I’m betting that everyone reading this blog, either works in a business they helped build, or is planning to escape their corporate cubicle some time real soon. And the people who are planning exit from the big nasty industrial conglomerate they work for, are planning, most often – build a corporation. (Sounds a lot uglier than the word ‘startup’ – doesn’t it?)
Ok, so the irony is clear.
But the way to overcome the irony is to remember why we left our job / company in the first instance. It probably wasn’t because we weren’t earning a decent income. It probably wasn’t because our standard of living was too low. It probably wasn’t because working conditions were unsafe. No, it was about the culture, the excessive administration, the frustrations, the lack of creative input and the dehumanising elements which so often ensconce a large corporate environment. And so here’s what we need to remember:
If we succeed in building our own version of a ‘corporation’ people like us will someday come and work inside it. They too have the same desires and requirements in order to enjoy their work day. They too, will hope to leave someday and make their own version of a corporation. Given all of this, it’s best we remember not to create the thing we ran away from.
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.
Over my career I’ve worked for a number of companies, as well as my own startups. And while I invested a good number of years working for others (as an entrepreneur with 1 really big and important customer – which is how I define it any time I am employed, as we all should), I always found that I didn’t quite fit in. I never really fit the bill. Sure, I delivered, I think I even over delivered on many occasions, But I was always a problem child.
I hope for your sake you feel this way too. While it can be uncomfortable at times, it is the muse trying really hard to tell you something, and that something is this:
You are an exotic bird.
Therefore you do not belong in a cage. Therefore your output (egg) is rare. It is possibly a different colour, size, shape and taste. It’s unusual, and so they don’t know how to deal with it. It is not what they expect, and they panic and don’t know how to cook it, or sell it. If they did, they might realise your eggs are worth much more money in the right market. But chances are they’d rather sell the same eggs, to the same people they sold to yesterday. You’ve laid some of these eggs over time, but it turned you inside out…. It wasn’t really you, even though you proved you could do it. When you showed them your natural exotic output, they didn’t want it. Instead they wanted the same eggs being laid by everyone, everyday. They just wanted more of them, and at a cheaper price than yesterday.
If this feels like you, you’re not alone. And if you do manage to escape the coop, and find, or better still, build the right nest, know it will be worth the effort. Exotic birds get paid a lot more for their eggs once they are in the right environment. But in the wrong environment, they are just seen as defects.
This is a really interesting piece from the late George Carlin – who, despite all his success took the best part of 35 years before he thought he found his place. While all of this 4 minutes is interesting, and it isn’t so much for entertainers, but really appeals to the spirit of any entrepreneur or employee with the entrepreneur wanting to break out. The bit I find most compelling is when he discusses the choice he made at the age of 30. That he was living in the middle of a generation gap and had to choose a new audience – a new young crew who got it, or an older crew who bought into it. We too need to choose our audience carefully. Should our audience be a bunch of senior managers in company XYZ who believe in the status quo, or should it be a new breed of entrepreneur / intrapreneur whose enthusiasm might be the missing ingredient to change stuff?
- thanks to Ender for inspiring this post.
I was having a discussion with a colleague about staffing at the most senior level of an organization. Non technical, Director and CEO level jobs. In fact the discussion I was having was with a CEO himself. What he said actually surprised me, especially given the level he is at in his personal career. First let me give a brief summary of what transpired.
We discussed a potential candidate for a role in a large corporation at 2 levels below the CEO. I retorted that this particular person we had in mind, was above that level, too senior and ready for a CEO job himself, and so he wouldn’t be interested, and that I thought he was ‘better’ than the role on offer. He disagreed. He said that this person wasn’t ready for a CEO role as he had not even held the role of director and it was too much of a leap…. the discussion kind of went around in circles as to what qualifies a person for the most senior job. His view was that the very top job in large companies was really only the domain of a special few. My point was that who the special few are is really an arbitrary decision made by the people who have the power to put people in positions….
In the qualitative arena of corporate positions there is no such thing as being qualified. Every time a person steps up or gets the opportunity to step up, is because someone in power handed it to them. Sure, they may have done well before but it’s not a guarantee of future performance. In fact, there are probably more examples of CEO’s doing bad jobs than there are of those doing terrific jobs. Especially given that most CEO’s didn’t build the business they are managing, they ‘inherited the corporate wealth’.
As far as I can tell it’s rather simple, and there are a few things that enable and facilitate people getting that big job:
- The person needs to be good at speaking, presenting & selling the future, not necessarily making it happen.
- The person needs to be smart, good at influencing others, but not necessarily a hard worker.
