Jim Duffy: Worth working alone if it floats your boat

Is it worth working alone? I recall attending a business event at the Scottish Parliament a wee while back.

Jim Duffy advises his fellow introverts to keep adding value and 'have fun'. Picture: Ian Howarth

It was a great morning and as we moved from the main chamber to committee rooms to chat through the specific issues in more detail, I was accompanied in the corridors by a “consultant”-type character.

He was waffling away on what he did to grow businesses and create value for the people he worked with. In all, I thought what he had to say was pretty decent. Then I asked him how many people he employed.

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“Yuck!”, he exclaimed. “People?! No danger,” he went on. “All that maternity pay, grievance procedures, workplace pensions and PAYE?! No thanks, I work alone.”

At the time, I was pretty astonished and wanted to tell him he was therefore adding nothing to the economy. He was being selfish. But of course, I did not. But it bothered me somewhat. So, was I right to let him get under my skin?

There is a huge clamour right now to get businesses to scale up. It is the right thing to do… if we go about it the right way. Essentially, when a business scales up, or even prepares to scale up, it goes on a big journey.

The person or people leading the business have to be ready for this… and I mean ready. The huge amount of pressures and challenges that is about to hit him or her squarely in the face is enormous. But the majority of the problems will come from people. Yes, those lovely creatures called employees. As you read this piece, you may be one of them. You may be working in a business that is growing fast or scaling.

But the onus for making it all happen rests with the man or woman at the top. And if he or she is not into “people”, then it isn’t going to work. People are essential when scaling a business, but my question is this: is it okay not to scale and work alone?

The answer is, of course, yes. And as I think about my consultant chum that I met at Holyrood that day, I now understand a bit more about why he chooses to work alone.

Many of us like our own company. We like our own counsel. We like to work things out in the privacy of our own heads. We adopt a Swiss army knife approach to running our own affairs. In short, we have a tool that we can deploy to fix things that go wrong and are multi-faceted in designing quick solutions within our sphere of excellence.

We are called introverts and we cannot deal with the demands of energy-sucking employees who ask stuff of us that we may think of as obtuse, strange or needy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not saying employees are needy. I’m saying that, to many introverts, they cannot cognitively deal with the demands of managing multiple personalities, emotions, egos and human problems. They would prefer to work alone and get stuff done more efficiently – within the defined parameters that they like to work in.

Steve Wozniak, or “The Woz” as he is sometimes referred to, was the co-founder at Apple Computer. He is an advocate for working alone. His advice: “Work alone… not on a committee. Not on a team.”

Ostensibly, Wozniak is advocating that management by committee does not work for him and that he can get stuff done quicker, smarter and more profitably on his own or with a tight-knit outfit. I totally get that and despite the management psychobabble of “team, culture and vision” that sometimes appears a bit lifeless, anodyne and false, working alone can be a brilliant way to exist for many of us out there. And, it’s okay to be a one-man consultant, if that’s what floats your boat.

How you choose to run your business is, quite frankly, your business. If you’re like James Bond and you like to work alone, that is all fine and dandy. Look at the results he gets!

There may indeed come a day when you break the mould and start to employ people, but only you will know when that feels right. In the meantime, keep focused, keep adding value and have fun, my fellow introverts.

• Agitator and disruptor Jim Duffy is head of #GoDo at Entrepreneurial Spark