If Life is hard, it is especially challenging for rugged individualists.
Rugged individualism, derived from “individualism”, is a term that indicates the virtuous ideal where an individual is totally self-reliant and independent from outside assistance.
I was a proud rugged individualist through school, into my first corporate job, and into my first 2 entrepreneurial ventures.
In 2006 I came across Entrepreneurs Organisation (or better, they came across me…) and I began to change. I learnt that you can make much wiser decisions when you allow others to guide you with their experiences and their questions.
I have had many mentors in these last 12 years. I have been asked to be the mentor to others. I feel underprepared to be a mentor. David Cohen, founder of TechStars, wrote about the lessons he has learnt over 11 years of day to day experience in identifying great mentors for the entrepreneurs that form part of TechStars.
This is a wonderful 10 minute speech by Brian Brault, Chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, during a United Nations Global meeting on how Entrepreneurship can make a difference to the UN Developmental Goals.
Creating a Shared Future for Entrepreneurs and Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises in the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
I have met Brian several times over the last 13 years that I have been a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. He is an inspiration and I am glad that he had this opportunity to share such an important message to the world’s ambassadors and governments.
I receive a couple of regular email newsletters. I am very strict about unsubscribing if the content is not worth the interruption to my day.
Peter Diamandis sends out an excellent email newsletter called Abundance Insider, and it is full of ideas that make me sit back and reflect on the world. I originally met Peter Diamandis at an Entrepreneurs’ Organisation event in Istanbul, Turkey about 5 years ago.
The following comes from one of Peter’s emails and I decided it was worth sharing on my blog.
Over to Peter…
Every week I send out a “Tech Blog” like this one. If you want to sign up, go to Diamandis.com and sign up for this and Abundance Insider.
9 key lessons derived from 150 startups
This week, I had a chance to sit down with my brilliant friend Bill Gross, the CEO and Founder of Idealab.
Bill is a startup guru… to say the least.
Over the last 25 years, within Idealab, Bill has come up with over 1,000 startup ideas and started 150 companies.
This blog is about some of the key lessons Bill has learned about entrepreneurship, turning ideas into companies, investing, and helping them succeed.
What is Idealab?
Idealab is the longest running technology incubator around today.
Founded by Bill Gross in 1996, Idealab has built an incredible ecosystem optimized to ideate, start, build, and grow great technology startups.
So far, their track record is unparalleled. Of the 150 companies they launched, 45 have now gone public or had M&A activities, and 45 are still active now. And, importantly, they’ve had 60 failures.
If you’re familiar with the technology startup world, you know that typically less than 1 in 10 startups succeed.
Bill and I sat down to talk about the lessons he’s learned over the years in my Abundance 360 webinar this week, and here are my top learnings…
9 Key Lessons from 150 Startups
As both entrepreneurs and investors, take these lessons to heart. They are based on a lot of experience.
1. It’s easier when YOU are the customer.
When your startup company idea solves a problem that YOU have (and fundamentally understand), and you are the customer, it’s going to be easier to reach “product-market fit.”
YOU can be a good judge of whether you are meeting the need. Not someone else…
You can ask yourself: Am I winning at the goal that I have? Does this feel right? Would I use this thing?
If you aren’t the customer, the alternative is having to constantly ask your prospective customers for feedback – not an easy thing to do accurately.
2. If you have an idea, test it!
If you think you have a good idea, the first thing you should do is: test it!
At Idealab, the philosophy is: How do we test an idea as quickly, and as cheaply, as possible to see if people want it? In Eric Ries’ excellent book, Lean Startup, it’s called putting out a “minimally viable product,” or MVP.
Here’s the story behind one of Bill’s ‘minimally minimal’ product tests…
Bill was in the process of buying a car. He thought that the old-school way of dealing with dealerships and retail firms was painfully slow and inefficient.
His idea: people might actually buy a car online. (A revolutionary idea back in 1998.)
So he tested it, bringing in entrepreneur Scott Painter to lead the test period and, in success, to be the CEO of the resulting startup.
Within 30 days, they’d launched a simple website that allowed users to configure and buy a car with a $1,000 deposit. What buyers didn’t know is that they weren’t actually buying a real car. Idealab had not developed the relationships with the car manufacturers needed to implement.
The website was just a front to test a simple question: “Would a prospective customer actually put their credit card into a web form to buy something as expensive as a car?”
The first night, their site sold four cars. The test had worked and the test site was shut down.
That concept became Cars Direct, which, in 2004, expanded into other markets and subsequently changed its name to Internet Brands. In June 2014, the company announced that it had been acquired by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) for $1.1 billion.
3. Create a culture that rewards killing ideas.
As I’ve discussed with regard to Google’s moonshot factory ‘X’, Idealab also believes in killing ideas quickly.
