Affecting change hurts

Working at startup takes it toll. Ambitions are running high, ressources are always stretched, a lot of processes are not in place, and getting the right talent to join the mission is super hard. There is absolutely every reason for why days and weeks can feel like an almost eternal struggle. But that’s just the nature of how it is to be building something from nothing.

When you feel the struggle, it’s super important to remember that there is the good kind of struggle and the not so good kind of struggle.

The latter is the internal one, where you struggle because you don’t have 100 % alignment in the team about where you are going with the business, or you have some friction between various functions in the team, because your processes for how to do things are not completely done yet. Yes, it can be super painful, but it is something you work your way through, as you gain experience, figure out what works and what doesn’t and get into a modus operandi of only doing the things you have found out works best and provides the most progress for you.

The former – the external struggle – is the really interesting one. Because while you would think that struggling is inherently a bad thing, you could also argue that in some cases it might actually be an indication that you’re starting to make a dent.

The reason I make this counterintuitive claim is that struggle is an indicator of friction. And friction is an indicator of change taking place. Thus the more you feel the pain, the more you get feedback from the market about your product or service being a different take on the status quo and upsetting people a bit, the more you’re scratching where you need to scratch in order to have an opportunity to affect change and create impact.

Just for clarity, I am not talking about struggling making the product work or getting to product-market fit in the first place as a good thing. Those are still the kinds of struggle, you want to get away from by fixing the underlying causes as soon as possible. But struggle in terms of people noticing what you’re doing, asking critical questions and maybe even giving pushback and fighting you a bit? Absolutely.

Understanding this dynamic is super importent. Because when you do you also understand that there is some friction and pain you need to deal with in a positive way, since it’s something you want in your life as an indicator that you’re moving the needle and creating an impact where it matters.

So with that comes the obvious question: How to you deal with this pain of the struggle in a way that doesn’t end up killing you?

People have been in this position before, and there are plenty of things to learn from them. Some of them have even been in the position, where the pain and risk was much more lethal and where it was truly a matter of life or death in the most concrete terms. Learning from them and how they coped might give some insights into how you can think about this.

One of the most prominent thinkers and examples of how to deal with pain and struggle and not succumb to it comes from the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher and Jew Viktor Frankl. Frankl spent 3 years in Nazi concentration camps, and while there he had an epiphany that afterwards formed the basis for his groundbreaking work:

People may do whatever they want to you. But even in the most gloomy of times, when all seems lost, you still at your core fundamentally control how you let circumstances impact you. You always have the freedom to decide for yourself that you won’t let even the biggest struggles break you.

That’s a super powerful realization coming from someone who would have had all possible reasons for giving up. And it’s a great opportunity to get inspired on how to be resilient and never give up. Stay strong, stay in the fight and prevail in the end.

So, in dealing with pain for the achievement of a later greater good, there is a lot of things you can do yourself by working with how you think, act and react to externalities. But you’re not alone, and you need that kind of enduring mentality to be present in the wider team as well.

This is where the role of the right recruitment comes in. The advice is pretty basic: Focus on recruiting people who share the vision, you have for your startup. People who have the same visualization of what it’s like when you’re there, and you have reached your ambitious goal. People who can feel how that would be like, and desperately want to get to that place. People who are willing and able to fight and see through the struggle(s) to get there, and understand there will be many roadblocks, challenges and issues before achieving success.

Of course it is also crucial that the people you recruit for the team have the right skillsets, but given a choice I would argue that sharing the same set of beliefs and ambition is the most crucial. Because if you get on the track, you’re hoping to get on, you will be challenged again and again by circumstances, and you need team members around you who will stand, fight and win the fight with you. Period.

You can help them along the way by ensuring that you carve up your success metrics into smaller bites, you can achieve within a limited time frame and celebrate, when its time to do so. Those little starts and stops in terms of putting in the hard work, celebrate success and start over again will do you a world of good in ensuring that you keep energy and stamina high, even as the challenges come at you left, right and center.

Just make it a habit to do the work that’s needed to affect meaningful change. Because the results are worth fighting for. Even when the process hurts, and you just want to quit. No success comes without making a real hard effort.

(Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash)

It’s been oh so quiet…

Q1 of 2021 is behind us, and I have ‘celebrated’ it by being quiet around here for almost a month.

The reason is that I have been busy doing other things while trying to recuperate.

On the personal front, me and my girlfriend have decided to build a new home where our existing home is. That means tearing a house completely down, finding a new place to live while the building project lasts and – not least – settling on what the new home should be like.

Let’s just say the amount of choices, stress and anxiety is daunting. And then all at once. I honestly can’t recommend it to anybody, but it’s something you first realize when you’re deep into it. But the end result will be great. I am absolutely sure of that.

On the professional front I have been licking my wounds after a MedTech startup I worked on for the past year chose another direction that sadly didn’t include me. Despite building the case, securing early funding, getting the IP in place etc, I placed a lot of trust where it wasn’t warranted, and I got seriously burned from it.

Actually, I would rank it among the Top 3 professional disappointments of my life. Yes, it hurt that much. I guess it is one of those tough life lessons that you analyze at a distance, learn from and emerge stronger and better on the other side.

Speaking of the other side, I am in the process of getting back on track and up to speed. There is a lot of work to be done and lots of exciting projects and opportunities to work with my great colleagues and help the startups, we work with, succeed.

It’s challenging, fun and super, super meaningful – just how I like it. And who knows what might happen in the Q(‘s) that follows?

Bring it on! Upwards and onwards!

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The (continued) case for higher ed

The only problem with colleges and universities is that they have become profit machines essentially barring students of limited means from attending.

The core of what colleges and universities do have probably never been more important.

I fully understand that there is a lot of talk about certification for specific skills being the future of higher education. But let’s just start with agreeing that one of the main reasons for that is what i mention in the first sentence:

The old model has become too expensive. It’s not broken per se. It’s just too damn expensive for most people.

So what’s good about college and (to some extend) university? Essentially what many people claim is bad (apart from the costs):

Generalization.

There is a lot of chatter that generalists are on their way out because specialists are all we need.

I think it’s a mix.

Yes, we need specialists. More so than ever. If for nothing else due to the sheer complexity of many specialities.

But we also need these specialties to be built upon a solid foundation; a more generalist approach and experience that serves as a guidance for how the specialty comes to fruition on a more practical level.

Being a generalist is a big part of how we are equipped to think, decide and act in various situations. Cutting that away generally leaves us with a hammer without necessarily understanding how to identify and pin point the right nail.

It makes us smaller contributors, not bigger.

Thus we’re back at the outset and the real problem:

The solution to the higher education problem is not discarding education and replace it with certification alone. It is making sure that higher education is accessible to talent, so that we can reap the rewards. Both as individuals and as society.

Higher education profit maximization is essentially choosing short term optimization at the expense of longer term profit for all.

It’s actually pretty stupid, when you think about it.

Via Futurist Speaker

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Commercialization as a science

When you’re working with researchers and/or developers, it can be super easy to completely focus on the research, the science and the product it is all (potentially) leading towards and the inherent value herein. And that nothing else matters to your future success.

But that is a flawed assumption. Cool technology doesn’t cut it on its own. It needs a complete ecosystem around it to have any chance of succeeding.

Developing such an ecosystem is super tough. There are many moving parts that changes all the time. And when you account for the human factor, change of opinions, irrational decision making etc, it becomes extremely complicated very quickly.

Navigating and succeeding in that maze outside the lab is a science in itself. And it should be dealt with, rewarded and appreciated in just the same way as we have the deepest respect for those working behind the scenes to develop the technology.

It takes two to tango. It takes tech and commercial acumen to succeed.

One cannot exceed without the other. And vice versa.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Startup-life as football fan

People who know me well also know that for the past close to 30 years, I have nurtured a deep passion for Blackburn Rovers Football Club. (Heck, this season our Danish supporters club even have a first team player sponsorship between us).

From a distance I have witnessed ups and downs (and lets face it; the last 10 years have been most on the downslope), and I have felt both the joy and the pain of being so much into something you just passionately want to end up well.

