I’ve spent an equal amount of time in large corporates and startups. With the success that large companies have achieved comes an entirely new set of cultures which they could do without. So here is my top 10 list of behaviours large companies could do without:
- Public reading events. Organise a room full of people and stop their work to read stuff to them instead of actually providing an inspiring change instigating presentation.
- Pre-meeting meetings: Getting everyone ‘on the same page’ – I felt sick writing that… yuck. Time wasting. Have some courage people.
- Promoting the best political performers: Ensuring the political champions kick on instead of those making a difference in the market.
- Skimp on the product: Remove cost from product instead of having a product in which customers would tolerate price rises for.
- Creating information spirals: Gathering more research to reduce risk and avoid making a ‘go’ decision while the market opportunity gets taken by nimble competitors.
- Developing slogans instead of getting stuff done: A company I worked for had a new one each year. One was Fewer Bigger Better. It was a great way to justify not doing anything.
- Developing internal language: Having a culture of industry jargon, codes and acronyms to create the ‘self aggrandising’ illusion of intelligence. Talking to themselves
- Mistake avoidance culture: Creating a fear of decision making, by rewarding staff for not making mistakes.
- Penny pinching: Closing the stationary cupboard during a tough year, yet the senior people can still afford those first class trips to international trade conferences.
- Global alignment: Ensuring the packaging for Australia is the same as the packaging in Lithuania when the product comes out of different factories and is served in different cultures. Confusing when global focus is a disadvantage.
What’s your favourite piece of corporate folly?
Fake it till you make it – sure you’ve heard that. But have you ever seen a documentary showing it in action? Been a fly on the wall while people make dramatic transitions? There’s an old UK television show aptly called ‘Faking it’. It’s now been off the air for almost 10 years but has serious lessons for entrepreneurs and anyone looking to make a transition.
It is truly inspiring to see what is possible for most anyone with focus, hands on practice and coaching from experts. One of my favourite episodes takes country boy James Sawyer dressed in tweed who speaks with a toffy voice to become a street graffiti artist in a mere 4 weeks. The premise of the show is that his mentor has to get their student up to speed so that they can sit a test, and trick experts who have to pick the ‘faker. The test James had was to go through a live graffiti art contest (pitch if you will), against 3 other actual graffiti artists followed by an interview on the hip hop culture in the hope of to stooging the judges.
It’s worth watching and you can watch it here.
The thing is that we are all faking it, even when we are regarded as an expert in our field. None of us really know anything with absolute certainty. We guess, we estimate, we take a chance, we copy others and we just forge ahead. We should remember this more in life and forget the fear of being called out as a fraud. Most of what we do to make a living or build a startup is not life and death. Getting it wrong wont really matter that much, unless you are building airplanes and bridges. (Airplane and bridge building readers, please ignore this post.) The rest of us should start acting is if we can.
There is a phrase which comes from a best selling book*
I tell all of you with certainty, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.
The economics of this statement are simple. If we want to get paid for you knowledge & skill, then we ought travel to a location where we are the unknown quantity.
*No, I haven’t read the book in question.
Deep down it’s as if we humans know that the ultimate in intelligence is fallibility. It’s the imperfection that comes with emotion. Almost as though there is some kind of perfection in not knowing or acting dumb. This not knowing leads to curiosity and new paths, the fork in the road. The wrong path if taken, also has the potential to lead to serendipity and discovery.
To this point, these seem to be qualities which are not present in machines and computers – and therefore artificial intelligence. So far, a machine has not been built to fake it, pretend, be mean, not care, be irrational or even be wrong on purpose. The artificial intelligence we have so far doesn’t want to have fun or be selfish, other than in the movies and in music. It’s been a one sided coin, all head and no tail.
A recent article referred to a form of artificial intelligence actually passing the turing test. A Turning Test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. They claimed that by adding the element of not knowing things and making mistakes to the algorithm it helped the machine ‘win’. It seemed like an interesting take or fork in the road towards finding intelligence as we humans define it. I feel like this trajectory is where intelligence needs to go in order to get more ‘real’. But the thing it makes me wonder for business is what other things have we been doing for 60 odd years or so which need an entirely new tangent?
I’ve had a lot of stuff buzzing around my head for the last few years. My local readers get their share when we have coffee. Recently I’ve put together a manifesto from my mind in the form of my debut book: The Great Fragmentation – why the future of business is small.
It is being published with Wiley and comes out mid July. Here’s a picture of the cover below and below that I’ve got some offers for readers of startup blog.
