Depthless Impulse Vs. Slow Mastery

What is one of the most common behavioral patterns of young startup founders?

Depthless impulse married with an action bias.

Action bias is good. Action bias with impulse is accident prone. Action bias with depthless impulse is disastrous.

Here’s a story of a young such startup founder and his mentor:

A young startup founder went to his newfound mentor and said passionately, “I am committed to learning your thinking process. How long will it take me to master it?”

The mentor’s reply was casual, “3 years.” Impatiently, the young startup founder answered, “But I want to learn it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice every day, 12 or more hours a day. How long will it take then?”

“5 years,” replied the mentor.

“But, if I really, really work hard at it and give my best shot. Maybe 16 or 18 hours a day if I have to. How long then?” asked young startup founder.

The mentor paused for a moment and said, “Well, 10 years.”

“But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed young startup founder. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?”

Replied the mentor,” When you have one eye on mastering my thinking process, you have only one eye on the path that leads to learning my thinking process.”

Same is the case with many young startup founders. They get so much excited about the end result their idea might produce, they fail to give their 100% into walking the path that leads to the end result they had once imagined.

Depthless impulse is easy, getting into the verticle depth of the matter is not. It is painful. It is boring. It takes more time than what you think it should take. But above all, it is a surefire way to achieving your best potential. And, the whole notion of the startups is to achieve one’s best potential, isn’t it?

Startups who do not want to invest in verticle depth cease to exist sooner than later.

Not because they don’t figure out the different ideas to pursue, but because they don’t pursue the ideas differently.

Don’t let you startup cease. Only action bias won’t save your startup. Practice slow mastery over depthless impulse and experience it yourself.

Do Less AND Do Better

Had a chat with a young startup founder yesterday. She was  in her early twenties. Young blood with full of energy.

Her startup is about creating a fitness related solution using mobile-first approach.

The idea looked good. She was talented and confident. She was determined to make it happen.

Here’s a glimpse of our conversation:

"If I get funding of around US$25,000 then I'll hire the best mobile app developer and have them develop 10 BEST features from the competitor's apps," she said.
"Why do you want to build those 10 features?" was my question.
She: "Because I think all these features are super cool and offer the users with a lot of 
options and if users get more options then they might use more of my app and if they use 
more of my app then I'll make more money from the app."
Me: "What if you identify one or two EXTREMELY important features and leave every other 
feature out for upcoming releases?"
She: "But...but I know that all the 10 features are very good and my app should have it."
Me: "Why? Are those 10 features absolutely *essential* to the core of your solution? Or 
just good to have features?"
She: "Well, only one is core, but all others are really cool features. For example, I can 
provide sign in option via Twitter on top of email sign in option that I'm going to have 
as a default option."
Me: "Do you know how many people who are interested in your fitness niche are on Twitter? 
Are they active users? Do they really care if you have Twitter login option? Do you have 
any data which is unique to your niche that tells you that you must absolutely have 'Login via Twitter' feature in your fitness app?"
She: "Ugh, I don't have any specific data but I feel that it is a really good feature. I along with lot of my friends use Twitter so frequently. I think other users would also be using Twitter like ours ..."
Me: "What if you launch without Twitter login option and see if your users demand it?"
She: "I think I can do that but oh yes, I got the idea: rather than focusing on including 
every great feature that I can think of, you're suggesting that I quickly go to the market with the vital few features that are just better than my competitors?"
Me: "Absolutely. Do less AND do better!"

Observe the capital “AND” in the above statement. It is the key. The purpose of doing less is to do it better than everyone else including your previous implementations. Better is non-negotiable.

If you can’t make it better, “less” has no value. In fact, it deteriorates the value of your solution. More and better is often fool’s paradise.

Less and better is possible.

Less and better is loved by the users.

Sometimes, Less and better is hated too by a few … but that’s okay!

More is full of clutter. Less is full of what matters more. Apple does it. Basecamp does it. Trello does it. They do less and they do it better.