Bill explains, “We kill a lot of ideas. There is no risk to our people; nobody gets fired. In fact, people get praised when we kill something. We save a lot of money when we kill a bad idea.”
It is so critically important that this notion is ingrained into your culture – otherwise, it will never work. Reward your people for finding ways ideas won’t work before you invest heavily in them.
4. Equity unlocks human potential.
Equity is an extraordinarily powerful incentive – Bill believes everyone should have it.
All of the employees at Idealab have equity in the company, from the CEO to the receptionist.
Bill describes it as follows: “Equity unlocks human potential. It’s not only about the money, it’s about the feeling of ownership you have in a venture. When you have just a 1% stake in something, it changes the way you think about things. It incentivizes people to use their brainpower, to feel ownership in that thing’s success.”
I call this capturing “shower time mindshare.” When people feel like they have ownership in an idea, they can’t stop thinking about it. The more ideas your stakeholders contribute, the better off your chances are at succeeding.
5. TIMING is the most important factor in startup success.
This is probably one of the most important lessons from Bill’s learnings.
To summarize: Bill investigated how five key factors affected the success of the 125 companies in his portfolio at Idealab and 125 companies outside of his portfolio.
The factors he considered were:
Quality of the Idea: How new is It? Is there a unique truth in the idea? Are there competitive moats you can build around it?
The Team & Execution: How efficient is the team? How effective is it? How adaptable?
The Business Model: Do you have a clear path to revenues?
Financing: Can companies that raise more money than others out succeed where the others would fail?
Timing: Are you too early? Just early? Too late? Right on time? Did that matter a lot?
Of these 250 companies, Bill picked 10 in each category: five companies that turned into billion-dollar companies, and five that everyone thought would be billion-dollar companies but failed.
The question: Which of the five variables accounted more for successes?
What was the MOST Important Factor? TIMING.
Timing accounted for 42 percent of the successes relative to failures.
Team and Execution came next.
You need to ask yourself: Is the world really ready for my product right now?
Bill explains, “You really need to look at the signals and be honest about what they are telling you. Go out to market – test if people want your product. If there aren’t enough people, hoard money and conserve momentum.”
Sometimes if you are a few years too early, you can hunker down and wait until the market is ready…
6. Startups don’t have to be in Silicon Valley – you can scale from almost anywhere these days.
Bill explains, “I really believe startups can scale everywhere. Talent is everywhere. Money is now everywhere. In Silicon Valley, talent is everywhere, but it’s moving from company to company. Other places are actually much more stable to start a company.”
Exponential technologies have democratized access to many of the resources you need to build a company. Great founders can build great technology companies all over the world.
7. Adaptability and flexibility are the most important characteristics of a good CEO.
When Idealab decides to pursue a new business, their greatest challenge is finding a CEO. So, as you can imagine, they have a lot of experience searching for and evaluating CEOs.
So what does Bill look for in his top candidates? Adaptability and flexibility.
He goes on, “Of course you need integrity, hard work, and smarts. But it is very much the case that the business that you start is going to be different than the one you build. If you are so obstinate and not flexible to what the customers are saying, you’re not going to succeed.”
Mike Tyson has a great quote in this regard: “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.”
8. Trial Periods are great ways to test “Talent Fit.”
When hiring people, interviews are tough ways to evaluate a person’s skills, mindset and cultural fit.
Working on a project together is a much better indicator.
At Idealab, Bill says, “We really try to work with people. Sign someone up for 30 to 90 days, work on the project together, then see if there’s a there there.”
9. Passion should be the reason you do a startup.
It’s cliché now, but it’s just the truth – you have to be driven by passion or you won’t be able to handle the complexities and hard times you’ll face in building your company.
Bill agrees: “Personal passion should be the dwarfing factor in choosing a startup to do of your own. Every startup I’ve done has had heartache. You have to be so in love with the idea, with the solution, that you can tolerate almost anything to make it happen. I have no idea how you could pick a business based on analysis and not on heart.”
This is the sort of conversation we explore at my 250-person executive mastermind group called Abundance 360.
The program is highly selective. If you’d like to be considered, apply here. Share this with your friends, especially if they are interested in any of the areas outlined above.
P.S. Every week I send out a “Tech Blog” like this one. If you want to sign up, go to Diamandis.com and sign up for this and Abundance Insider.
P.P.S. My dear friend Dan Sullivan and I have a podcast called Exponential Wisdom. Our conversations focus on the exponential technologies creating abundance, the human-technology collaboration, and entrepreneurship. Head here to listen and subscribe: a360.com/podcast
When I was 14 years old, my grandfather told me that “Success is earning more than your father.” This talk shares how my definition of success has changed over the next 3 decades of my life. My definition today… listen at the end of the speech.
