If you’ve ever been a founder or CEO of a tech start-up you’ll know that a persistent line of questioning from peers when presenting at forums or conferences pertains to the “traits” required to succeed. Success is often seen as a “silver bullet” that if we can just grab hold of an understanding long enough, we’ll be able to shoot it out there and hit our target too.
Over the years I’ve responded in varied fashion, from “bravery”, “bossiness” to “persistence and hard work”. More often than not I’ve described my most polarising personality trait that I think has helped me both succeed and fail in life, which is “my inability to let go”. But here I sit before you, on the cusp of the anniversary of my first-born business turning 16, and I’m putting it out there that I reckon I’ve finally figured it out.
I’m okay with making it up as I go along.
That’s it. The host of other things flittering around the periphery surely aid and abet my ability to make things happen (i.e. the aforementioned stubbornness), but what it really boils down to is that I’m not afraid to start even though I have no idea what I’m doing.
We can’t underestimate the importance of just starting blindly in the role of Getting Sh*t Done. For years I’ve wondered about why it is that larger companies struggle with productivity and output. It seemed pretty easy to me (from the over-inflated opinion of an outsider, of course). Surely, they just need to get out of their own way? But setting aside rather unfair judgement on the cushy nature of corporate life (save your hard luck stories, they won’t be bought here), what I’ve suddenly stumbled upon is an insight that is so simple that it’s almost daft. I’ve dared share it with a few others who have gone, “Yes! I’ve just worked that out too!”.
Here’s the guts of it: most people aren’t comfortable with making it up as they go along. In fact, the true “entrepreneurial” spirit is not just a predisposition for risk and success at all costs, but in actuality the core requirement is comfort with your own vulnerability.
It’s an interesting term, “vulnerability”, when said in context of business. It’s a highly emotive description which is typically not something business embraces, but really when you’re doing something for the first time and it’s reliant on you to drive its success, it’s super personal. A willingness to set your own concern about “shame” on fire and put yourself doused in flammable material at the heart of it, is kind of a prerequisite.
But then the next part is the most essential bit. Because plenty of people are somewhat okay with putting themselves out there, getting out of their own way and publicly self-promoting their ability to make it happen (e.g. real estate agents and advertising media sales people). The next part is actually knowing how to start. The actual “making it up as you go along” bit. For the most part, people need road maps or trails. They’re not comfortable “off piste”. My belief is that generally you’re either born with an ability/comfort to do this or not, but it is possible to adapt to this way of being with leadership from someone skilled in the art.
With that in mind, here are my top tips for MIUAYGA:
- Prepare yourself. Accept that you’ll be doing things far outside of your comfort zone and whilst at times this may feel exhilarating it may more often than not feel frighteningly like sh*t.
- Get over yourself. Much like actors do, you really have to stop worrying what other people think and be completely comfortable that you’re going to do this – for better or for worse. Without a script.
- Don’t be an idiot. You’re not an island, so it’s not about shutting people off and not listening to input or advice (in fact, embrace it more than you ever have before to inspire you in your direction). It’s just that when it comes to other people, you need to not be worried about putting a foot out of line as you step forward into the unknown zone.
- Eat the elephant. Setting aside the silly analogy, the sentiment is bang on. You eat an elephant one bite at a time. Break that sh*t down. All the way down. Big picture down to lots of small pictures, what would be the first thing to do? Doesn’t matter if the order is wrong. Like I often say, “we’re going A – Z via every letter in the alphabet. We’ll try not to do B, C and D more than three times”.
- Deep breaths. There are a lot of “oh f*ck” moments in MIUAYGA so working out how to sleep at night and breathe through it is pretty important. A good tip is to work out what the worse case scenario looks like. e.g. if all the shit hits all of the fans, what will happen? Once you’ve done that, you’ll probably be more comfortable about continuing to do something that innately feels sickening.
- Balance. I’m an advocate of adding exercise and some healthy living to balance out the stress of working this way. But I’m also a big fan of dowsing the flames with wine. Pick both. A year off booze to “clear your mind” may have the opposite effect. Just saying … in my experience … so I’ve heard, etc.
- Fake it ‘til you make it. Some may call it bluffing. Others will say, “just don’t f*ck it up with fact”. I like to think that it’s really just that you’ve taken in the deep breath, smiled and confidently moved forward despite screaming with fear inside. Smile as you fall over and laugh as you get back up.