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)

Passion versus perspective

When you’re passionate about something, it is very easy to let passion get the better of you and lose the grander perspective on things.

That’s the trouble with passion; it has a capacity to leave you blind-sighted during the very times when you need perspective the most. You focus too much on the here and now rather on what could come next.

But on the other hand passion is also a huge source of energy.

Not only when things go well, and you feel like you can just keep on going because you’re on a quest.

But also when things are falling off the rails, because that’s when you use the energy of your passion to grind your teeth, keep on going and figure out what to do next.

But it still takes an ability to keep your eyes and – most especially – your mind open to the perspective.

(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)

What’s in a co-founder?

Not so long ago I met for the second time with a potential co-founder for our MedTech startup. It was a really good and interesting meeting, and the conversation was really good.

One of the things we talked about was what it means to be a co-founder of a startup.

“What does being a co-founder mean to you?”, he asked me. So of course I had to give him my best shot with an answer.

Here goes:

There are very big differences between being a co-founder and being a key employee in my book. And while in the following it may seem so, I wish no disrespect to key employees at all, and their contributions should be deeply valued. They’re just not co-founders.

Back to how I see a co-founder compared to a key employee:

While key employees may be some of the first to head for the lifeboats when your startup ship takes in water and set off for the safety of dry land, a co-founder goes down the ladder to the very bottom of the hull to man the pumps and start pumping away.

In the same way when the shit hits the fan, and the house is on fire, a key employee may try to call for the fire brigade. The co-founder grabs the nearest fire extinguisher, heads into the flames and starts putting the fire out.

You get my drift.

While the key employee may get excited about the professional challenge for a period of time, the co-founder falls in love with the problem and pictures herself digging in until the problem is either solved (or at the very least seeing good traction) or the startup has run out of steam and is beyond any salvation.

While the key employee may choose to focus more on his job at hand and personal goals and KPIs, the co-founder is always ready to step in and help the team, where the need arises.

And so on.

The biggest overall difference between a co-founder and a key employee is a mental one. It’s about WANTING it and being willing do back up that desire by running the extra miles needed for the team and startup to succeed.

Often, when you meet people, you can tell whether they are co-founder material or not.

Some are naturals. Some may grow into it over time. Some will never get there.

Nothing wrong with that. Just be able to spot the difference.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Remote humans

Working remotely is getting a lot of additional buzz following the outbreak of corona-virus, as people all over scramble to try to put themselves out of harms way and/or following the advice of local health authorities.

While there is a lot of great things to be said about working remotely – and there are – there are also some downsides of which the predominant one is this: Missing out on the creative sparks that fly when you bring people together, and they start getting creative.

For me, when people (in the absence of a perfectly legitimate health-related excuse, ed) want to work in a predominantly remote way, they send a signal that they care more about their ways of working than what we are working on; what we are trying to solve. Call me old fashioned, but I am the kind of guy who needs to be able to look my team members directly in the eyes to make sure we are all on the same page, driving for the same results – and feel equally passionate about succeeding. As a team.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Outrage versus passion

One of the things I have found while working to create our case competition on climate change, iQnite, is that there is a big difference between outrage about something and passion for doing something about it. Just because you’re outraged about something doesn’t mean that you want to take real action towards doing something about it. Far from it.

While it is easy to find people who are outraged at climate change – just think about FridaysForFuture – it is super, super hard to find people, who are actually passionate about wanting to do anything about it. And it is understandable; protesting is easy, fixing things are hard. Yet the contrast couldn’t be starker.

The way to find the right people seems to be to get personal. Find the people that they talk to on an everyday basis and have them endorse what it is that you are trying to do. That increases the odds of getting people out and getting them committed. Just random trying to get people together and turn their outrage on social media into action won’t make a dent of a difference whatsoever.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)