluidity

We’ve all heard of the framework described as Agile — it’s when your teams use Jira, right? — and we all know what that state of flow feels like.

Superfluidity is, in short, what Agile was supposed to be, and simultaneously that state of flow scaled across an entire team (not each team member being in flow individually).

Superfluidity is why the $CAR team was able to go from “What if we blew up a Lamborghini?” to a highly-praised NFT auction in under 100 days. It’s also how the ConstitutionDAO team was able to go from an exploratory Zoom call to raising $42M in less than a week. Superfluidity makes impossible projects on even more impossible timelines suddenly possible. Superfluidity is how you take high-performing individuals and create a high-performing team.

But how?

How to Build a Superfluid Team

The Task at Hand

Superfluidity doesn’t generalize to any type of work. By nature, it only works for the absurd; the ridiculous; the crazy; the things that no one else is willing to try.

If it’s something that your average tech bro can imagine being done at a FAANG, it’s not something that needs a Superfluid team — just use waterfall or Agile! On the other hand, if it prompts replies of “you’re doing WHAT!?” then you’re on the right track.

Superfluidity requires a clearly identifiable goal for the entire team — initial product launches are a great example. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be Superfluid working on an ongoing project with no clear ‘finished’ state — it just means that you need some indicator of when a phase is complete.

The Team

Superfluidity makes a team greater than the sum of its parts, but you can’t bake a cake with the wrong type of flour and expect to win at the fair. So, what type of team members do you need? You need people who are:

  • Confident in their ability to solve novel problems
  • Low-ego
  • Communicative by default
  • Naturally curious
  • Some degree of generalist

Superfluid teams take “That’s never been done before” as a challenge, not as a critique. They trust in each other’s ideas, are always bouncing those ideas off each other, and see problem-solving as an art form. They understand each team member’s areas of expertise, but don’t enforce rigid rules of who does what. They treat everything as an exploration that no one knows the right answer to — they are, by nature, doing what has never been done before, so how could someone be an expert if they’ve never done it?

Superfluid teams can operate at various scales. $CAR had a core team of 5, ConstitutionDAO had a core team of 35. The larger the team, the more that ‘nested’ Superfluid teams will develop with a core focus, but they should never lose the mentality that the entire team is one Superfluid group.

In a Superfluid team, the individuals form a collective consciousness, and that collective consciousness is what acts (sort of) like the Project Manager (PM) for the project itself. One of the core team members should likely be an actual PM, but this is not strictly necessary — the responsibility for execution lies 100% on every team member’s shoulders. There is no “someone else’s fault” on a Superfluid team.

Traditional Teams v. Superfluid Teams
Traditional Teams v. Superfluid Teams

From Zero to… Slightly More Than Zero

Superfluid teams’ jobs are very simple: synthesize existing expertise, and create it where it doesn’t exist. This begins with identifying the core team members’ respective strengths and knowledge, so that the team understands where each member may lean and ensure that there are no major gaps in the core team itself.

Bring in the Experts

The initial task for any Superfluid team is to take their obnoxiously ambitious goal and break it down, and execute on exactly nothing yet. They spend their time identifying jobs-to-be-done that can be easily delegated/outsourced (like filming videos of 999 exploded Lamborghini pieces) and/or have existing experts (like supplying and using explosives). Find the experts and vendors that have done parts of what you need before. The point isn’t to make these things “someone else’s problem” — remember, the first job is to synthesize existing expertise. The experts are a necessary part of the team!

Plug them in

Once the relevant experts are identified, they should each have one point of contact in the core team, preferably the person whose expertise most closely resembles that expert’s. This ensures that that external expert’s inputs, thoughts, and needs can be most effectively represented in the core team.

Plan to Figure it Out

The final step of this stage is to create a rough timeline and firm deadline for the project. If possible, getting all the experts in the same room (irl or virtual) with the core team is best. Set a reasonably ambitious deadline with input from all the experts — the last thing you want is to miss a deadline because you never thought to ask your vendor if they could do something within a certain timeframe. While you also want to set the timeline for your road to the deadline — as we’ll explain shortly — that path is more like clearing a trail in the forest — it can be much more flexible and change as things progress. Your final deadline should not change unless absolutely necessary.

From Slightly More Than Zero to One (to Done)

Here’s the most fun (and most important) part for a Superfluid team. Executing! Sounds simple, right? You just start doing the things in the timeline!

Well, you’d be correct, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

“All Talk” can be Good, Actually

While in this execution phase, constant communication is key. Daily ‘standups’ with the core team are highly recommended, and long time blocks to work together and bounce ideas off each other can certainly be helpful. This doesn’t obviate the need for individual work time, but coming off mute for 30 seconds to ask the team a question can be far more effective than asking in a group chat and waiting 30 minutes for a reply. This constant communication is what takes the team to that state of shared flow, rather than a collection of individual flow states. In short, this puts the ‘super’ into ‘Superfluid’.

Strong Opinions, Weekly Held

Another core tenet is what I call “Strong opinions, weekly held.” This is, arguably, the most important part of what makes Superfluid teams able to execute effectively. At any point, the entire team is fully committed to their plan of action, but at the same time, the team constantly questions if they’re approaching a specific problem the correct way. Being fully committed to a single approach means that a problem is quickly solved when you get the approach right, and it quickly becomes clear if your approach isn’t the right one to take. If a problem is taking more than a week to solve, it’s likely the wrong approach (or a problem that should be broken down further), that why it’s “weekly held!”

Constant communication is what enables this to work, where all team members can contribute ideas towards solving unique problems and creating novel expertise. This committed—yet critical—approach is what puts the “fluid” in “Superfluid!”

Traditional Project Flow v. Superfluid Project Flow
Traditional Project Flow v. Superfluid Project Flow

We did The Thing. What Now?

Retrospectives.

A Superfluid team creates new expertise where it didn’t exist before. Getting that expertise into a set of learnings — practices that worked, practices that didn’t, etc. — is essential. Without this step, the goal may have been achieved, but you can’t build upon the newly-created expertise to do something even more impossible next time.

Lastly, celebrate — you’ve done what initially appeared impossible! Take time to recharge, appreciate what you’ve accomplished, and start thinking about the next impossible project you’ll create a Superfluid team for :)

TL;DR:

put a bunch of adhd kids in a room, give them an impossible goal and 30% of the resources you think they’d reasonably need, and then watch them succeed

PS

Thanks to Pimentel (@pimship) for the amazing graphics!

And a huge thank you to everyone at Windranger Labs and ConstitutionDAO who I’ve gotten to work with on Superfluid teams :)

PPS

I’m always happy to have a chat about how to make your teams Superfluid! Reach out through one of the contact forms on my website.

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