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If The Shoe Fits: Founder Love Is Blind

Friday, April 14th, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mIn 1405 Chaucer enlightened us that “love is blind” and it’s been proven through both scientific and anecdotal evidence ever since.

In past centuries this referred to romantic partners and kids, but, as with most things, that, too, has changed in the Twenty-first Century.

Now researchers at Finland’s Aalto University have gone a step further.

(From the abstract) Here we tested the hypothesis that entrepreneurs’ emotional experience and brain responses toward their own firm resemble those of parents toward their own children.

Surprise, surprise — the results show that they are the same.

Anyone who has been around entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, won’t be surprised.

In my experience the more life experience founders have the more open they are to hearing critism about their startup baby.

However, that statement comes with a caveat.

It’s not just age or experiences that makes the difference, but the kind of experience — specifically raising kids.

Travis Kalanick may be 40, but he hasn’t been responsible for the shaping of a successful human being.

Mark Zukerberg may be raising kids, but they aren’t old enough to know how they’ll turn out, let alone what they will do along the way.

Just as parents believe their kid wouldn’t bully/drink/drug/cheat/steal, founders notoriously won’t listen to criticism of their vision/business model/culture/management.

Some, not all — obviously — but the number seems to be growing

It will be interesting to see if young, data enamored entrepreneurs will embrace this research.

Those whose kids are in their teens or older don’t need data, they have, or are getting, experience.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Ryan’s Journal: Can Culture be Defined by One Person?

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidspinks/4211977680/

Have you ever been a member of a group or team that is flat out terrible? I have. I have been a member of that soccer team that never won a game, the work group that wasn’t succeeding.

Did I like it? Absolutely not. Did I learn from it? I think in some ways I did.

Have you ever seen that same team or group start to succeed with different leadership? In my case I have a very real world example of where this came to pass.

I had the pleasure of serving for five years in The United States Marine Corps. During this five year time the US was involved in several conflicts and I found myself deployed to Fallujah, Iraq.

During my deployment I served with a team of 12 other Marines, together we were known as a squad. Now this is the military, but a small group of people working together can be found within any type of organization. 

Our squad was led by a leader who, while a good guy, was not well equipped to lead a group of Marines into life or death situations.

This person had some leadership challenges that ultimately led to low morale, loss of confidence and an overall lack of guidance.

To be completely clear, the group sucked. We moped around, were not excited about our purpose and lacked vision.

After some time our higher leadership realized a change should be made and they moved our leader to a role better suited for his skill set.

I will tell you right now, that was a life changer.

We had a new leader come aboard that had the experience needed, was motivated and challenged us to be better then we were the day before.

Now overall the same 13 people were on the team, but the outcome was completely different.

We worked better as a group, shared responsibilities and were proud of our accomplishments.

I look back on this one example often when I think of how one person can shape a culture. 

Now, obviously the military has a top down culture when it comes to leadership, but it also embraces servant leadership.

In this scenario our new leader embraced servanthood. He made sure we were taken care of before his needs and that reflected in our outcome.

Have you been on a team that isn’t performing to its abilities? What is holding it back?

I had a conversation the other day with my CEO and he said something that stuck with me. He said, “leadership isn’t a title, its an action”.

Isn’t that true of culture too? You and I are the ones who will set the tone.

Do I always get it right? Absolutely not! I fail more times then I succeed. I tear down when I should build, allow emotions to dictate over data and more. At the end of the day my personal culture and that of my team is dictated by my thoughts and deeds, no one else.

Who determines yours?

Image credit: David Spinks

Golden Oldies: Leadership Kool-Aid: Visions

Monday, August 1st, 2016

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written. Golden Oldies is a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Visions. Everybody has them — CEOs, entrepreneurs, psychotics, and, of course, politicians (especially politicians). It’s not the visions that are the problem; the problems happen when the visionary’s focus is on purity, instead of pragmatism; as amply illustrated below. Read other Golden Oldies here.

5252851284_4ea231228c_mThere is a wonderful post by Kent Lineback at HBR called The Leadership Learning Moment That Wasn’t. In it he tells of blowing a great opportunity because he couldn’t get the other executives in the company to buy into his vision.

“What do you think is going on? I made an important point and everybody yawned and moved on.”
“It was an important point,” he [the consultant] said, “but you didn’t build any bridges.”

Lineback goes on to say that he thought long and hard about the consultant’s words and realized he was right.

“I didn’t build bridges. I didn’t reach out and connect with others on their terms. I talked at them. I had a solution, a beautiful vision. I knew the answer, and I spent my time telling everyone what it was and what the company had to do.

But that didn’t change anything.

I knew he was right. I knew I should do what he said. But I couldn’t debase my perfect vision by turning it into a free-for-all idea jam. Better to stay pure and fall on my sword, a martyr.”

That is one of the great problems of leadership visions, they are the property of one person; one person who will do almost anything to sell the vision—anything except share and modify it.

Leadership visions happen at all levels of a company from the CEO down to the newest supervisor.

It’s a side effect of drinking the leadership Kool-Aid, so you might want to think twice before indulging your thirst.

Image credit: Khürt Williams

Entrepreneurs: Change the World — or Yourself?

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/inspiyr/9670184989/The entrepreneurial mantra that weaves through every startup vision and recruitment effort focuses on how X product/service will change the world.

This particular passion applies whether it’s a cure for cancer, a big data application, a new messaging app, social network or dating app.

How does one truly change the world?

Or is it a phrase with no real meaning?

Even if one does change it does the change make the world better?

Better by what yardstick and whose standards?

Change isn’t always a positive.

