Archive for the ‘passion’ Category

Be a problem creator

July 17, 2010

Given a choice people would resist a shift from their comfort zones. They live with a feeling that the status quo has everything they want from life and why alter it so long as they are at peace with it. It makes people keep at doing stuff they’ve been doing for years together and at the end of it, define it as their career. It has clearly not been their bidding. It happened to them by default. Let’s call them `the chancers’.

A great majority of careerists are chancers. I’ve talked to some of my own friends belonging to that set and have found most of them unhappy over where they wound up. Many tried to switch careers midway, but it’s a cruel world out there that didn’t let them veer off the course because they got labeled already. “You were an accountant for the last 20 years, now how can we trust you with marketing” – is the refrain. They go try again and nothing happens. But then bills have to be paid and they are forced to stick with the soul-sucking career they’ve gotten into.

So what should they do to get around it…? First off, they should create a problem before they can solve it. Recognize that you are cut for something different and you won’t settle short. Settling for the status quo is easy, but it bleeds you from inside. Make it your mission to get to where your heart is. Work towards it. Use your weekends and workday evenings to talk to people who are in the field of your choice and get to know its intricacies, finding out ways to “get in”. But the best method is to start freelancing, go blog your views on it. Take on the mighty and the frivolous, but make sure you have solid arguments that stand out. When I say freelancing, I really mean it in a literal sense. Do it for free for a few guys and make them see how good you are at it. You may not make money initially, but you are building referrals and even track record in a small way. Use it to your advantage until the moment of reckoning finally arrives. It will.

Most importantly, never give up, never compromise. Go after it. Get it.


Before jumping in

March 14, 2008

Entrepreneurs suffer from an “asymmetry of information”. Those who make it in the end have a unique, in depth understanding of an opportunity – an insight. They pick up a grail from nowhere and dream up big scale.  Only they can do it; for others it’s hardly visible.

Strangely though, the winner’s moments of triumph in the end are attributed to luck or pure chance by the society.  Their years of dedication to the cause, the number of failures they met with, the pain that they endured are overlooked and the focus is suddenly only on the final dazzle.  Out comes an image of ringing the bell in NYSE on the day the stock opens for trading.  Sadly though, young people want to do `it’ and jump in. As this NYT article says, “as humans, we want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance, with great thunderclaps and echoing ahas. Innovators and other creative types, we believe, stand apart from the crowd, wielding secrets and magical talents beyond the rest of us.”

When I find startup entrepreneurs filled with a lot of passion and little experience venturing out big time, I’ve often wondered what drives them.  A cursory glance at their venture tell me they need ten times the capital they had and at least five more people with definitive domain skills.  Yet you find one or two young upstarts, with weak bootstraps hacking away that almost always end up in whimper.  Few months later, they realize their fault and look around for reinforcements.  If they don’t get it, they blame lack of a supportive ecosystem.  You know what went wrong.  Flawed inspiration.

Run a check.  Have someone else take a look at your grand plan. Digest their feedback, make sure you’ve got what it takes, appreciate opinion and still if the idea won’t leave you alone, go straight ahead and do it.


Do lousy employees make good entrepreneurs?

March 4, 2008

I recently met some brilliant startup founders that made lousy employees earlier.  Their common strand – they all got fired.  Does that mean all lousy employees will make terrific entrepreneurs?  I stretched my thought and pondered.  I thought I’ll blog those thoughts.

Structured organizations are hardly the place to be for potential free wheelers.  They detest authority and focus on hitting their goals. They cringe at servility of their peers and that gives them an air of superiority.  They want to do everything their way, want that freedom of choice very much.  They are never put off by disorder because they know to solve problems.

Does that mean structured organizations will never get creative hires?  Yes and No.  It is for the organization to be flexible a bit. Each manager has a responsibility to identify the guy and his make.  If you come across a creative fella, play down your supervisory instincts. Just draw the contours and leave him to play by his own rules.  Your task is to just ensure he stays inside the framework.  They may or may not be idealistic, but they are seldom unrealistic. They will change their direction when they see that change will improve their prospects for achieving their goals.

Now the question how to know a creative guy from an also ran.  It’s simple.  Give them some trouble to shoot and watch them at work.  Monitor their sense of urgency and passionate pursuit. Inactivity is not for these eager beavers. Most are at their best while under pressure and in the face of adversity. They thrive on self-confidence that deceptively looks like arrogance, but seldom is.  They don’t go home without fixing bugs.

If (s)he doesn’t exhibit some of these traits, you’ve got a very obedient, loyal employee that’ll swing from paycheck to paycheck.  For me, that just won’t do.  Throw problems at them and they’ll come back a few hours later with some excuses. You know you’ve got a “perfect employee”. Time to review your sense of judgment !

Have you stopped by my other blogs, lately…?