Who is the first person that comes to your mind when you think about success? Who is that person? What is about them that makes you think of them?
Does it surprise you which person comes to your mind?
Re-sharing an old article of mine…
I wrote an article for myself in 2009 when I had faced 2 major setbacks. This was to remind me of what is important. I’ll share the article again here below:
17 Daily Habits for a Fulfilling Life
Conor Neill, February 2009
This is a compilation of habits that I have seen in the lives of people who have achieved things and felt satisfied and fulfilled with the way their life has progressed. I often get asked the question “is this for a book?”. I don’t know. I teach MBAs and often am asked over a coffee “what should I do with my life?” or “how can I be a success?” to which my answers are often in the form of questions – but this project hopefully will move me towards a better answer when asked these questions.
An entrepreneur friend recently commented to me an early conversation he had with a mentor “Alex, you have great potential”. “Thanks.” “Do you know what great potential means? You ain’t don’t nothing yet”. What does it take to turn potential into fulfilment?
I look forward to your comments, reflections, disagreements, personal experiences and outright criticisms.
Goal setting, Dreams – Goals – Actions
We know what we need to do to be successful, but why do so few people manage to sustain the habits of regularly dedicating time to the activities that will bring them success? Why do we sabotage ourselves?
A nice thought about something you might like to have is a dream. A dream written down and clearly visualised is a goal. A tangible, measurable step written down and committed to is an action. You will not achieve a dream if you don’t systematically work through the actions that lead to the goals that lead to the dream. Dream – have a book published. Goal – complete first draft of book by 31/1/2010. Action – write 1000 words on goal setting.
A writer is somebody who finds writing harder than anybody else. My brother Aidan – set a goal 60 weeks ago – publish a blog article every Monday before 9:00am – and has consistently met it except for 2 weeks – the week his son was born and the week his son was in hospital with a worrying stomach condition. How? He made a verbal commitment to many of his friends. He said to his wife that he would give her €100 every time he failed to publish by 9:00am. He has paid 3 times (once he published the blog 20 minutes late).
We need accountability partners (sadly we are less likely to cheat on our goals if committed to a friend than just to ourself). The top performers all have coaches; it is too difficult to sustain high performance without help.
Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers made popular the idea that becoming excellent requires 10,000 hours of practice. Your genes, your natural talent, luck becomes irrelevant when you achieve 10,000 hours. In what will you spend the next 5 years accumulating your 10,000 hours of practice?
Most people never accrue 10,000 hours in anything. Will you make the commitment to excellence, the commitment to mastery?
“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret” Jim Rohn
Routine sets you free. Routines can break the tendency to procrastination (“quieting the lizard brain” Seth Godin).
Pomodoro technique – get a timer that clearly counts down 25 minute intervals. Take your to-do list. Prioritise number 1 important item. Estimate number of 25 minute intervals. Set the timer and work on the first timer. Any interruption, reset the timer to 25. At the end of a pomodoro take a proper 7 minute break. After 4 take a 25 minute break. How many pomodoros can you achieve in a day?
Self discipline has been shown to be an “expendable” resource. In order to have the greatest ability to maintain self discipline, we need to get enough sleep, face our anxieties, take time out to relax as well.
Fit mind and body (Energy)
Survey of centurions (people who live to 100) – two things in common:
they exercise every day and
they have a project which they must survive in order to complete.
“Sharpen the saw” Steven Covey
You only have one body – take time for repairs. Take time to strengthen it. Take time to rest it. Keep fit, play sport, enjoy walking, don’t wait for the heart attack to let you know that you need to eat healthy, keep fit.
“What on Earth am I here for?” Wrong Question – meaning is not to be found inside ourselves – “What do my parents, friends, family, society need from me? How can I best help others?
Jesus Christ once said, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.”
What drives you? Guilt? Resentment? Fear? Materialism? Approval? Social comparison?
The Arbinger Institute distinguish between two forms of emotional living – “In the box” vs “Out of the box”. “In the box” is reactive – your emotions are reactions to world and people around you. If someone is late to your meeting, you are angry. Out of the Box is that you are proactive about emotion – you choose the emotion that best serves the current moment. You don’t react to people, but seek to understand what is happening in their life, what they are seeking, what they are lacking.
Henry David Thoreau observed that people live lives of “quiet desperation,” but today a better description is aimless distraction. Many people are like gyroscopes, spinning around at a frantic pace but never going anywhere.
We are products of our past, but do not have to be prisoners of it.
George Bernard Shaw wrote, “This is the true joy of life: the being used up for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
Do you have a clear understanding of your values? Have you spent some time reflecting on what is important to you? Who are your role models that have lived these values in a strong way?
