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.
While success is a relative term, there is a simple way to know if we’ve built something we can regard as a huge macro success. And that is when others are claiming derivative success within the platform we have created.
Examples could include:
- A top downloaded iPhone app
- X million views for a Youtube video
- A featured post about your project on Boing Boing
- Being person X on platform Y
Once someone can be regarded a success because they have used what we’ve built well, that’s when we know we’ve really changed the world.
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.
The person who was seen as most likely to succeed at your final year of school didn’t change the world. Not yet, probably not ever.
They’ve already had too much success in the early years. Too many congratulations, too many girlfriends, too many party invites, too many A’s on their report card. And so they’ve missed out on the most important ingredient anyone needs to succeed. Hardship.
The harder we have it, the more likely we are to change it. It’s only when we have a level of discontentment that we’ll ever develop the fire inside the belly that is needed to create a better situation.
I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the most important thing I have ever not done, is my homework at school. Most of grade school and high school, I basically didn’t do my homework. I knew it was due the next day. I worried a little, but not enough to actually do it.
While other kids were doing their homework after school, I was out playing with the other kids, getting up to mischief. Riding my BMX, playing games (footy, cricket, building tree houses etc). I can home late, often. Mum would yell at me and I had to think of an excuse as to why I was late. I would have to provide at least some kind of creative response. Then after dinner I’d be too tired to do my homework. So I’d promise myself I’d get up early and do it in the morning. When morning arrived I’d be too tired to do it then either… In short the homework would rarely get done. Almost never. When I got to school, the same charade would occur. That is, me thinking of creative reasons why my homework was not getting done. Firstly to the teachers to try and avoid an after school detention. Again later, explaining to my mother why I ‘had’ an after school detention. In hindsight it was all a little stressful. Thinking on my feet for answer. Answers I didn’t have at such a young age, with little fast thinking experience.
Turns out this was a pretty good career move, or even ‘life skill’.
In the end, years of being naughty, taught me how to do something far more valuable than having high grades in senior school. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to present to an audience that wants answers. But it also did a lot more than that. Eventually it showed me how to read the play on different peoples reactions to bad news, that rules could be broken if you could sell an alternative.
It even goes a little deeper when I think it through….
I wasn’t just watching TV when I wasn’t doing said homework. I was out in the street playing. Building things with other kids. Under taking projects, playing games and interacting. Doing real things with real people. Operating in ‘live’ human environments, where the results, in this case the ‘fun’, was based on my ability to motivate other kids and organize them. All this, rather than spending my after school day light hours memorizing a bunch I’ve crap that someone had deemed it important for me to regurgitate in some test.
And now as the years have passed I’m reasonably certain that the key to any success I’ve had in life has been due to my ability to influence people. I’m also pretty sure that not doing my homework was where it all started.
There is no point being a successful entrepreneur, or selling a startup if we have no idea how to handle the money we get. So here is my top 10 financial life hacks.
- Spend less than you earn, no matter what that amount is. The net result is happiness.
- Allocate cash to savings & investments before anything the day you get your profits, pay or dividends.
- Never go into debt for anything which does not appreciate in value.
- The real definition of an Asset: Anything that puts money in your pocket. The accounting definition of an asset is flawed.
- Do not trade stocks. Trading makes the broker and tax man rich and you poor.
- The greatest financial instrument is ‘compounding’. It only happens when we hold assets, not by trading them.
- If you can’t afford a consumer product in cash, you can’t afford it.
- There is no such thing as ‘financial engineering’. It was invented by Wall street to trick you.
- The best type of share investment is an Index Fund. They are investments in civilization. If that fails, we have bigger worries than our money.
- Invest more in education than entertainment & ‘things’ and you will outdo society financially.
As a surfer, today I was devastated to learn that former world surfing champion Andy Irons died. He was 32.
It’s a poignant reminder that waiting is for fools. Andy only had 32 short years, but managed to surf the world and be the best at what he did.
But the key question here isn’t about whether you are, or ever will be the best. Rather, it’s about knowing if what you are spending your days doing is what you actually would dream about being the best at.
It’s what we create for the people who care. The truth is we never know how hard it was to deliver the right product, at the right place at the right time. We only care that it was.
What we (the entrepreneurs, producers, marketers) had to go through is not part of the consideration set. It isn’t charity, it’s about them. So if we nail it and deliver the project quickly, we needn’t feel guilty or less deserving. Likewise, if it took us 5 years of hard working weekends and nights, that’s also no reason to feel a level of entitlement. We need to feel what they feel – underwhelmed or overwhelmed with what we deliver, how we got there is far less important.