Don’t try to be Keith Richards

Whenever you talk of ‘Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’, you have to think of the legendary Rolling Stones. Not only have they made an eternal contribution to great music that will live forever. They have also lived the above myth to the extreme.

Lead guitarist Keith Richards has been chief among those trying everything on the planet and then some. And it has shown, time and time again.

I distinctly remember a concert with them in Copenhagen, where during band introductions somebody had to step up to the ol’ geezer and shout into his ear where on the planet he was playing that particular night:

“Oh yeah…Copenhagen! Pleasure!”

And then a big grin on his face before going full body and spirit into yet another one of their evergreen hits.

While slightly funny in itself, the real interesting thing about Keith Richards is that he was not supposed to have been there at all. Judging from what he has done to himself over the decades, he should have been dead long ago.

Apparently the combination of a very strong immune system (that scientists will want to study when he’s gone) and luck has kept him alive.

That last part is the essential one here.

Luck.

If luck hadn’t played its very significant part, Keith Richards would probably not have been around to tell his countless tales. Luck enabled him to do so.

It wasn’t part of any masterplan on his part. If there ever was one it went up in smoke – literally – in the 70s. Because you can’t plan for luck.

Neither can you.

If luck is a key ingredient to your future success, take a step back and reassess what you’re doing and how you can work to ensure that you’re not so dependent on something as fluffy, fledgling and very little under control as luck is.

Of course successful people are lucky too. But most of them – 99% would be my guess – also made it with more hard work, focus, determination, grit, talent and whatever than sheer luck saving them from stupid decisions.

You should work your way towards success. While Keith Richards is undoubtedly a legend, he is and will remain a terrible, terrible role model.

(Photo by Vale Arellano on Unsplash)

Reframing “How Might We…”

In my previous agency job I spent quite a lot of time working with the Google Design Sprint methodology, and I even got to a couple of moments of fame, when I both ended up teaching the methodology at the Danish Technological Institut as well as running a sprint for Google themselves.

There were – and are – a lot of great things in the Design Sprint methodology, which when applied in the right way can really bring ideas, conversations and work in general forward.

One of them is the “How Might We…”-question. It is a very elegant way of reframing a problem into an open-ended solution mindset, you can actually use as the foundation for working on fixing that problem.

There is one issue with the question though IMHO: It is not really good at framing the context of the question being asked.

But maybe there is a simple fix for that which makes the question even more powerful to ask? And not only for Design Sprints but for general conversations about vision, strategy and “What’s next?” for our company?

What if you started your “How Might We…”-question with a statement of fact to set the context?

Like: “Since we now have a sales model that works for other peoples products, how might we best introduce our own private label offerings?”

Or: “With maturity reached in our beachhead market, how might we go after the next vertical to grow our business?”

By doing it this way, you not only provide context to the open-ended solution oriented question. You also create a strong sense of why it’s important – almost “do or die” – for you and your team to spend precious time on looking to solve the problem.

And it will eliminate time wasting from those that will always be asking “Why?” whenever you try to introduce a new important project and leaving them with no or at least very little opt-out from stepping forward to help in coming up with the future solutions.

Essentially it underscores the “We” part of this collaborative proces. Which I think is key to the exercise and – done this way – a significant booster to get you set for a concerted, co-operative effort.

(Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash)

Vision needs strategy

Most startups are founded on a vision; a wish to help bring about change to something in the world. But many lack a coherent strategy of how to get there in the end.

How come? The difference is in the meaning of the various words.

A vision is like a desert mirage. It’s aspirational, something we can imagine but is not real – yet.

A strategy is a plan to find the waterhole in the desert, so to say. It doesn’t have to be a complex plan with a lot of moving parts, but it needs to be a plan that can – if nothing else – convince people that not only might you be on to something. You actually also have some kind of idea of how to capture it.

Many startups frown at the word ‘strategy’ and doing strategy work is a pretty long way down the list of priorities. But while it’s true that execution is key and should take precedence over ‘thought’-work, they still need to set aside time to develop the plan.

Otherwise how are they ever going to make it to the fulfillment of the vision?

By luck? By endless trial-and-error?

Of course not. So get the strategy that supports the vision in place. Make it flexible based on what you learn on the journey, but nevertheless utilize it as a map to get to the destination, you’re longing for.

(Photo by Austin Chan on Unsplash)

Make a choice

You and your company can’t be all things to all people. You need to choose.

That’s always the first thought that strikes, when I hear of someone looking to build a multi-purpose product for a potentially big market;

Jack of all trades, master of none.

My rationale is that when you’re going for several and quite different use cases all at once, it becomes increasingly hard to communicate to your customers, why you’re exceptionally good at serving exactly their needs and get them to spend the cash on your product or service.

Chances are there will always by a small number of focused pure players who do a better job at solving the customers problem than you do with your ’80 % fixed’ approach (which is in essence what you communicate when you say “We can do all of this” instead of “We just do this”).

The argument can be a bit counter intuitive, I know. Because many will think that with more use cases come more opportunity to make an impact and be successful – not less. Alas, the devil is in the detail as hinted at above.