Why do many cancer survivors look back on the cancer as a gift? – they live the rest of their lives with a true understanding of how short a time we have and what is really important in the time we have. The unimportant drops away and leaves a powerful clarity and focus.
Communication in concise terms of your personal, company, project, goal vision. You are always selling. People sign up for vision, fun and principle.
“We die”. What will you do the last hour? Who will be there? Who will you want to speak to? What would you say?
In the book “Superfreakonomics” there is a chapter that shows a high correlation with the arrival of television and an increase in crime. The authors examine various hypothesis, but essentially find no link except a speculation that the arrival of TV also was the arrival of powerful advertisement campaigns that transmit the idea that “buy this product” = “get this life”. The purchase of a €2 coca cola is not the purchase of sugar, water and some cola flavour in a red can… No, it is access to a life full of exciting friends, fun parties and meaningful interaction. The purchase of a car is not the purchase of a vehicle to get from A to B, it is access to a lifestyle. You are not happy now, but the mere purchase of the right set of goods will transform your life into one of fulfilment. This leads to frustrated people. We believe the ads, but they are selling falsehood. No thing, no object, no achievement will fundamentally change how you feel about yourself – only you can decide to change how you feel about life.
Integrity – build trust, reliability (“Its a small world”)
Are values worthwhile because they provide a ROI or are they valuable only in that they allow you to sleep well every night? Warren Buffett – why is Integrity his number 1 criteria for selecting people in whom to invest?
Aristotle believed that if an individual did not internalise an ethical value system before the age of 12 they would never really “feel” the need to live their values.
Finances in Order
Delayed gratification is necessary. Nobody soaked in debt will ever be able to generate the focus to deliver impact in the important areas of their life.
The test that has most correlation with success in life is a simple test devised by psychologists. They bring a child into a room and sit them down. The child is presented with a sweet. The adult then says that they need to leave the room. The child is most welcome to eat the sweet, but if it is still there when the adult returns, the child will receive 2 sweets. 50% of children cannot resist temptation and eat the one sweet, losing the opportunity to double their outcomes. The children that don’t eat the sweet do not sit there staring at it – they have learnt to avoid looking at the temptation, they have learnt strategies to manage themselves.
Accumulate education => Accumulate capital => Generate income => Grow expenses inside the limit of passive income. Freedom = passive income > expenses. Slave = 90% income as salary. Keep expenses low, generate assets.
Balanced, enriching social life
Choose your friends. You will become who you spend most time with.
What is the most satisfying thing you can do for:
Happiness: It is all about shared experiences + intentional giving.
Unhappiness: it is all about comparing yourself to others, what you have, what you don’t have. What would you rescue from your house if you could only save one thing? (95% choose photos). Not plasma TV, not furniture.
Strong close relationships – Marriage, Family, Kids
Quality time vs time in the same room. Intimacy. Requires work to deepen relationships and maintain powerful connections. It does not happen automatically – we are not genetically prepared to establish deep intimate relationships.
Resilience (Head in the sky, Feet on the ground)
Healthy balance between Principles and Pragmatism. Get good at ignoring the little things. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You will get dirty, you will lose and the pig enjoys it.
Self Motivation, Self Esteem, Self Belief
You see what you are looking for. Ask the right questions. Change “why does this happen to me?” to “What am I grateful for today?”
Get good at motivating yourself. We are not computers – we are neurons floating in a sea of hormones and we need to be careful what hormones we let flood our brain – it will change what we see and believe.
“The only source of good knowledge is bad experience” Tom Peters
Climbing Everest, you will not always be going uphill. Sometimes there are periods of downhill, but it is a necessary part of the journey. Farmers don’t blame the winter – they accept that it will always come around and prepare to plant seeds in Spring.
Survive => Thrive. We are first generation that survival is guaranteed. We are first generation where thrive is the aim – and we don’t have any history or knowledge or family role models that can guide us in a world where you really can avoid most hardships.
The person who says “poor me” has clearly got low self esteem. The person who says “I am the greatest” is also likely to have low self esteem.
You are the best you in the world. You will be a terrible somebody else.
“The reward for conformity is that everybody likes you except yourself” Rita Mae Brown
It is only in the tough times that you reach into yourself and truly see what is important to you. In the easy times you lose yourself as you compare to everybody else – and lose clarity of what you will know is important when death is imminent. The sharpest steel is forged in the hottest furnaces.
Life is too short to not laugh regularly.
Be accessible and approachable.
Mentors and Advisors (Life Strategy)
Have a list. Find your way to ask them. Nick Luckock – “Apax doesn’t invest in first time entrepreneurs – they don’t yet know how much help they will need from others and how they can ask for it”.
