For the best part of the last 10 years I haven’t been able to explain to my mum what I actually do for a living. Both with startups I have created and jobs I have had. Probably more so with the paid roles I have had. And this is an important insight into the world today and how we all fit into it.
How my mum responded to various activities I have undertaken:
My blog: Why do you do that? What is it about? Who pays you for it? Why do people want to read about startups?
Startup School: How can it be a school if they don’t get a certificate at the end of it? What curriculum do you follow?
Rentoid.com: Why would people trust strangers with their things? Why would people rent or share stuff when they can just buy it?
Director of Strategy: If you don’t write the ads or make the film at this Advertising agency, what do you actually do? I don’t get it.
Twitter: Who cares about what you have to write? Why can’t you write more than 140 characters? What do you mean people follow you?
In fact, without being disparaging, we need to ensure our mums don’t understand what we do. It’s the best indication that we are a scarce resource in a rapidly changing landscape.
When everyone understands what we do, it almost certainly means there are plenty of people who can do it. And if there are lots of people who do what we can do, then there is less chance we can extract significant value in the marketplace.
If you wanted to learn how to speak French and I could give you a choice to achieve one of the following two options, which would you choose:
- To get an ‘A’ on your report card.
- To be fluent in the language.
Without a thought you would choose the second option. The second option clearly has more value than the first option. Even though the first option, may include the second, neither two are interlinked by default.
It’s an interesting analogy we can use when it comes to business objectives, brand propositions, and why we are embarking upon our latest startup mission. Do we want a number? (the A) Or do we really want thing that the number describes? (Fluency).
What’s also interesting is that speaking any language well is a life vocation, native tongue or otherwise. The achievement is not marked via formal qualifications, and language is most recognised when it has been learned on the street. A lot like business acumen in today’s rapidly changing world. The reality is greater than the certificate.
While fluency might be far too arduous a task for many of us, it’s important to recognise what we are really striving for before we even start.
Recently I ended up at a bar late at night. It’s a revered place called De Raum. It’s been well covered on the web so I’m not going to give a review of it here. What I will do instead is tell you the story of the ‘Teachers Reserve’. And how this business justifies an ultra price premium.
I asked the bar tender for something sweet, to help take the edge off after a heavy day – something night cap-ish. He said;
“I know just the thing. The Teachers Reserve. For those moments when you’ve done all you can, when the days been hard, and it’s time to reflect, quietly and possibly have a conversation in your own head. It’s not exactly social, but poignant.”
He then made up the drink and presented it in a manner which will make sense when you see the photo essay below. He furtively passed me the book, while he looked in the other direction – as if to say: ‘let this be our little secret’.
Classic theatre at transaction. I was delighted, and I didn’t mind paying the $25 for it.
Making really good stuff is not enough. We’ve got to be good as well. Good people. We’ve got to have a DNA encoded into our business which shows we stand for something that is wider than what we sell. I’m not talking about any of that Corporate Social Responsibility crap, or even triple bottom line reporting. I’m talking about caring enough to leave good things behind us in our trail. For the things we touch to be the same or better after we’ve been there. And most of all, we need to make sure our trail is going to be good, before we carve the path that takes us forward.
The question was: “How do you recommend balancing yourself?”
“My advice first and foremost would be to do what you love. Um… because that way, if you do what you love, it increases the chance that you’re gonna have success with it. And even if you don’t have success, at least you spent your time doing something you love.”
I happened upon a great quote today from revered Ad Man Leo Burnett which is probably more appropriate for entrepreneurs than advertisers:
“Steep yourself in your subject, work like hell, and above all, love honor and obey your hunches.”
Hunches matter. In startup land we are not in the business of research or satisfying a majority. Rather, we are in the business of sensing a shift and inspiring a minority.