What is your responsibility if you do change it?

In his graduation speech at USC, Larry Ellison said, “You will change the world and the world will change you.”

For better or worse, change is the only true constant.

Flickr image credit: Inspiyr.com

Entrepreneurs: Caveat Emptor

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sterlic/5507406859/

“Brian” is an entrepreneur — an entrepreneur whose company just shut down after burning through $140K friends and family cash.

He burned through it as the result of a combination of overconfidence and ‘underdiscipline’.

It’s not the first time.

Nor the second.

His uncle, “Connor,” is a friend of mine and I asked why he keeps investing.

He said that he the ideas and plans sound solid and he does in depth due diligence, but something always happens.

Connor’s wife thinks Brian is a con artist.

Connor disagrees; he says there is a fundamental difference between the two.

“The difference between entrepreneurs and con artists is that entrepreneurs truly believe in the dreams they are selling — con artists are focused on the money.”

I told him so did pathological liars, who usually  exhibit above average verbal skills as opposed to performance abilities.

Which sounds exactly like Brian.

The takeaway is caveat emptor, whether the entrepreneur with the vision is family, friend, warm intro or cold.

Flickr image credit: Scott Akerman

A Vision or a Dream?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

vision

I wrote the following in 2008 and, based on a number of recent questions/conversations I think it’s time to post it again, with some light editing.

The Vision Thing

Whether you head a company, run a department, or lead a team, you are responsible for that ‘vision thing’ as it applies to those subordinate to you.

It’s your responsibility to clearly identify (if you are the CEO/Prez/Owner) or articulate (at all other levels) the goals of the company.

Then it’s up to you to involve your people, working with them to turn those goals into specific actions for which they are responsible.

Most people are vaguely aware that work isn’t done in a vacuum, but often individuals, teams, or even departments, fail to truly understand the domino effect created by allowing their schedule to slip.

You can minimize this problem, and improve the quality of your workforce, by making certain that they understand how their own goals, their colleagues, those of the company and its customers and vendors interact.

The biggest rewards at all levels (using whatever incentives are available) should go to those who understand the company’s goals, and ethically do whatever is necessary to achieve them—especially when they put the company’s goals ahead of their own.

None of this is rocket science. 

It’s simple enough.

No matter your level, if you’re the boss communicating the vision to your team and aligning their actions with it is your responsibility.

Otherwise, the vision becomes a dream.

Image credit: Wordle

Entrepreneurs: Basic Choice

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/126369362@N04/14693029044Fact: culture stems from manager MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™).

Fact: there are two basic, unconscious attitudes that underlie MAP.

  • “TaIk to me, I don’t know everything;” or
  • “Shut up and do what I say; my vision, my way.”

Know which you are — brutally honest inside your head.

If you are the first then it should be a critical factor when hiring (easy to confirm when checking references).

If the second applies be prepared for higher attrition.

It’s your choice.

Image credit: Grace Keogh

If the Shoe Fits: the Cost of Distraction

Friday, March 20th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mWhat happens when you create a fast growing business that has unicorn potential, but it doesn’t fit with your personal dream?

Do you pursue both?

That’s what Ben Nash did and almost destroyed PCS Wireless in the process.

Nash had always dreamed of being a real-estate mogul, while PCS Wireless bought, fixed and sold old cell phones.

Glamorous real estate or mundane phone reselling — which would you chase?

“I was running around the business world trying to find myself. I got distracted with ego and shiny things. I lost money in real estate, but losing money isn’t the problem. That’s a minor issue. I’ve always personally made money. The issue was my energy and focus was going to my other businesses and not to PCS.”

Nash didn’t get himself back on track, his team did.

About two years ago, the PCS executive team sat Nash down and gave him the “are we going to do this or not?” talk. (It’s “very important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you,” is how Nash describes his team.)

There are myriad distractions in life; everybody has them.

What’s important isn’t the distraction, but how you deal with it.

And how comfortable your team would be if it was necessary to sit you down for “the talk.”

Image credit: HikingArtist

Entrepreneurs: Beyond the Vision

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4427310974Where will a vision take you?

Nowhere.

Visions are what Sherlock Holmes had when he was smoking opium; they’re what dance in kids heads before Christmas; they’re what the religious see on slices of bread and potato chips.

Visions come in two flavors — hopeful and executable.

Both may have a plan, but the first is missing a key ingredient.

Call it grit (currently popular term), tenacity or moxie.

Whichever you use, it’s the difference between

  • rosy predictions, high hopes and self-deluding prophesies

and

  • a founder and team that is well-planned, efficient, business-smart and fearless in the face of obstacles.

Executable means more than writing great code — in spite of tech people’s generally dismissive attitude to skills such as marketing, sales and even fiscal controls.

In the best case, executable means having a team member with cradle to grave product experience and another familiar with the initial market and growth markets — or at least a team that listens to advisors who do.

In short, a truly executable is vision is a complete business, with all the moving parts having equal value.

Image credit: opensource.com

Balance and Common Sense

Monday, October 27th, 2014

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesjordan/3423905967

I was reading Oscar de la Renta’s obituary (fascinating guy) and a quote from him caught my eye.

“Being well dressed hasn’t much to do with having good clothes. It’s a question of good balance and good common sense.”

What grabbed me was the second sentence.

Because it doesn’t matter what you set out to do or how much money you spend on accouterments.

It doesn’t matter who you know, where you went to school, how many hours you work or how brilliant your vision.

It doesn’t matter because without balance and common sense you will fail.

Because balance and common sense are the foundation of anything you choose to accomplish.

Flickr image credit: James Jordan

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