Old school, and still cool, business coach Brain Tracy has an important question we should ask ourselves:
“What type of company, would my company be, if everyone in it, were just like me?”
Now, on the face of it it seems like a simple prose. How hard do we work, what kind of effort do we put in, how do we treat people and would we like others to behave the way we do. Honest answers to this question can be revealing. And it’s a damn good question to ask ourselves frequently.
But it goes one layer deeper. When we bring in new people to our startup, do we really need more people like ourselves? Do we really want another person who thinks like we do, acts like we do, has the same skills that we do and approaches things in the same manner? Or do we really need someone who is juxtaposed to ourselves?
The real challenge here is knowing where the similarities and differences are needed. And while that is a decision that only the startup founder can decide here’s a nice starting point: Alignment of philosophy and attitude is far more important than that of capability and aptitude.
If you, like me earn your living through intellectual or emotional labour (read you don’t lift heavy things) then it’s easy to mistake the former for the latter. It’s easy to think there is a physical limit in our output capabilities, that there are only so many intellectual calories available to be burnt. And because of this we should probably save ourselves, just a little. Play it on the safe side so we still have some brain juice left for the important moment, the moment that really matters.
I used to think that too. But here’s what I found. The more I do, the more I can do. The more creative output I have, the more creative output I come up with. It feels like (at least to me personally) that the more I do, the more I receive back from the creative process. As if there is a creativity multiplier effect. I was was recently scrambling to finish the manuscript for my first book. During the process I was worried that blogging might interfere with the thoughts available for the book. I thought I should save my best work. I didn’t want to waste words on the non vital project. But what I found towards the end, was that the more I wrote the more I had. I just started pumping out the blog entries anyway, and on these days I had the largest and most prolific output for the book. It was counter intuitive to me.
The lessons for me is clear, the more we create, the more we can create. And as far as modern day work goes, it’s important we don’t confuse our physical limitations with our creative possibilities.
Or is it?
Whenever a person or a company succeeds there is no shortage of post analysis on why the strategy was so clever. Why what they did worked, and how clever the people behind it were. And I’d say most time the people behind it are clever. But what I’m wondering is how much of it was planned, on strategy and predictable before any of it happened.
If we look at the history of science, very few of our discoveries started on paper, or in the lab. What was far more common was something actually happened which surprised and delighted. The people behind the discovery, or even those around it, then re-tested what happened to build a theory to describe it – or in business terms, a story that described what happened in the form of a strategy.
I’m pretty sure this is most often the case in business. For every new company, or game changing innovation there are probably a thousand or more failures of others trying to do the same thing. But these failures rarely get written about, only the success stories. And these success stories are always told post success – who wants to hear about failures anyway?
This tells us much about startup strategy. And what it tells us is that strategy is often an illusion. It’s a post rationalisation of what happened – the reverse engineering of business enlightenment. Where the real value is unlocked in business, is entering a realm where value needs to be created, and implementing a set of behaviours that lead to momentum and serendipity. This is a more accurate description of how a “pre success” strategy is landed upon.
In a world of rapid change we are better off letting events shape the opportunity, rather than trying to shoe horn our idea into a perceived market trajectory.
It’s not uncommon to hear about an ambition startup or entrepreneur wanting to change the world. But does the world really need changing? Is everything we live in so bad that some of it isn’t worth keeping? Are we that limited in our thinking that change is all we can come up with?
Maybe what we really need to do is improve the world.
And sometimes improving the world might just mean keeping some things exactly as they are. Some traditions, physical locations, products, services, events and attitudes are just perfect the way they are. What might be needed is the fortitude and vision to maintain the things of great beauty we are already blessed with. Maybe that’s where the next important opportunity lies. Human endeavour, and startups for that matter aren’t all about change, and certainly not change for changes sake. They’re about problem solving and creating value for others.
Yes, I like the rain forests just the way they are.