The ideal mentor is someone who you respect, can connect with on a personal level, and who is willing to impart their knowledge. But don’t expect them to solve all your problems.
“A mentor’s role is to help you to make sense of your own experiences” Professor D Megginson
Talking to someone who’s been through a similar experience or has achieved something that you would like to achieve will be constructive.
Coach (Accountability and Balance)
Cormac and his personal trainer: “I only work with the best”.
“I have no time for people not prepared to do the hard work.” All Great Coaches…
Permission to hold me accountable for my own actions.
Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell all have two things in common – they have been leaders of their respective fields, and they each have a coach. The best in the world have coaches. Is it coincidence? We are not strong enough mentally to keep up the hard work and discipline over the long haul to reach excellence. We need people around us who hold us accountable and push us to stretch. Tony Nadal, the coach of Rafa Nadal, says that his role is to ensure “Effort and Commitment” – not tennis skills, not better strokes, not how to get fit.
Auschwitz – 1 in 30 survived the camp. Victor Frankl was one. Why did some survive and others not? It was not random. The prisoners received bread rations only sufficient to keep them barely alive, yet some prisoners would take half of their bread and give it to someone that they saw needed it more than them. Those that ate all of their bread survived a time. Those that shared their meagre ration of bread were able to truly live. You can take everything away from a man except his ability to choose his response to any given situation.
Victor Frankl developed the Logotherapy process to help people find the ultimate meaning for their life, to find “a why that can overcome any how”. There are three types of ultimate meaning:
A Unique Contribution
Finding Meaning in the Suffering Itself
Giving with intention, giving what is special to you.
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give” Winston Churchill
Getting others to do stuff for you
“Leadership is Vision with bullying” Professor Brian Leggett
A vision without execution is idealism. Execution without vision is bullying.
Volunteer for charities, clubs. It is here that you will learn to lead. Create change = upset someone, connect people, lead people.
Reflection, Time to Think (Separation of Now and Future) “What have we learnt?”
Incremental improvement almost always wins.
Meditation – why? Does it really provide the impact that many of its proponents suggest? Commit to 10 days of self development activity every year.
“We’ll pluck significance from the least consequential happenstance if it suits us and happily ignore the most flagrantly obvious symmetry between separate aspects of our lives if it threatens some cherished prejudice or cosily comforting belief; we are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating”. Iain Banks, Transition, Patient 8262.
A fulfilling life?
Impact = Self Understanding + Personal Habits + Social Systems
Life = Work + Social + Relationship + Logos (Meaning/Spiritual)
Success = Impact + Luck
Why worry? It should all come together in the end shouldn’t it? Life should naturally turn out well. I don’t like exactly where I am right now, but in a few years it will be better. Doesn’t it just happen like that?
I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres when I was 23 years old. It changed an idea I had about life. It scared me greatly.
The book tells the story of an lieutenant that is stationed on a Greek Island as part of the Italian occupation during the second world war. He gets to know the locals and falls in love with the daughter of a villager. They enjoy happy times together. The Allied forces take back control of Greece, and the Italian army beats a hasty retreat. Our lieutenant has to depart but he and the Greek girl promise that he will return after the war. Three years later, the war ends, peace arrives and our lieutenant, after years in camps and on the run, finally can make his way back to the Greek island. He travels to Greece, catches the ferry to island and walks towards the village. He reaches the village in the late afternoon and is walking up the final stretch of hill up towards the centre of the village. He sees a woman in the square, his Greek girl. She is holding a baby in her arms. The lieutenant turns and walks away, never returning. He travels the world. Each Christmas the girl receives a postcard from some spot in the world – always anonymous and with no return address.
After many, many years, the man decides that he cannot live without seeing the girl at least one more time. He is now in his 60s. He makes his way to Greece, catches the ferry and repeats his journey of 35 years before. He walks to the village. He is walking up the hill towards the square and meets a young local boy. He asks “does Pelagia still live here?”. The boy says “I don’t know any Ioanna”. The man reflects and thinks. “She will be old now, 60. She was the daughter of Iannis”. The boy responds “that bitter old woman? She lives slightly outside the village” and indicates the house. Our lieutenant gets to the door and knocks. When the door opens, the girl who is now an old woman stands for a few seconds in shock and then hits him with all of her force and slams the door shut. He knocks and knocks and finally she opens. “Why did you do this to me? Why did you abandon me?”. “I saw you with a baby, I thought you had a baby, thought you had married, had found someone else… I didn’t want to stir up…” “Why? Why didn’t you ask? It was my sister’s baby. I was babysitting”.
