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.
Innovation is an interesting word which gets thrown around lot in organisations. No one seems to disagree that it is the life blood of long term organisational survival, but I think it’s clear that the definition of what it actually is happens to be wrong. The definition tends to be most wrong in large stable industrial companies. I should know, once upon a time I was the ‘head of innovation’ in one such large organisation. I was recently pointed to this article which goes a fair way to demystifying innovation, versus novelty and invention. But for me it doesn’t go far enough. I think the problem with innovation in many large companies is this:
They confuse Asset Utilisation with Innovation.
A colleague of mine works in a large industrial concern heading up the product innovation area. Here’s a bunch of constraints they’ve placed upon him:
- All innovations must be able to manufactured in their existing factory.
- All innovations must use the existing machines in the existing factories.
- All innovations must focus on the existing core users of the brand.
- All innovations need to be able sold in the existing sales channels and retailers.
- All innovations should have a price point in and around the existing price points their range of products are already sold for.
- All innovations have exactly 13 weeks to prove themselves in market, because that’s what the reseller demands.
Clearly constraints like this prove that the core task is not at all about innovation and much more about business management within a set set of structured parameters. In simple terms it’s an asset utilisation program. There’s nothing wrong with asset utilisation. It’s a valid, profit centric, strategic imperative. It’s what companies must and should do to reach their financial potential. What’s foolish though, is confusing it with innovation. Such confusion can only lead to a long term displacement of brand relevance.
The problem is that I’m not exactly sure what they are. The passing of time is the only thing that will actually reveal them to me. As much I want to avoid making mistakes, I know I’m doing some things right now which will just look silly or uninformed once I look back at them. Last night I was looking back at my life in 5 year increments thinking about the things I’ve done, some of the projects I’ve undertaken and how I would have done things differently in hind sight I look back to what I thought was right 5 years ago, and it seems glaringly obvious what the mistakes are. The interesting part is that it is not a one off. It seems to be true again and again – as every period of time elapses, there in the past lies a set of errors. It’s not like I am graduating from mistake making either – granted, they are not the same mistakes, but the process of making them is yet to desert me.
My history is a constant reminder of the truth. Like everyone, at least I assume, I have clear strategic and tactical vulnerability. I used to worry about it, but now I realise if what I did then, didn’t seem stupid now, then personal growth would not have been possible.
I’m pretty convinced that a sign of us living a good life is when all days seem to be created equally. When a Friday is equal to a Tuesday is equal to a Sunday is equal to a Monday. Entrepreneurship is about a lot of things; achieving something, recognition or maybe even wealth accumulation. But surely it’s about what the actual days feels like. Does it feel good in itself, or is it only serving those achievement type things mentioned above? When generating our next startup idea maybe we need to add another criterion to the expected market demand and business model considerations:
Would we be happy spending the 300 Mondays doing this?
If the answer to this is yes, then maybe the other factors don’t matter as much as we thought.
When we are forging our own path in life and in business, doubt is the key enemy. It’s even bigger than fear. The reason it is a serious enemy is because doubt always happens before fear does. So when we sense self doubt, we need to fight it and forge ahead, or fear might just take hold. We must ensure we don’t stop what we are doing. We need to keep writing, keep coding, keep building, keep creating and just keep doing whatever it is we ought be doing.
Even when we are not sure of the next steps. Even when we can’t see where we are going – we must continue to move ahead. It’s a bit like walking in the fog – the path only reveals itself if we continue walking. If we instead stand still, nothing is revealed
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.
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.
This is a favourite saying of companies pretty much everyone whose ever given advice about anything. But as we know, advice is a form of nostalgia, and while nostalgia can conjure important and worthy emotions, it’s not something to live a life by. Personally I believe that encouraging anyone to not make the same mistake twice is bad advice. Any skill I’ve mastered, which was worth mastering involved me making the same mistake over and over again. Repeating the error until I had got it entirely out of my system.
A better version of this advice is as follows: Making the same mistake is fine, so long as you are making it on purpose.