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)

Excellence in failure

It sounds stupid, right? That there can be anything of excellence in failing. Because failure is just that, right? Failure.

But look at it this way:

If you don’t fail in anything, you don’t try anything. You never follow your curiosity to explore new things and new ways of doing new things.

Having said that there are different kinds of failure.

The bad kind is the kind of failure, where you just make the same mistakes over and over either because you don’t learn anything from it or you simply just don’t care. Don’t ever follow that path.

The good part of failure is where you take on new things, challenges, projects, dive in from the deep end without having a clear idea about how things turn out. When you fail in some or all elements, you learn what NOT to do the next time. And you build both experience and confidence in taking the leap the next time.

And that is a good thing. Because it’s when you take the leap into something new that you have the greatest opportunity for actually effecting change and creating a positive impact. And if you’re driven by that kind of thing, it’s precisely these things that will give you the feeling that you and what you do matter.

Looking at it this way, failure in itself becomes a stepping stone to learn from to get better and to succeed in the end with whatever you’re looking to succeed with. It doesn’t become something to avoid at all costs, holding both you, your team and your company back.

(Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash)

The dangers of ‘digitalization’

The Danish Management Society‘s new focus on “Digital Reshaping” – whatever that wording means – made me think;

Whenever somebody talks about the need to ‘digitalize’ products or processes in an old industry company, you as a digital expert should be quite alert. Perhaps even worried.

Because what does the phrase really mean?

I will tell you what it seldom means;

It seldom means that the company in question is looking to question every single process and product it has in order to ask itself questions like “Is this still relevant?”, “Does the product serve a clear need in the market?” and “Have we REALLY understood what it means to make this a success in the current and future market?”. And make the necessary brutal decisions the answers demand.

It seldom means that the company is looking to change it’s entire operating model to embrace the uncertainty of a fast moving market and favor smaller, nimbler experiments as a way of understanding the need in the market before pushing for the big product delivery. And it never means a higher tolerance – embrace even – of risk. Or even a longer time horizon to get things right.

And it seldom means being really ambitious about the people you get on board and – crucially – the mandate you give them to actually make the needed changes happen and – hopefully – put the company on a better trajectory.

All of the above are in my humble opinion key elements for actually making the necessary things happen that will change the trajectory of the company into something better aligned with the needs of the current and future market and customers.

Of course you could be in luck. But alas, you will seldom see these things. What you will see when companies look to ‘digitalize’, though, is;

Doing more of the same but in a slightly different way. Typically by investing in expensive systems from convincing vendors and trying to operate them even though they are often overblown compared to the value they end up delivering to your company.

More of the ‘big bang’ releases that are being touted – using various fancy words – as ‘transformative’ or even downright ‘disruptive’ (which they never are, ed.) that end up failing in spectacular and (sometimes) even depressing ways.

The same old guard of people sitting there making all the decisions lacking the necessary insight into the depths of the matter and what needs to be done while confirming to each other that they have long ago figured this out. And the ruthless of identifying the scapegoat for failure and weeding out of everybody else, who think and try to act in a different way.

The end result?

More blindfolded investment. More wasted investment. More convenient scapegoats when things again don’t go according to the grand ol’ plan.

And very little real change.

So beware. And demand all the right answers to the proper questions, before you get involved.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Igniting change

When you try to affect change and solve a problem in a new way, you need them to be ready to give up how they have done things in the past. Or get them interested in forming a new habit.

For some things it’s easier than with others. If you’re just presenting a more efficient solution – aka a faster way of getting from A to B – it’s (all other things being equal) easier to facilitate this change than if you’re trying to create improvement for people, who have been used to ‘nothing’ being the norm before.

Turning those around is tantamount to start setting expectations in a space where none may currently exist. It is like going from 0 to something and foster some kind of accelleration from a point of standing completely still.

You may very well only get one – or best case a few – shots at making it happen; getting from stand still to some sort of motion in the right direction. But if you get there, you (by and far) have it made.

But getting past this initial barrier – get the engine started and movement commenced – is your biggest headache. How to make it happen? How to make sure it happens, if it doesn’t happen in an instance? And – to some extend – how to keep the engine on and the wheels in motion.

In these cases disruption of the status quo doesn’t happen somewhere down the line. It either happens straight from the bat or maybe not at all.

It’s actually quite scary. But at the same time hugely motivating.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Is disruption dead?

Not at all. It is just not something we talk about in the same way as we did only a few months ago.

Disruption has moved from the rostrums, talks, columns and what have you and from people who basically have little idea about what the notion means to the lab, the office, the daily grind, where experienced brilliant people are working at it instead of talking about it.

There is nothing new in that. Far from it actully. We have always been like that: Faster, longer, higher. It is an anxient phenomon; always looking to improve and – at best – with a significant margin. It is just human nature. And it’s best left to action rather than babble.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)