Before I read this book I had the idea that life was like a 10 pin bowling alley when it is set up for a kid’s party. They put foam into the gutters so that all of the balls will reach the end and take down at least a pin or two. After reading the story, I realised that life does not have this foam protection. Life has big gutters, and it is quite possible to put my life into the gutter and not hit a single pin.
Never too Late to start
The positive thing is that it is never too late to start living the life we want. Life’s gutters are all in my mind. The past is gone Today I can decide to head a new direction, and the final destination changes. I only need change course by one degree and I may make a massive change in the new destination that I will reach and what will happen on the journey.
Jim Rohn says “It is possible to design and live an extraordinary life”. We measure life in hours, days, weeks and years – but this is not the right measure. Life is experiences. There are people that live 200 years of experiences in 40 years of life, and there are people who don’t live even a single year of experiences in 90 years of clock time.
“We die”. This is how the Cluetrain manifesto begins.
The human lifespan is 650,000 hours. One of those hours is your last hour. One of those days is your last day. This is an inevitability of life. We all will die. In that last moment, what will we have with us? Nothing. What will we leave? What will we remember? What will flash through our minds? What will it take so that in that moment, God turns and looks and says “now there is someone who really used the opportunity I gave her”?
Steven Covey says “Begin with the End in Mind”. Our end is a day where we face the end. No more opportunities. Our obituary will be written. What will it say?
Alfred Nobel had a unique view of his obituary while alive. He was one of three brothers. When Alfred was 55, one of his brother’s died. The newspapers confused the brothers and the next day’s edition came out with an obituary of Alfred. He had the unique opportunity of reading his own obituary at the age of 55; and he really did not like it. He was the inventor and mass producer of dynamite. Reading his obituary was the inspiration to change his life and leave a different legacy. Today we have the Nobel peace prize – because Alfred was so gutted to see that his legacy was going to be death and destruction that he spent the rest of his life creating the greatest current symbol of peace.
Aristotle said “we are what we habitually do”. If something is important, you must do it every day. If you say, “I will take some time next year and do that” – you will never do it. If something is important and will be part of our legacy it needs to be done every day and become routine.
“Carpe Diem. Momento Mori.” Seize the day. Remember we must die.
In ancient Rome, the words “Carpe Diem. Momento Mori” are believed to have been used on the occasions when a Roman general was parading through the streets during a victory triumph. Standing behind the victorious general was his slave, who was tasked to remind the general that, though his highness was at his peak today, tomorrow he could fall or be more likely brought down. The servant conveyed this by telling the general that he should remember, “Memento mori.” This finds ritual expression in the Catholic rites of Ash Wednesday when ashes are placed upon the worshipers’ heads with the words “Remember Man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”
They lie, they manipulate and they pick fights: Some colleagues are ruthless, especially when it comes to their own professional advancement.
Avoiding a toxic employee can save a company more than twice as much as bringing on a star performer. The trouble with Toxics is that they are difficult to detect. Often, Toxics are popular with colleagues, seen as friendly and interested. It’s only after a while that co-workers begin to notice that the Toxic is sucking the joy and engagement of an entire workplace. Poor leadership creates the perfect breeding ground for Toxics.
Who is likely to be toxic?
Overconfidence and narcissism are toxic. I know these traits… because myself, Conor Neill, at age 35 was massively overconfident and pretty narcissistic.
What it takes to get the job is not just different from, but often the reverse of what it takes to do the job well.
The main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. Men are more apt to show confidence, women tend to hold themselves back from overconfidence.
Unstructured interviews are a terrible method to evaluate a person for a job – they reward self confident individuals and fail to analyse real competence.
High-flying leaders dream of their faces appearing on the front of Time, Business Week and the Economist. Not their brand, not their team, not their investors… their own face. (That was my dream when I was 35 – fame for me). This is narcism.
Freud told us that there is a dark side to narcissism. Narcissists are emotionally isolated and highly distrustful. Perceived threats trigger rage. Achievements feed feelings of personal grandiosity. Freud thought narcissists were the hardest personality types to analyze.
Narcissistic CEO Larry Ellison was described thus by a subordinate: “The difference between God and Larry is that God does not believe he is Larry.”
The 4 Apocalyptic Qualities of Poisoned People
Harvard Research showed that employees who showed the following characteristics were more likely to be toxic workers:
Overconfident – as described
Self centred – narcism
Productive – individually highly productive in visible areas; note: this is individual rather than team focus on productivity
Rule-following – a stickler for the formal rules
A self-centred, overconfident productive and rule following person will poison their team – taking all the credit, ruining the spirit, enjoying and promoting the failures of those around them.
How to be Un-Toxic?
What can you personally do to be less toxic? What can you look for in others to ensure that they are competent and serve others?
