The corporate talent gift

In the startup environment it is not uncommon to frown upon people with experience from the corporate world. They are either too old, too conservative, to0 expensive or just too corporate to make it in the startup world.

But is this really true? I don’t think so.

In fact I think the right corporate profile is a gift to any startup. Why? Because corporate profiles with an interest in startups often come with two attributes, you could easily slot into the team.

First of all, if they are interested in startups, they’re likely to be more entrepreneurial than most corporate profiles in their approach to getting things done. They will likely have years of experience navigating opposition all around them from the big incumbents and with that also experience in how to get things done despite serious adversity.

That experience is gold for your startup.

Second, they are also likely to know a lot about spotting and managing risk. Everybody knows that in corporate life, the riskiest path to choose is the one challenging the norms. And unless your ambition is a fast forced exit, you will need to manage that and perform in order to stay alive in the organization. That takes some serious risk mitigation and sometimes even almost near death-experiences.

That experience is crucial to your startup.

Having said that there is one type of corporate profile that you should probably be wary off joining your team:

The one whose main motivation is a big personal payday courtesy of your startup.

While they may be willing to work hard at achieving it, having financial compensation as a sole major motivation can backfire. Because corporate profiles with that motivation will tend to do what serves their own needs and career progressions best, and that might not necessarily be what’s in your or your startups best interest.

So be on the lookout for that and be very aware of doing your personal due diligence, when you consider onboarding a profile like that for a specific role.

Other than that, just go for the corporate experience. Look at it this way: Many of these people are talents that big corporates have essentially paid to ‘educate’ to get the experience that your startup will benefit from.

That’s an awesome deal way too good to just keep lying around.

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Find focus in a story

I have always found that one of the most efficient ways to establish a focus is to start with the desired outcome and then tell the story about what everything will be like, when that outcome is achieved.

My experience is that by doing that you can build a narrative of a desired future state that is so compelling that you’re willing to do your utmost to get there. Which of course means doing whatever is necessary to stay the course during the journey.

Of course, sometimes thing won’t go according to plan, and there will always be some deviations along the road. And in extreme cases you may even need to pivot. But no matter what you still have your story to stick with to help inspire you to continue despite the odds stacked against you.

You can call these stories many things. Some call it ‘purpose’ but personally I find it a bit to inefficient to stick to. I like going that bit deeper into the story and make it more tangible by putting scenarios and faces towards it. I find that by making it personal, it gives me more energy and allows me to focus better. But maybe that’s just a matter of individual taste.

No matter how you go about doing it, having a compelling story about the outcome you’re trying to achieve with everything that you do is always a good idea. It will bring you energy, when you need it, and it will also help you in figuring out, when you have arrived, and you can truly celebrate your achievement.

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Don’t ask. Fix!

When things don’t go according to plan, many of us immediately start to ask ourselves the obvious question: “Why?”

But maybe that’s not the best approach. Because when you ask why something happened, in the absence of absolute honesty – which is often the case – excuses, good and bad will take over. Because we all know there is always a perfectly reasonable excuse for why something didn’t pan out.

When we make excuses we’re not only in essence being dishonest to ourselves and others. We are also failing to learn anything, so that we can get it right the next time around.

What to do?

Maybe we should focus on using the same approach any workshop will use, when you send your car for service. They will perform a diagnosis on your car in order to figure out what needs to get done. What they absolutely won’t do – unless your case is very special – is start speculating as to why something happened to your car.

They focus on fixing the problem.

You should do the same, when things don’t work out. Instead of pondering “why?” and coming up with excuses, focus on what needs fixing, and what you can learn from the experience. And once you have done that and have a moment for yourself, by all means start pondering the big questions in life.

But not a second before.

(Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)