Sure, doing less is scary; doing better is difficult. Still, doing less + doing better is what it takes. Yes, it = your startup, boy!

The disease of copying superiors

Recently, Tom Peters shared this insightful article – The 15 Diseases of Leadership, According to Pope Francis – on his FB page and titled it as Wow & Wow & Wow!

It got Tom’s attention then who am I to ignore it?

It turned out to be a really insightful read and its author Gary Hamel has articulated it so aptly.

While all the pointers have a potential to be a wake-up call for many of us, point #10 struck the chord. Here it goes:

The disease of idolizing superiors:

This is the disease of those who court their superiors in the hope of gaining their favor. They are victims of careerism and opportunism; they honor persons [rather than the larger mission of the organization]. They think only of what they can get and not of what they should give; small-minded persons, unhappy and inspired only by their own lethal selfishness. Superiors themselves can be affected by this disease, when they try to obtain the submission, loyalty and psychological dependency of their subordinates, but the end result is unhealthy complicity.

I cannot agree more with this insight. Rather than learning from the superiors, many people in today’s workplace tend to blindly follow their superiors for different reasons.

However, I have observed that many middle managers at startups or smaller companies, often court their superiors because they want to become like them. While their objective is not always to gain the superior’s favor, they are absolutely impressed by their superiors than they should be and often commit a mistake of following their actions (and not their point of views) in similar situations.

These people are not small-minded, unhappy people who are inspired only by their own lethal selfishness. Instead, these people are mesmerized with the way their superior deals with different situations and think that they will also be able to lead similar situations if they will adapt to their superior’s style.

They get inspired by the heroic act of their superiors and tend to “copy” them.

They get psychologically dependent on their superiors and be loyal to the superior instead of being committed to the startup’s mission.

Often, such acts look innocent and give the superior a sense of personal fulfillment but it might bring negative consequences down the line.

Here is what is likely to happen when such a situation occurs

a) The superior starts feeling good about his subordinate’s act

b) The subordinate starts feeling good by keeping in the company of the superior

c) The subordinate starts simulating his superior’s actions in the majority of the tasks he undertakes – while hiring people; while delivering; while managing difficult situations with the clients; while doing their day-to-day work …

d) The superior starts noticing it and often tend to conclude that by following him, his people will also produce great results

e) This might result in missed focus on being as agile as possible, moving fast, failing small and failing fast, gathering as much data as possible and building an infrastructure upon which the startup or the small business organization can stand for the years to come

Four Ideas for Superiors to Deal With Subordinates Who Copy or Idolize Them

Such situations may plague the organization. Here are some of the ideas that might help the superior dealing with such situations:

  1. Be aware: Of your own act. Of your people’s act and identify matching patterns and see if those patterns indicate that your people are blindly following you, innocently or intentionally – and do something about it.
  2. Substance over smartness: Reward substance over smartness in each of the acts that your part of the business entertains. Even if the substance is not extremely good in style, reward it more over styled smartness which does not have equivalent substance.
  3. Communicate candidly: Talk to your subordinate and communicate what you have observed. Tell him that instead of being an inferior version of yourself, he should choose to become the BEST version of himself. Sure, he can choose to look at the situations from your point of view but he must understand and accept that merely copying your act won’t give him desired success.
  4. Lead thyself better: Now this has more to do with yourself rather than your subordinate. Empower your people such that they are inspired by the beauty of what they intend to create and not your heroic style. This is easier said than done but absolutely necessary if you want to create a mission-driven organization that gets things done!

In closing, copying superiors is indeed a disease and it must be dealt up front and as fast as possible. The key is to accept that it is a disease and then take corrective measures.

Question: Have you observed any such situation? What are your views about it?

Do Things That Might Not Work

Huh? Are you insane?

Certainly everyone wants this … assurance.

do-things-that-might-not-work

  • When a wedding event is planned then the head of the family wants the assurance that the event will go well.
  • When a new project is about to begin, the sponsor wants the assurance that it will be successful.
  • When a new product line is launched, the Executives, VPs and Sr. Managers need assurance that it will work.
  • When a startup is hiring a freelancer, they want certainty that the work freelancer would carry out will be extremely useful  to them (and since the freelancer is supposed to be needing the work, she should offer the money-back guarantee too!).