In the past few weeks I’ve been in the audience a few times when some smart people have taken to the stage. The presentations were largely retail focused. As usual I took notes and thought I’d share some random soundbites from what they had to share. I haven’t got the sources for each quote, because I couldn’t write those down quick enough without losing the information. But the thing that really matters isn’t the exact figures, but the patterns they are part of:
- 10 years ago car buyers used to visit the dealership an average of 6 times before buying a new car. Now the average 1.5 times. When surveyed about the cars they bought more than 90% of buyers knew the specs in more detail than the car salesman.
- Retail Delivery Gap: Australian retailers believe their customer shopping satisfaction rates are 80%. When surveyed the actual satisfaction rates from shopper was 8%.
- There are a significant amount of retailers who are now treating the customers as employees: Airline check in – Supermarket check out. This is all fine so long as it reduces friction and increases joy. It shouldn’t be the default approach, but a considered one.
- Retailer measurement used to be all about foot traffic and transactions, now they can measure everything in between, before and after. But smart retailers will need to ensure they have permission and share the prize with those providing the data.
- Big data is a bit like teenage sex: “Everyone talks about it. No one knows how to do it, and everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, but not many actually are.” Not my quote – but made me laugh.
- Advertisers need to get ready for revised TV. A television that knows who is watching it, what they’ve bought, where they’ve been and what they car about. One that can serve up specific, permission based and relevant content for a single person. 1 to 1 television creative executions – the TV’s can already do it – but it seems no marketers can?
- The delineation between physical and digital is over – pointless and and us versus them zero sum game. The intersection is now mandatory, or even tables stages – it’s now phygital.
- People like buying stuff, but not so much paying – but the money isn’t the pain point, it is the process and the friction they hate. Sellers need to get out of the way.
- Network Survival: A network stays alive so long as it provides trust and reduces friction. What’s interesting is that friction is often reduced by routing the long way round.
- The top 12 Australian retailers have $700 billion worth of currency convertible loyalty points on hand – a giant liability, or is it an asset?
- The phone is now becoming the personal life controller. It is the new location for commerce – literally where the phone is: simple example is Uber.
- We are entering the wallet wars era. The digital wallet as spruced about by Bill Gates way back in 1995 – every tech player, bank, payment system and hardware developer is in the battle.
- Mobile payments growing at an astounding rate in e-commerce. In the past 2 years payments via mobile phone grew 57 fold in Australia alone.
- Mobile provides a leap frog opportunity. Many players who missed the first web iteration, can now disrupt the disrupters by doing an amazing job on mobile - this game is still open.
What does this tell us. Just that there is so much happening, and no matter what business we think we are in, we are all in the startup business now.
I’m a slow learner. It’s rare that I fully understand things the first time I hear about it. This might even sound ridiculous, but some things I first heard about in primary school and secondary school I’m just starting to comprehend now as a middle age man. Political, social and philosophical lessons I got front teachers, family and friends. I really think that our brains work super hard on everything, all the time, in the back ground while we are busy with the stuff of life.
I had one of these moments yesterday. I was reading this article on bitcoin, which was discussing the genius behind the Blockchain method, referring to the back end complexities and how it might provide a model for a more independent peer to peer based internet. (Well, that’s what I think it was about). The point is that half way through the article, I was like – wow, most of this stuff is way over my head – it must be for smart techie head coding types. But I read it to the end. I’ll probably read it again, and I’ll read the other articles it links to inside of it….. Maybe I’ll understand it in a few years. The point is I’ll leave that to the smart parts of my brain I don’t have personal access to – the secret bits it keeps Steve outside of. I’m sure it’ll come up with something if I leave it alone.
In complex times, this is type of situation is set to become more common. Times when our initial understanding is vague. We shouldn’t let it discourage us. We shouldn’t let it make us give up and stop reading or trying to comprehend it. What we ought do instead, is trust that what we need to know will reveal itself, so long as continue to take in the data and we are patient.
If you want to work with someone, or for someone, people falsely believe that they have to ask for permission. That they need approval to start working with those who inspire them. The opposite is true and if we really want to work for someone, then all we need to do is start working for them. Start being a resource and creating value to what they do. It’s probably the best way to end up doing business with someone. To prove your capability, to demonstrate effort and to do it without asking for anything in return in the first instance. To be the resource.