- The person needs to ‘look the part’ – seem like they belong. Present and dress well.
- The person needs to have seemingly ‘relevant experience’ in the same or a juxtaposed industry.
- The person needs to look good on paper, be a justifiable choice to the decision maker(s).
- The person needs someone to have had faith in them earlier in their career, promoting them to senior gigs before they look too old, or even when they looked surprisingly young – they need to be ‘picked’ and promoted. It makes them look more special or talented than the other people.
- The person needs to play a good internal game, this matters much more than their actual output.
- The person needs to not stick out as risk to the organisation, that way the decision makers wont be blamed if they turn out to be not so good.
Notice how none of these things actually guarantee the right person will get the job?
In fact, every job someone gets is based on the previous job someone else decided they deserve. Corporate climbers know this and leverage this through their entire career until they break through the glass barrier. They often then go on to earn millions for years to come trading themselves to various corporations, fooling the world that they are better, more qualified or more deserving to be in such positions. It’s just a game, but it’s not like football where the persons performance can be easily measured.
I’ve met plenty of great CEO’s (in fact the person I’m referencing at the start of this post, is the best I’ve ever met) and I’ve worked for plenty of duds too. So don’t ever let someone tell you that you are not ready, or qualified for anything. Remember that everyone who ever made that level didn’t get there because of how good they were, they got there because of how good people thought they might be, or who their friends were. An entrepreneur on the other hand, gets to where they deserve entirely on their own performance.
The large majority of work we do falls into one of two categories:
- We make things.
- We organise things.
As entrepreneurs we will do well to answer these two questions in response:
- Which one of these types work do we prefer?
- How can we help the parties doing the other part we don’t focus on?
Smart startup founders know that both matter, and both need each other.
One of the most inspiring Business coaches I listen to is the late Jim Rohn. While he comes from the old school of American Motivation, he does have some very sensible philosophies worth paying attention to. I usually listen to him while jogging. And the other I was doing just that when he said these 3 words. He went on to talk about why they were important, but by this time my mind was already wondering into my own interpretation of what they mean, why they matter and why they are actually in order. And here’s is what I think.
Philosophy: The first thing that has to change is how we view the world. We need to embrace of philosophy of self responsibility. The first thing that must change is our mind. But this on it’s own is not enough. How many smart people have you met who can talk a good game, but never do anything about it?
Attitude: It’s no point knowing about something valuable unless we truly believe it is possible, and that it is possible for us. I actually find the word attitude interesting as it is referred to in aviation. The attitude of an aircraft is its angle of flight, or orientation in reference to the ground. Basically, the direction it is headed… While flying, attitude is something which requires constant attention and maintenance.
Activity: It all means nothing if it is just mental. We’ve got to act on the two above factors, or we’ll just end up as another one of those people know the path, but never actually walk it.
It’s pretty disappointing when you come up with a great advertising idea, new website or app – only to be shown one just like it. To learn that it has been done already. It’s a bit deflating in fact.
Unless we purposely decide to flip it around.
What we ought do instead is a create a list of the ideas and projects we arrived just a little to late on.
The list should be called the: ‘Validation of Awesomeness‘ list.
On this list is all the things that you thought of or started independently, just not soon enough. In fact the longer this list gets the happier we should be. We should be happy if it is long, because it proves we are on track. It proves our brain is cranking, we are on the path to getting it right. And eventually, we’ll have a fresh idea that we can take to market and get our own share of awesomeness. It proves our creative prowess. The list tells us it is just a matter of time. In addition it just might gives us the confidence we need to get it to market quickly.
I’ve heard a lot of people call entrepreneurs ‘a genius‘. Usually when someone has achieved amazing success. The most recent call of ‘genius’ has been directed to Mark Zuckerberg – though some may refer to him as the evil genius. I to have been guilty of this affliction. I play the ‘genius card’, when I have envy over what someone else has achieved.
It’s a great card to play, because it infers luck. It infers that they have been born with unusual and exceptional skill. A lucky sperm! This genius birthright is then the result of their success. Not hard work, not embracing failure, not sleepless nights and hours down in the skunk works. The genius card in reality is our way of justifying our own lack of success, or more aptly – effort.
The challenge we must set ourselves is to stop using the genius excuse. Because we know deep down in our hearts, we are trying to marginalize others success so that we feel a little bit better about ourselves.
A retail analysts was telling me that many of his clients don’t want to know the truth about where their customers are going – the inevitable move on-line. He asked him why and he said that many of them can’t face the truth, because it hurts too much.
Another truth is that it ends up hurting more the longer you ignore it.