Theory vs reality

Theory is NOT always reality.

Case in point:

A politician might think that incentivizing public employees through rating and a cash bonus is a great idea and will lead to better outcomes for all; not least those who are at the receiving end of the service and says thanks by providing a top rating.

But a public employee knows from experience that such a system will create a stampede towards the citizens who are nice, no hassle and provide the better ratings leading to the higher rewards, while those in need who may be cross, downright angry, unable to rate or just provides a poor rating will risk being left behind. Because in a rewards driven system no one (or at least very, very few) wants to pay the price of caring without getting the reward.

Right there is the difference between theory – or ideology of any sort – and reality.

For that very same reason it is super important not to be stuck in an ivory tower thinking you can outsmart reality.

You can’t. Your great ideas will most likely fail. It goes for ideology and politics, and it goes for business and startups as well.

But you can navigate reality. But it takes respect for reality. And that is achieved by immersing yourself in it and get your hands dirty, before you try to figure everything out.


The ‘why’ on paper

One of the really interesting things you come across when you’re trying to build what hopefully becomes a great and enduring company from scratch is how much of your initial belief system, values and ambition actually makes it through the immense exercise of making it all happen?

While it should be pretty straight forward to agree on that a shared vision, ‘why’ and core values, I think you also need to realize that getting from talking about it to actually living it and agreeing on it in your founding documents can be a significant exercise in itself.

This may especially be true when you’re trying to build something with great and experienced people centered around a shared vision and sense of ‘why’. You may not have known each other for years in advance before you take the plunge, and your co-founders may not be lifelong best friends of yours.

What you essentially end up betting on is ability to take something thats easy for you all to agree about when talking about it in meetings into something that you can all actually commit to on paper.

Don’t mistake what could be a huge thing and a big task to secure alignment for a minor detail. Because it’s not.

There is a – and will likely always remain – a big difference between talking about doing something and the need to get it done and then the real commitment towards making it happen. And the sooner you start and have that conversation during your process, the better I think you will be off.


Models (kind of) suck

Once upon a time I loved models. I even spent a significant chunk of my own savings getting to know them better in fancy locations around the world.

Models? Work related models, of course. The kind of models you would use for modelling concepts, businesses and such. What did you think?

Never mind.

The point is: I quickly learned that models (any of them) can be deceitful. Just when you think you have figured things out and have the best looking model in front of you, reality strikes. You are torn out of your dream and land, face down, in the ugliness of what real life looks like, when you – as Steve Blank puts it – get out of the building.


Because (1) models used for conceptualization, business modelling and presentation are inherently based on the past that (2) is seldom a great indicator of the future and (3) has a tendency to not really be able to reflect all the complexity of the real world.

Don’t get me wrong. Models can serve a purpose. They can make things look good and make for nice company and conversation. They can keep you warm and fuzzy, when you need it the most.

Models may give you the impression that all is good and well. That as long as you hold them in your hands, you are in control. When it feels best it almost feels like you’re the same kind of rockstar as a coder, who is super great at developing awesome code.

But you should never grow too fondly attached to the models.

Because the world is more complex than that. It never looks like zeros and ones or simple Post-It’s in a map or 2×2 model.