Reckless Enthusiasm Sabotages Entrepreneurship

Reckless Enthusiasm Sabotages Entrepreneurship – One of the worst advises to be given to an entrepreneur is ‘just do it’, and yet it remains as one of the most offered. There are more upstarts that have doomed by just doing it than those who haven’t. The sheer enthusiasm, vigour, and even artificially fueled excitement blinds the typical entrepreneur of the planning imperative, and, alas, ‘strategy’ remains a laughingstock.

No one seems to acknowledge the importance of strategy, citing that the pace is too fast to think, let alone strategize. The old dictum of ‘if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’ is so apt for start-ups that most entrepreneur miss the point of deep thinking entirely.

Being a strategy and innovation coach, I often asked “does strategy always work?” The short answer is, no. The mischievous response then is “then why bother?” The real question on strategy is “while a strategy may not always work, but what if you don’t have a strategy and that works?” How do you manage success without a plan?

It’s useless, if not counterproductive, for now you can’t replicate success, let alone learn anything from it. A sobering reminder on the strategy and planning imperative is from Larry Page who wrote, “As much as I hate process, good ideas with great execution are how you make magic.” Once again, no marks for great ideas, only execution matters.

This piece is not on execution, but on the question of ‘what’ to execute. Most founders start tasting success when they put more wood behind a few arrows. They focus incessantly on their ‘big hairy audacious goals’, make them known to all and relentlessly chipping towards those 10x transformations.

Because excellence can’t be accidental, it calls for planning. Here are five strategic blunders which can shut shop for the high and mighty entrepreneurs. Hopefully, you skirt clean of these cardinal mistakes.

Not knowing or communicating the ‘purpose’ with clarity

Humans are purpose maximizers, and more so, those who are replete with choices. Truth be told, if one isn’t through the lower order needs on the Maslow’s Hierarchy, the needs of physiological, safety and belongingness, purpose remains an elusive pursuit.

Here, we are talking about those seeking esteem and self-actualization through the route of entrepreneurship and that’s where a transcending sense of purpose is quintessential.

Simon Sinek observes that customers buy your ‘why’ and not ‘what’, and ditto for employees who believe in your ‘why’ and then the ‘how’ and ‘what’ becomes incidental, or perhaps unincidental. While it’s not necessary to have an absolute clarity on your purpose from day-one, but an inkling of a True North must be there, and it just can’t be about making money.

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The world-famous Arvind Eye Care started in 1977 with a clear purpose of ‘eradicating needless blindness’, and they are well and truly on it. Nike started with the purpose ‘of bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world’, interesting defining athlete as anyone with a body (that’s neat).

Can purpose change with time? Yes it can, as in the case of Microsoft which started with the purpose of ‘(putting) a computer in every home and on every desk’, and one it has almost achieved, and is now aiming to be ‘productivity and platform company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world’. Having a purpose is of supreme importance.

And this one purpose must be communicated given every chance a leader or founder has. As LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, likes to say, “When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it.” So, the number one strategic blunder would be of being unclear on the purpose and, worst still, of having one and failing to communicate it enough.

A grand purpose, such as ‘putting a man on the moon’, can encourage creativity, imagination, energies, and expand the envelop for all involved.

Trying to be everything for everybody

If you talk to a bunch of entrepreneurs early in the game and ask the question, “So, who’s your customer?” Five out of ten times, you might hear “well, it’s everyone who wants to…”. That’s the moment you know that it isn’t going anywhere.

The very fact that the customer has a choice (always), and that others are not fools (mostly), there’s no reason that everyone should like you, let alone someone! So, you are better-off starting small and then growing, instead of opening yourself up to unnecessary competition early in the game.

In spite of having the best talent, an unparalleled band equity, and personal courage, it’s the same Steve Jobs who said, “Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.” And that’s where the cornerstone of strategy is ‘choice’. As much as choosing what to do, so as choosing what not to do.

Starting small and growing into the adjacencies is how Amazon moved from selling books to selling everything, including computation and storage space at an unparalleled scale. A great brand enables the firm to expand into newer domains, provided it has established trust in at least one.

India’s Paytm started as a mobile recharge site under the brand of One97, and now sits atop India’s fledging payment ecosystem. That’s the imperative of knowing where to draw your first blood from, even if you move on from there rather quickly. It helps earn trust of customers and employees and helps fend-off competition and substitutes.

Once you have earned customer trust, layer by layer you can add offerings, as is the case with Paytm, which has far moved from its original offering to now becoming an integral part of a consumer’s payment system, at least in tier-1 and tier-2 parts of India. That has happened only by being focused, at least to start with. Continue reading

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