I recently happened upon a great example of it. Aspiring advertising graduates went right ahead and did that for Tesla Motors. Here’s an advertisement they created below.
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The interesting thing is that it got a all the way to Elon Musk.
Just think about it, they’d never be able to get a meeting with him, to pitch an idea for an advertisement (mind you Tesla does not do any traditional advertising and does’t really need it – which is what happens when you make great products). But the lesson here is a vintage case of modern day bootstrapping. If we have resources at our disposal for connection and creativity, there’s nothing stopping us from using them. It’s those who create first without asking for anything who win respect and future opportunity.
When anyone is looking for a new job, the company they worked for starts to matter more than ever. Society seems to have a default position to want to employ people who come from big name companies. When assessing potential employees the first thing we look at is where they have worked before. The thinking being that if they have worked for a successful company, then they are part of that success. A contributor, someone who knows how to win, someone who has already been vetted, if you will. But what if the opposite of that was true?
What if this employee from the successful company was hiding inside the deep and wide corporate infrastructure?
What is this employee was riding the wave of the hard work already done by those who came before them?
What if they were claiming the work of projects with a zillion participants?
What if they were better at internal company politics, than actually creating any true market value?
What if they never had the freedom of independent decisions and never actually did anything, and but worse, never made any mistakes either?
When we start to ask some of the question above (and there are many more) we start to see how flawed the ‘successful company mantra’ is. In real terms they’re the easiest place to ride career coat tails. Maybe we should instead be looking for people who’ve worked at crappy companies with poor reputations. Those struggling to stay alive, the fringe dwellers, or even those that failed. The irony is not lost on me that startup land reveres and respects failure, as a key learning mechanism, yet recruiters only ever what to employ people who came from a stable of success.
We need to think back to some of the best lessons we’ve had in our lives. Forget the corporate crap for a second and just consider the art of learning. We’ll find that mistakes are key. That when the scars run deep so do the lessons. When things go very wrong, we vow never to do it again and have the personal experience to know when to change course. We know the warning signs and what to look for. We spot the problems much quicker. Surely the same is true for where we work. We’ve all had superiors who just don’t get it. Bad bosses who taught us more about leadership than the good folk we worked for. And we’ve all seen ‘what not to do’ by working somewhere that consistently stuffs things up.
Success breads success? Well I’ve worked in some of the worlds most successful companies, I can tell you that they are often still filled with chickens, they are never an eagles only zone. Mind you, with size everything mathematically gravitates towards average – eventually. It’s a physical fact. So the larger the organisation, by definition the larger number of average employees it has. The real question isn’t if large company X has a better calibre employee than small company Y, the real question is what filter bubbles are we letting hide great people from us?
Once upon a time simple forms of industry knowledge were a significant competitive advantage. The little things we knew about our industry from working in it mattered. We had to earn expertise over long periods, and the release of that expertise to prospective customers. We traded in trade secrets. But now those days are coming to a close.
In a market where anyone can know anything about an industry (from the worlds experts) with just a few key strokes, then we need change our view on what creates an advantage. Knowledge of products, prices, places, who does what and who owns what are all knowable. We are quickly approaching a market of perfect information. And when everyone can know everything, and prices quickly level out, the only thing left is trust. And a great way to build trust is by sharing trade secrets. By being generous with our knowledge well before we want to do business with anyone. We need to share what we know so others can navigate the market and reduce their risk.
When it finally comes down to doing business, customers have a much higher probability of trusting those who gave them the most trust first.
I recently met someone at a conference I was speaking at. Afterwards we exchanged some emails on a new project he was working on. He needed a developer, but was nervous about sharing his idea with anyone. After I assured him that there is rarely currency in ideas, and having them stolen was a low risk, I offered to connect him with my development team. Which from my talk, he would’ve known they were overseas. He sent back an email which said:
Where are they based?
This was my response:
Based overseas…. Moldova to be precise. I’m sensing that might by why you asked….
Here’s a some better questions: