“Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.” – Og Mandino
In a startup you are constantly balancing various levels of thinking/work. Buster Benson outlined what he believes the breakdown of these to be in a blog post here. I haven’t decided yet whether I completely agree with his categories, but I definitely agree with the idea of different types of thought you need to engage in to be effective.
One of the pitfalls which you can fall into as a startup founder is to get lost in the day to day work. There will always be support tickets to answer, feature requests to build, bugs to fix, social media to respond to; basically you don’t need to worry about there being sufficient work to keep you busy. It can be very easy to come into work each day and ‘work’, and feel like you’re doing your job. If you were an employee you’d probably be right, but as a founder you need to make sure that you are continuing to view the big picture and steer the boat.
“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” – Voltaire
In school we are taught the concept of the ’5 W’s’ , ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, when’, and ‘why’. In theory these questions should be sufficient to collect the information you need to explain whatever you’re investigating to others.
The problem with this concept is that it groups four very straightforward questions ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, with one very subjective and elusive question; ‘why?’. ‘Why’ is an incredibly powerful question because it forces us to evaluate the purpose or cause of something. For example, why are you reading this article? Chances are there is a convenient answer that could be used (‘I saw the link on facebook’), but in reality there are many answers required if we are looking for understanding.
“Details create the big picture.” – Sanford I. Weill
Imagine you’re staring at a picture of a truck on a road. Maybe the road is located in a forest and there’s a cabin on the side with smoke coming out of a chimney. There’s some ruts through the snow on the road, where vehicles frequently (but not too frequently) drive.
What’s amazing about this activity is how quickly you are able to see all these things. In the first instant of looking at this picture your brain has identified a large number of elements (wheels, bumpers, lights, branches, tree trunks, a door, a chimney, a wall) and combined these elements into higher level concepts (a truck, a forest, a cabin), and then again combined these elements into an even higher level of abstraction ( a remote cabin in the woods).
“The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” – B.F. Skinner
Gamification has become on of those buzz-words we hear frequently today in discussions involving anything from social media, to daily deals, to education, to… well.. gaming. According to wikipedia “Gamification is the use of game design elements, game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts.” In my own words, gamification is the attempt to make non-game type experiences more “fun” by making them feel more like a game.
“I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent; curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.” – Albert Einstein
I used to competitively play the video game counter-strike. I did many things the same as everyone else, but I think I did one thing differently. I watched myself. I obsessively watched myself, reviewing the recordings of each of my matches, analyzing each move I made.
“Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball
I recently had the opportunity to help a friend work on her masters thesis on the topic of self-care among mental health professionals. What is self-care? Self-care is anything you do primarily for the benefit of your mental, physical, or spiritual health. Looking at this in the context of mental health professionals is interesting as the individuals are intimately familiar with the issues of psychological health, but it’s also interesting to think about what self-care means in the context of entrepreneurs.
“In all matters of opinion, our adversaries are insane.” – Oscar Wilde
One of the determining factors in whether a business succeeds or not is the decisions made by those in control. I imagine there are cases where things hit such amazing alignment that the management of a business never had to make a tough decision, but I promise you that this is a rare condition. In most business the managers constantly need to make difficult decisions that have significant impact (what business model do we use? is this market worth going after? should we enter this parternership?). Given that these are decisions that need to make, how do they choose one path over another?
“Goals must never be from your ego, but problems that cry for a solution.” – Robert H. Schuller
I think one of the mistakes we tend to make as entrepreneurs is thinking that people care about us or our product significantly more than they do. We spend a lot of time fretting about what our customers will think if we make a certain change, what our friends will think if our business fails, and in general worrying about external perception.
“Trifles make perfection, but perfection is no trifle.” – Michelangelo
Given the right (or wrong) conditions both Eugene Chen and I, the co-founders of Firenest, are perfectionists. This is something we weren’t aware of until we were well into working together, and it had both good and bad effects. This combined with equal doses of stubbornness led to long and intense discussions on the smallest points of design or user experience. We could waste an entire afternoon debating the position of a link. The most disappointing part of this was the realization that our obsession with details in itself wasn’t the problem, but that we focused it in the wrong places.