Assurance.

Everyone wants assurance.

The problem with assurance is that we get to know about it when the exact same experience has happened.

Whatever has happened once can be predicted. Whatever has happened once can be estimated. Whatever has happened once can contribute in giving assurance.

Creation is different kind of path. It is based on the ambit of “not sure.”

If the creator is asked, “Can you show me a case study about how you’d go from A to B,” he might not have a definite answer.

The world gets better by the stuff that comes from doing the things that might not work.

Are you doing anything that might not work?

Will You Miss Me If I’m Gone?

Recently read this news on TechCrunch: Secret App Shuts Down. Details here.

It raises some questions and the answers to those questions come with an opportunity to reflect on important something. Here’re the questions:

  • How would your app users react if you take the app down?
  • How would your clients react if you stop providing your consulting services?
  • How would your employer react if you put up your resignation?

If you stop doing your work, will that be a setback for them?

If your app is a clone of a popular app then no one would ever bother to notice if it is taken down.

If the quality of your consulting services is like just another consulting provider available next door then your client’s reaction might be, “Hmm, let’s hire another one!”

If you are like just another worker, it might be better for your employer to let you go and hire a new one for a less price although it sounds counter-intuitive at first.

But when the “who” becomes more important than “what,” the scenario changes.

Your work matters. Your app is missed if it is gone. Your consulting services is missed if someone else is providing that. You’re offered premium to stay and do what you’re doing.

Become the “who” that is missed and success might never miss you. This thought connects me with the Paul Graham’s classic article – Do things that don’t scale.

Perhaps being the “who,” who is missed if he’s gone is the most effective mean of getting your next gig.

Here’ gig does not mean just a job, it means live performance :).

So, what would you do so you’re missed when you’re gone?

Mediocrity Is Not an Option

Few days ago, one of my newly hired designers came to me to show a design that was not even mediocre at its best.

He didn’t say anything but got back to his drawing board when I asked, “Is this your best work?”

If I would have measured my blood pressure at that time, I’m sure it would be much higher.

Not because the deadline was about to miss. Not because my designer’s capabilities was any less. It was because the premise that the designer operated from: mediocrity might work this time.

No. Mediocrity won’t work. Not this time. Not anytime. If it works for someone, it is a fluke.

I wish the designer was taught to tell his past leaders on face: Raise your standards for me. I deserve more than what mediocrity may produce in my life.

The designer’s life would be much different if he had worked for a leader who would push him to his limits and bring his excellence out.

Take ownership of your life. Find a leader who does not accept mediocrity. Find a leader who pushes his people to the limits. Find a leader who makes you uncomfortable for all good reasons.

And work for him. Even if you get less salary than what you will get working for a mediocre leader. It’s a very small cost to pay.

Will it make you feel comfortable?

Hell no.

Will it make your life better over the long run?

You guess.

This applies to you even if the leader is you.

How to Get the Shit Out of Your Coding Skills

Do you know how to get the shit out of your coding skills?

No?

You can do two things with your coding skills. Sell your skills on per-hour basis, a pretty good source of income, or use your skill to create an app, a product and experience the compound returns on your skills sooner or later.

How to Get the Shit Out of Your Coding Skills

The developer who writes the code aggressively, without regard for her peers earning pretty good income for more or less the same skills, and partying out loud on the weekends more frequently than she could, often ends up with more opportunities on her way and more possibilities to influence the world positively (including her own world!).

On the other hand, her seemingly happy peers, end up with 7-15% pay increase every year till the market is booming and then when the time is not good, might lose their job wondering what they will do next.

And, of course, it’s the same for designers, writers, doctors, advocates, painters and every kind of creators out there.

Sell your creations for “guaranteed” low returns or compound it through your abilities to deal with an uncertain next.

Is any next certain?