When I think of it, I think that a lot of what you experience on the emotional side as a passionate fan is similar to the emotions you go through when trying to build and be successful with a startup;

A few times the team will be firing on all cylinders, dominate the opposition and score a plethora of goals to the extend that you almost get tired of winning.

Sometimes the team will be playing really well but be unable to get the ball across the line for a goal. Super frustrating times and instead of feeling you at least got a draw and a point, you will rue the two points lost from the win that was not to be.

Sometimes your team plays well for 88 minutes, commits a really howler – or the goalkeeper forgets he can use his hands – and you will loose at the death of the game.

Sometimes you will just get run over by a superior side, and the most important job is how to put it behind you and move ahead with confidence to the next game and the next opportunity.

And sometimes you will be able to pull off the upset of the season, but superior opposition – and have absolutely no idea how you did it but still delight from your triumph.

But most of the times the team will be in there battling back and forth over 90 minutes plus added time, feeling on top in some periods of the game and hugely under pressure during others. And the scoreline most likely won’t reflect the amount of effort put into achieving whatever boring result, you end up with.

But there’s still passion, energy and tenacity to get it right and ultimately win. And you never, ever lose hope that your team will prevail in the end.

(Photo: Blackburn Rovers Football Club)

Put yourself on the other side

Years ago I worked at Microsoft in an international role. I had a lot of dealings with US colleagues, and one thing that always puzzled me was how resistant they were to change or doing something differently.

That lasted until someone explained to me that in the US, the time is takes from a boss tells an employee he’s fired until the time, the employer is resolved from all obligations towards the unfortunate individual, is litterally the few seconds it takes to say “You’re fired”.

So when they resisted change, they were really just scared of potentially losing their jobs.

The experience made me realize that you always have to take a shot at trying to understand where the other side is coming from. Because while it can be super easy to get frustrated, there is usually an explanation behind it all; a context.

Sometimes it is even good and valid, and it always demands being treated with respect.

Does that mean that you should change the ways you think, the ideas you put forward and the way you see things being able to happen just to always suit the other side.

Not at all.

But it means you need to make sure that you don’t scare people off, so they jump to the wrong conclusions that could ultimately lead everything you’re working on astray.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Who’s your debriefer?

The documentary “The Mole” by Danish documentarist Mads Br├╝gger about North Koreas dodging of UN sanctions is not only brilliant and important in its own newsworthy self. It also has an important lesson for entepreneurs.

In the documentary the importance of the debrief is touted; when you have been undercover and alone for years, you need to have someone you can talk to about your experience in order to get back to normal and – to some extend – keep your sanity.

I think the same goes for entrepreneurs;

Entrepreneurship can be an extremely lonely game. There are a lot of times, where the challenges are mounting, they need to get solved in a good way – and the only one on deck to make sure it happens is you.

It brings not only long, long hours. It brings sleepness nights. It brings detachment from your loved ones, because you’re thinking about the fix you need to come up with rather than be present in what you’re doing.

It is lonely. L-o-n-e-l-y.

A lot of time you may feel like you have little to win but everything to lose, and the pressure just build and build.

Unless you have an outlet for it. Someone to talk to.

Someone in charge of your debrief.

Someone on point to keep you track, sane and balanced in your life. So you can keep up doing what you’re doing (and most likely love doing anyway) without crashing against the wall.

So make sure you have a great debriefer in your life. It is that important.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Has digital really bombed?

Considering all the progress electricity, the combustion engine and other major breakthroughs generated inside 50 years of inception, digital still has very little impactful progress to show for it. At least that’s the argument, Greg Satell makes.

To some extend he is absolutely right. Even though some real breakthroughs have happened and made a lot of things easier – shopping, booking travel etc. – if you think about the money spent, the money wasted, real challenges uncovered and real challenges created by digital, you could argue that he has a point.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It is still possible to put real challenges – global challenges – at the centre of digital innovation and have those as our guiding posts. It is just a matter of our will. Human will. Not digital as such. Digital is just an enabler. And a potent one at that.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)