Jim Collins identifies the 4 characteristics common to Level 5 leaders:
Responsibility: Give credit to others while taking blame upon themselves
How do you achieve humility combined with ferocious resolve? How do you stay responsible even as you do start to achieve more and more? I believe there is only one way to keep our feet on the ground:
Feedback from Trusted Peers
You must be surrounded by a group of people who can keep your feet on the ground, but believe deeply in your capacity to be a powerful, positive, valued leader. There is no way to keep this journey going alone. We need others to regularly see something in ourselves that we become blind to when left alone. As the story goes, we are 2 wolves… alone we feed the bad wolf, supported by peers, mentors, coaches and inspiring people… we feed the good wolf.
Watch people – do they seek feedback from trusted peers? If not, they are likely Toxic.
Robert Fritz says that we each have two limiting beliefs: powerlessness and unworthiness. We don’t have to pretend to be better than we are. We don’t have to pretend that we don’t do shameful things that all humans do. The only cure? Allowing trusted peers to really know us, and let us see what they see in us.
Benjamin Franklin brought together a peer group of 12 friends who would be fully open about their lives, challenges and opportunities. A group who aspired to live bigger lives, and who worried about the dangers of self-delusion.
I have been part of a peer group forum for 8 years. Each meeting we push each other to share the real person, not the one we have created to impress others. I have found over these years that each time I share something that I am ashamed of, it loses its power over me. Each time I share my real me, the others respond in a more positive way than when I share the carefully crafted impressive version of myself.
For 2016, Get Trustworthy Feedback
In 2016, be sure to surround yourself with people who believe in you, and in turn, make every effort to give them the same gift.
Do you have a trusted group of peers? If yes, let me know how you found this group. If no, I’d love to hear from you – I can share some tools to help you get started.
Over the last 10 years I have increasingly moved from product businesses towards a services business.
In the world of private jets we had simple rules: if the trip is not paid, the plane doesn’t leave. It was policy, not decision.
In the world of coaching leaders to build cultures of disciplined high performance, there is often a wide grey area between free discussion and paid consulting. I find it very difficult to mark that line clearly. I love talking about psychology and high performance and getting the best out of people. I am interested.
My landlord only accepts money for rent. Not good intention. So I have to do the same myself.
6 Steps to Stop Being “Free”
Be clear on the results you can help them achieve – Can you explain what success looks like in a clear, concise, specific and compelling way? in language that your target customers can really understand?
Show testimonials, examples, logos of past successes – capture testimonials and make them as specific as possilble
Find common passions or interests (liking) – build relationships that are broader than pure business
Respect yourself – know where you draw your line (Let the prospective client know that you are the most capable, dedicated and solution-oriented consultant they will find and that you normally charge X-amount for your time.)
Blog, write, speak, publish – direct your potential client there rather than give custom answers – thought leadership is free, customising the advice for a specific person and access to you should be expensive
Ask for the sale – Make yourself a product, set clear prices – and ask for the sale. “Look, I think you value my advice – lets set up a 6 month deal – two meetings per month for €XX”
More on the fine line between free and paid consulting
I am in Kona, on the west coast of the big island of the Hawaiian islands. I am in Hawaii for a workshop later this week. 10 entrepreneurs who are part of the global leadership of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation are meeting to pull together our ideas on how we can accelerate and deeper the teaching of entrepreneurial leadership – firstly within the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, but for me this is a wider question of the teaching of something that may or may not be “teachable”.
This post is a brain-dump of some thoughts, and a lot of questions. I don’t try to answer too much, but would love you to help me think through this question:
Can entrepreneurship be taught?
Why do some teenagers set up some business on the side while others settle with a summer job at MacDonalds? Is it because of their parent’s influence, beliefs, risk profiles? Maybe because of a role model?
Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs all famously dropped out of college to focus on building their business. Did they learn enough in the years of school they had already attended? Or did they learn little from school that made a difference in building a company?
I doubt that “dropping-out” is a key skill in entrepreneurship. However, I do know that sometimes you have to close off all other possibilities and commit 100% to one thing. If I have a degree, and an MBA, and a job offer… I am much more likely to give up on building my business when times are tough.
If some of entrepreneurship can be taught, what would it look like?
My own MBA course on entrepreneurship focused on how to write a business plan. You got an “A” for a well written, well researched, well presented business plan. A completed 40-60 page word document with plenty of excel tables in the appendix and some sensitivity analysis on the key assumptions. This is not entrepreneurship. It is consulting.
MBA courses have adapted in the 10 years since my MBA. Now, the lean startup of Steve Blank and Eric Ries has done a great job in getting students to really create a business as part of the course. They have to sell a few products, they have to iterate, they have to pull together techie help to build something. Entrepreneurship has moved away from writing word documents, to getting out of the building and interacting with suppliers, clients, banks and potential employees.
