The Company of Theseus

I’m always trying to build the ship of Theseus.

The ancient thought experiment asks whether a ship that had every single plank and board replaced one by one over the course of a journey would still be the same ship when it arrived.

To me the answer is an obvious yes.

A ship is more than an inventory of lumber at a snapshot in time. Just like you’re you even though the cells in your body replace themselves all the time.

But this isn’t automatically true.

A lot of companies, communities, movements, teams, and projects fall apart or lose all semblance of the structure that embarked when key individuals get swapped out.

Back in 2009, I left a nonprofit where I had created a program I was really passionate about. I saw it fall apart a few years after I left. It killed me. I resolved to learn all I could about why it happened and how to prevent it in the future.

The last few companies I built continued on through tons of staff changes. Included my exit. I can’t express how proud I am of this.

I ask myself now with everything I’m a part of, “Does this have an identity and a future without me and the current team?”

If the answer is no, I try to remedy it.

I want to be a part of building ships that maintain their identity even after every part is replaced.

I can’t say this is some sort of universal virtue, but it feels right to me.