The contrast to the ‘one size fits all’ approach is to look at where the biggest addressable, focused market is – and then go after that big time. Yes, you will be doing one thing (you get my point, I am sure), but you will be focused, and the opportunity will be there to serve customers who are not seeing “A bit of this, a bit of that” as the solution to their specific problem(s).

Agree?

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Taking stock

Quite often I find that what I set out to do is not the same as what I end up doing.

And I believe I see that happen a lot at startups too.

The explanation is pretty straight forward: There is NEVER a straight line between the original idea and what you end up bringing to market. Something ALWAYS happens that sends you on a small detour. Maybe not a big one, but it’s there.

The problem then arises if you still think you’re doing what you originally set out to do, but in reality, you aren’t. Then its time to take stock and update your view on the world.

Look yourself in the mirror and be frank and honest about what you see. Don’t tell yourself any lies – big or small, black or white – but stay true and real to what is actually there.

That will give you the best vantage point for plotting the continued journey.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Be problem-driven

There are quite a few really good arguments for why you should focus on the problem rather than the solution, when you’re trying to build a successful company. But there is one that I think takes the prize as the most powerful one:

By focusing on the problem, you broaden the opportunity for yourself, your company and your future success.

Why?

Because you start being less solution-focused. Not agnostic as such because there will always be something that you do that you need to put into the product to give it the real edge it needs. But less solution-focused.

You may start out developing and shipping one product, get a good reception and perhaps even some decent traction. And once you can see that the core fundamentalt of what you’re doing seems to resonate in the market, you can lift your gaze and start thinking about what’s next.

And this is where focusing on the problem rather than the solution enters the picture:

By focusing on the problem, you will see more opportunities just by looking. And others may present themselves that you would otherwise not have noticed. And this gives you opportunity.

Instead of being strong in a niche, you can become stronger in a space – and maybe even grow to become dominant of an entire industry.

Because you chose a laser like focus on the problem.

Looking in retrospect, most companies don’t become wildly successful by just doing one thing or having one product. They become wildly successful, because they understand the market they are in, the jobs, pains and gains of their customers and constituents – and the problem space they’re working on.

You should apply that approach to yourself and your company too.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The rocket fuel of purpose

Recently I wrote about the 3 problems of purpose. It is thus only fair that I also offer a few words on how a deep-felt purpose can serve as rocket fuel for your business.

Lets start by taking a step back:

More often than not you know what and your company does and how to do it will. You might experts, market leaders within your field even. And by focusing on what you do – your core – you’re able to make it incrementally better, more powerful and/or valuable on a consistent basis.

But what happens when you have done everything you can, and your product is perfect (if such a state ever exists, but I am sure you get my point)? What then? What’s next?

This is where a deep felt purpose can come in handy for your business:

If you look at what you’re trying to achieve, the change you’re trying to foster rather than the products and services you deliver per se, then you can define a purpose that could effectively serve as a kickstarter for your ‘next big thing’.

Everybody who has ever had to come up with something new knows that the worst thing is the blank sheet of paper – it can be so daunting to start working and actually get something down, you can start working on.

With a solid deep-felt purpose you don’t have a blank sheet of paper anymore. You have a context; something to set your creative juices flowing. Something to get your ideas started and start thinking in new and/or complimentary products and services.

Because you have a deep-felt sense of what it is you’re trying to affect and the impact you could potentially have, if you succeed. And that is potentially rocket fuel for any venture.

But of course you need to have a legitimate deep-felt purpose. A fake or forlorn one won’t work.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

The 3 problems with ‘purpose’

There are three problems with purpose.

The first problem is that a lot of companies really don’t have a big interesting purpose aside from making a profit no matter how hard they might go looking for it (which is absolutely fine in itself).

You can put a lot of standard webshops into this bucket. None mentioned, none forgotten.

If you own or are employed at a standard run-of-the-mill company, by all means don’t spend a lot of time and energy on finding a purpose that is going to be and feel forlorn anyway.

Focus on your core; profit and growth. And be totally fine with that.

If you are in a company which actually do have a purpose, do spend the time getting it right and use it to build your company culture, attract the right talent, delight customers etc.

You and your company will be all the better for it, I’m sure.

If it works.

And this brings me to the second problem with purpose; when things go south.

As big an enabler a clear and strong purpose can be, as big a bummer it can be, if you’re not aligned about it, and if people start breaking ranks focusing instead on other things.

Because just as a great purpose can unite, a forlorn purpose that is not truly shared can drive apart. And ultimate failure can follow.

That basically leaves you with the last reason why purpose can be a problem:

The excuse.

When things go south you can try to seek cloud cover behind your purpose; that at least you tried to make a dent in the universe or whatever lofty purpose you have formulated for yourself.

You use the purpose to convince yourself that everything has not been in vain. That there was a reason for everything, where in reality it is most likely BS.

So all in all: Think about whether purpose is something you should be spending time on. If you decide it is, make sure it’s for all the right reasons, and that you can justify doing so any day of the week to people who are sceptic about it.

That’s usually a pretty good test of the strength of your purpose anyway.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)