Another huge growth in the education of entrepreneurs are the accelerator programs such as Seedcamp, Seekrocket, Y-Combinator, Smartcamp etc. These bring aspiring entrepreneurs together with “experts” and mentors – experienced entrepreneurs who have already built a business.
My friend Luis-Martin Cabiedes, a prominent angel investor in the spanish digital startup community recently complained that most startup incubators focus on crafting a good pitch to investors. He asks “where is the execution, where is the team building, where is the finance?”. There is clearly much more to successful entrepreneurship than a good elevator pitch. Sales is a vitally important component of entrepreneurship, but it is not all that is required.
Some of My Big Questions:
What is the right balance between “happy” entrepreneur and “impactful” entrepreneur? Are they the same thing?
How to help grow intuition (or gut feel)? How to help people trust intuition, without losing the humility to check their beliefs/ideas/assumptions/plans with others? (Leadership’s great balancing act: The Need for Self-Belief vs The dangers of Self-Delusion)
How to manage Student Evaluation of Learning – the balance between “The feeling of Learning” vs “Real learning happening”. A lot of entrepreneurship learning is “Edutainment” – driven by immediate student 1-10 evaluations of the presenters – tends to push towards “the feeling of I am learning” vs The ugly discomfort of being faced by challenges that overwhelm your current level of expertise/capacity.
How to create consistency of Learning – often there is no connection between one speaker and another, tools, concepts, priorities. One mentor will say “you need lots of cash”, another will say “bootstrap!!!”. Is there a base-line knowledge for beginning entrepreneurs?
How to connect local entrepreneurs and keep them motivated by regularly meeting with other’s who face similar challenges? The most powerful benefit of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation is Forum – a formally moderated monthly meeting of 8-12 entrepreneur peers. This meeting keeps me motivated, gives me a powerful resource to seek answers to my entrepreneurial challenges.
Humans are blind to what we don’t know… how to create context in which Entrepreneur’s realize that there is more to learn, that their current skills/capabilities/knowledge need to be improved? A lot of entrepreneurs were bored at school. I learnt to research stuff in my own way and not to rely on teachers. I tend to assume I can learn things better with google, wikipedia and a few good books from amazon.
How to help people “depreciate” old knowledge/models? Often what worked in the past will be repeated… it is very, very hard to get someone to stop doing/believing something (much harder than giving them new knowledge or skills)
“What is Essence” vs “What is Accident” in Success/Leadership/People Selection? What are the base core values that must be developed to Lead in Entrepreneurial context? Which are “trainable”? Which are innate (or learnt so young so as to be considered innate)?
What questions am I missing? What resources would you suggest I use?
We are coming up to Global Entrepreneurship Week #GEW next week, November 12-18. Organizations all over the world will be putting on events sharing the entrepreneur experience as widely as possible. Events in Spain are listed at the bottom of this post.
Entrepreneurship 2.0: The rise of the Growth Hacker.
In 1995 the web consisted of 16 million people on dialup connections. Today, 2 billion are connected. The rise of the superplatforms Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn gives a nascent Internet startup access to millions of potential customers from the day they put out a beta version.
Traditional marketers are at a loss. Their skills are for 1-many channels that could reach hundreds or maybe thousands, but not for this new era of 100+ million customer channels. The route to customer is not through the PR agencies, newspapers, retail stores. The growth channel is viral referral-based adoption of your product. Zynga, Pinterest, Dropbox and Instagram grew to millions because they figured out the growth hacks.
Hotmail was probably the first product to benefit from a growth hacker mindset. They were a small web mail company growing slowly but steadily until one of their investors suggested that they add a “get your free email at www.hotmail.com” link to the bottom of all messages. This created viral growth, each new user leading to multiple follow-on users. One email sent to India generated 300 new sign-ups that day, and 300,000 within a month.
What is a growth hacker?
A growth hacker is 100% focused on growth. This means solving 2 challenges 1) get relevant traffic to your site, and 2) maximize conversion once a potential customer lands on your site. Growth hackers are disciplined in prioritizing ideas and brutally testing every assumption with customers. They are analytical and want hard, clear data to drive their decisions. They love google analytics, A/B testing of conversion pages, trial and error of call to action messages. They don’t fall in love with ideas, but are brutal in ongoing testing of all market and product assumptions. They don’t ever say “that should work better”; they say “let’s test that!” on real and potential customers.
Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing
Sean Ellis, the first Marketer at Dropbox says: “After product-market fit and an efficient conversion process, the next critical step is finding scalable, repeatable and sustainable ways to grow the business. If you can’t do this, nothing else really matters. So rather than hiring a VP Marketing with all of the previously mentioned prerequisites, I recommend hiring or appointing a growth hacker.”
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