Identifying the “source” of the company is a useful mental model applicable to businesses, charities, initatives, startups, or basically any movement around an idea. It is popularised by this site: https://workwithsource.com
I’ll just refer to companies here for simplicity.
What is source?
Companies have one person who is the “source” and many people who are not the source, called helpers.
The source drives the direction of the company. The reason the company exists is to fulfil the vision of the source.
Who is the source? They’re usually the person who takes the first risk, who had the first skin in the game, the first founder. But sometimes it’s someone else.
What if there are co-founders? Then it’s the person who took the first risk, and this risk usually isn’t monetary, but a risk of investing the self into the project. Both partners cannot take the risk at the same time; one will always be first. The source carries more weight in their words than the other co-founders.
Why is the source important?
The source is important because they know what is best for the company. They have an intuition over the next steps and future for the company that others don’t have. This is because they have access to resources and have had conversations that the others have not.
It is important to recognise the source so that there can be unity around the direction of ideas. Confusion about who is the source leads to confusion about the direction of the company. Power struggles and conflict arise often because the source was not explicitly recognised.
What about helpers?
Helpers are everyone else who is not the source.
The role of helpers is vital. Helpers give ideas and support to the source. The source cannot achieve their vision by themselves, without the helpers.
If the source and the helpers have the same overall vision, the company will flourish. If the helpers have a different vision for the company, there will be confusion or tension. Alignment is crucial for a successful company.
Helpers don’t join a company in order to help the source. They join for self-fulfilment, for realising their own vision or goals.
For example, a helper could become a source themselves, like being a founder of a new division at a company. They’re the source for that area. The company then has multiple sources; one source for overall company direction, and one source for the sub division.
When a source leaves a company, succession planning is vital.
If the source leaves but remains invested in the company, they will still be recognised as the source. The successor will not be able to follow their vision. The failed transition between Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer at Microsoft is an example of this.
There should be a specific moment when the source transfers to the successor. Everyone should know it and feel that it has happened.
Examples of source
The classic example is Steve Jobs at Apple. But there are some others we can highlight.