The reasons I wrote the book was that it was my view that most of the business books these days are too thin. They have a single idea and just tell a number of stories and examples around that idea. I feel like the revolution we are living through is much bigger than that. I felt as though we needed a business survival manifesto. Something which assesses the entire change in the business landscape – not just a trend inside of it. My view is that all the barriers to entry are being removed. That there is a dramatic power shift happening. An industry and by industry fragmentation which can’t be avoided and must be embraced. That the playing field is being equalised because technology almost has it’s own agenda. And that agenda is to become cheaper, smaller, more distributed and more powerful – with humans as the beneficiaries, not necessarily corporations. But mostly this book is the intersection, of Anthropology, Technology and how these forces shape the Business world. You can read a little blurb about it here, or even pre-order a copy here. While I can’t be sure if this will be a best seller, I can guarantee you it will be a best reader!
If you haven’t already signed up to my blog via email, you can sign up to updates on the book (and other projects) by clicking here. Before the book is released I’ll have advance copies and other cool resources for your startup / business. These resources will be crazy good & available only to those who signed up. (including a couple of world firsts).
I really look forward to the scary part of hearing your feedback on my 200+ pages of having nowhere to hide and instead say: ‘This is what I believe, I hope you got something valuable from it’.
When we hear about startups that have gone on to be huge successes the mind often gravitates to all those early investors. Those who had a seat at the table in the angel rounds, those who knew the founders and got in early enough to make some serious money. It’s a natural reaction when companies go on to reach the unicorn level. It is true that people who get in early always make more money. Late money often pays a premium as future expectations (when positive) are priced into the investment.
But there is actually a way to become an early investor even when you are late to the party. The way to do it, is to be a long investor.
If we invest long, then by default we arrive early.
When we invest in something for the long haul, we eventually become an early investor. Even if the investment vehicle was well established when we arrived and got involved. If we stay long enough the price becomes cheap through the dual benefits of inflation & compounding. Just ask your parents what price they bought their first house for and you’ll see the relationship between long and early investing. It also works for quality stocks too. While very few people indeed got to invest in Google before their IPO, those who bought the stock on the open market once the stock was publicly traded would have made more than 6 times their original investment in 10 years.
When we start to invest in 10 year plus timelines all manner of investments from property to index funds provide outsized returns. And while we may not be clever enough to invest in something that grows quickly, we can be smart enough to invest in something long enough for it to become early.
There’s a lot to know about time management, and even when we know it all, it’s pretty hard to implement. But if I had to impart a single thought on the subject of time management it would be this:
If the years seem to be passing quicker and quicker, it is because they are.
Yep, you read that correctly, each year we live is shorter than the previous year. That’s because everything we experience in humanity is experienced in relative terms. What we compare things to is what really matters. Our financial position, our height, our intelligence, our health… everything is compared to something. And so too are the years we live. The relativity of each year we live is a smaller percentage of the life we’ve already lived. This is why years seems shorter and shorter, and in relative terms, they are. For example, 1 year in a 10 year olds life amounts to 10% of the life already lived. While 1 year of a 40 year old is .25% of the life already lived.
For me this is a nice reminder that time is constantly running out. And we should make a concerted effort to get as much out of it as we can, even if that means we want more down time. The point is that we should make conscious choices on how we use our time, not just let it evaporate. I recently did a podcast on the topic of time management on the Beers Blokes and Business show. You can listen to it here.
And here’s one more doozy to close off with – you’ll never be as young as you are today. So get out there and make a ruckus.
I’ve recently watched a few presentations which really below my mind. Re-shaped my thinking on the next iterations of the technology revolution. Most interestingly, they all focus on independent systems, peer to peer and the end of the middle.
- Jeremy Rivkin – The zero marginal cost society.
- Mike Hearn – The trade net.
- Albert Wenger – World in Transition. (Why GDP decline is inevitable)
- Philip Evans – How data will transform business.
These talks aren’t short, but there aren’t any shortcuts in understanding what our future world might look like. I say, watch these instead of TV – you’ve got the time, it’s really all about how you allocate it.
If you’re reading this and you currently work for a company you don’t have an equity stake in – I reckon there’s a pretty good chance you’re planning your cubicle escape route. Today I wrote a post for Pollenizer on my Top 10 things employees need to know before they jump ship. The thing about entrepreneurship is that it is a change in environment. And like all new environments we enter the biggest challenges we face are never intellectual, but cultural.
You can read it here.
Evolution itself does not have a strategy. It just lets what wins, win. If anything, it is the accumulation of a lot of in market testing. Traits, (or tactics) are tested for advantage, and those that work, keep on happening through natural selection. Nature tries everything. Nature lets things that don’t work die.
We too can help our business evolve. We just need to do what nature does. That is to not pretend to know what will work. Instead we should try everything and find out what does. The good news of course, is that it’s so cheap to try so much in a low cost technology world.