The Alchemy of Org Building: My Intention

My intention in writing this blog series is part educational, part aspirational, and part evangelical. If you have a passion for building teams, organizations, or companies please read along and contribute with your thoughts.

When I say intention, I mean it in its purest sense.

An intention is our innermost reason for why we are doing what we are doing. When we are clear and genuine about our intention, when we state it publicly with fearless resolve, we are freed and even compelled to move forward. Stating our intention clarifies our minds and creates a lasting resonance which keeps us true to our task. So, as I kick-off this blog series on org building, I’ll start there.

First, it’s educational in that I’ll share principles of organization building I learned while helping build four start-ups in a variety of technology industries. These principles apply regardless of team and company size, geography, or functional area. I’ll address topics like defining team mandates, hiring best practices, and developing leaders. The nuts and bolts of org building!

It’s also aspirational in that I try every day to live these principles and improve how they are applied. So I humbly acknowledge that the blueprint and the quest---the teaching and the learning---are completely inseparable. A core value at AppNexus is that we learn by teaching and doing and this series is written in that spirit.

Finally, it’s evangelical in that there is an impassioned perspective woven throughout this series: that in org building, and in all things professional and personal, we should focus on process over outcomes.

That may sound counterintuitive, so I’ll explain. Process is cause; outcome is effect. Process is business strategy and tactics, the perspective and energy we bring to issues, the conditions we create. Outcome is a result such as revenue, customer loyalty, and great products. The best way to achieve an outcome is to focus on process. Why?


  1. Process is deterministic. We can achieve our desired result by having mastery over the conditions that cause results. Developing that mastery requires ongoing attention and reflection.
  2. Process is in the present. Focusing deeply on the present makes us more aware of current conditions and more likely to see unexpected challenges or opportunities. When we focus on the future, most of us become fearful. We create scenarios that don’t exist but might, that are low probability but feel palpably imminent. We then get distracted from what we can influence, and from the reality we can create. We become emotionally drained and intellectually clouded by the fear of failure.
  3. Outcomes are ultimately beyond our control. There are unlimited conditions beyond our influence that impact if an outcome is reached. So we will achieve more with greater ease if we accept we don’t have control over the outcome and focus our attention on what we can control – the process.

Another advantage of focusing on process over outcomes is that it better equips us to deal with failure. When we are incredibly focused on achieving an outcome, and we fail, what happens? Most frequently anger, depression, and judgment take over. These emotions inhibit our ability to improve, to clearly see the conditions that brought about the failure. When our orientation is to focus on process, we don’t judge our failure, we observe it. We see it as an opportunity to improve our process. We easily snap back, reflect on what led us here, and identify how to improve. Fear of repeated failure or personal inadequacy doesn’t overcome us because the outcome was never the primary objective; it was continually improving the process.

With that context, I look forward to teaching and learning together. I hope this blog series inspires thought and dialogue that helps you build greatness in your organization!

About Brandon Atkinson

Brandon Atkinson is Senior Vice President of Global Services at AppNexus, which offers the digital advertising industry’s most powerful, open and customizable technology platform.  He also serves as the Co-chair of the People and Culture Leadership Team.

Previously, Brandon worked at start-up Opsware as Director of Global Services Operations & Education Services.  After two years, he was appointed Site Executive, Romania, where he started Opsware's first off-shore engineering office and built it to 40 people over a 12-month period.  After Opsware's acquisition by HP for $1.6B in 2007, Brandon became Solution Director, EMEA, Business Service Automation.

Prior to that, Brandon was Atlantic Director of Peter Marin Associates, which was acquired by ACS (Affiliated Computer Services), where he ran Sales and Services teams.

Early in his career, Brandon worked for the City of New York, Office of Technology, before joining his first start-up, CitySoft, where he was Managing Director, NY.   He has also served with AmeriCorps*VISTA as a community organizer for a nonprofit housing provider in Anchorage Alaska.

Brandon has a Bachelor's degree in History from Livingston College at Rutgers University and earned highest honors for his thesis work.  He also has a Master's degree in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. You can follow Brandon on Twitter: @atkinson000.

See all postings from Brandon’s “Alchemy of Org Building” blog here.

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