February 19, 2008

Lots of interesting stuff in there….  (Mile high view of the ground) (Tech trends /business ideas) (India PE/VC, I-banking stuff) (My business card) 

Have a curmudgeon for a friend, any day!

February 10, 2008

Sometimes just acknowledging the cranky, bilious soul is more effective than drowning it in bland sweetisms.  Perhaps I liked Jon Winokur’s portable curmudgeon because of that. 

As Jon Winokur sees it – 

A curmudgeon’s reputation for malevolence is undeserved. They’re neither warped nor evil at heart. They don’t hate mankind, just mankind’s absurdities. They’re just as sensitive and soft-hearted as the next guy, but they hide their vulnerability beneath a crust of misanthropy. They ease the pain by turning hurt into humor. They attack maudlinism because it devalues genuine sentiment.  Nature, having failed to equip them with a serviceable denial mechanism, has endowed them with astute perception and sly wit.

Curmudgeons are mockers and debunkers whose bitterness is a symptom rather than a disease. They can’t compromise their standards and can’t manage the suspension of disbelief necessary for feigned cheerfulness. Their awareness is a curse.

Perhaps curmudgeons have gotten a bad rap in the same way that the messenger is blamed for the message: They have the temerity to comment on the human condition without apology. They not only refuse to applaud mediocrity, they howl it down with morose glee. Their versions of the truth unsettle us, and we hold it against them, even though they soften it with humor.”

It’s natural to align curmudgeons to a minority, abhorred by a mediocre mainstream that thrives on hypocrisy and fawning duplicity couched as obeisance. They are quick to prejudge, not recognizing a curmudgeon’s focus that invariably discards on purpose, social hierarchy and exaltedness, ending up calling many a pretender’s bluff. That dislodgement is often so violent and a true curmudgeon executes it with such a finality and precision that the vicissitude of the victim is complete. 

The vanquished is left with not much scope for redemption except to recoil into its favorite pastime – brand the curmudgeon as an aggressive, or even arrogant zealot caring for little else beyond their own business. 

Precisely why I am in awe of them.


“Follow your compass and not your clock”

January 22, 2008

People respect you as a leader if you cut the rhetoric and urge them to examine their core.   I have experienced it first hand as I move with my client’s staff.  They all had a life story to tell.  I’ve noticed those stories morphing into who they are and defining their style at work.  Haven’t we wondered why each of us has our own signature style?  There you go. We all have a different life story that defines our style.  

Then I read this interview with Bill George, Ex-CEO of Medtronic and co-author of True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership. What we have in True North is a further development of George’s concept of `authentic leadership’ but also a rigorous, revealing, and rewarding analysis of what George and Sims learned during their interviews of more than 100 leaders. The title to this post is an anecdote from the book where Ann Moore of Time Inc. comforts Andrea Jung, CEO of Avon products when she had been passed over for the CEO job.  In Ann’s words, “It’s not important that you’re CEO by 40. Life is long. You need to make sure this is the company you want to be at.”

I was tempted to cite some exemplary “crucibles” provided in that interview (and in the book) but have decided not to because each should be presented within the context of the lively narrative. For me, some of the most interesting and valuable material in this book focuses on coping with severe hardships of one kind or another.   I’ve had a ton of that in my life.  I had coped with it all and still do. Long ago, Jack Dempsey observed that “champions get up when they can’t.” Authentic leaders must first become authentic people and, more often than not, that process requires experiencing and then overcoming being “knocked down.”  

In Bill’s own words “…. An individual’s leadership is defined by his or her life story. In the 125 interviews we conducted, each person kept going back to their life stories as defining for them. From those life stories, you could see the clear link to their passions”.  Read and enjoy.


No templates please

August 22, 2007

As a freelance deal sourcer, I’ve encountered many species.  In some of the boutique investment banks to which I take my researched ideas, I often get a lukewarm, if not a cold response. On occasions I get facetime with the primary owner / investor, I get a more productive response that is often followed by instructions to the owner’s associates to probe it further and see if the deal is do-able.   

The associates clearly don’t like it.  I call these guys “stuffed shirts”.  They want the client to pin point an acquisition target, bring along a funding idea or even the choice of instrument so that these shirts can just fill in the template and engage a lawyer for due diligence and documentation.  Anything that calls for a little bit of proprietary research upfront – that gives a client an opportunity or even a dream that he has never had himself – is out of bounds for them. Did you say customer delight?  You must be mad. Why would they? They get paid by the end of the month anyway. 

That’s clearly not my style.  I left the job scene purely because of my zero tolerance to this habit of many a colleague.  When I tried to right a few wrongs, they scorned me for being pushy and ambitious.  Ambitious I am and always will be.  I was born with it.  Where it comes to exercising my choice between stuffed shirtism and street smartness, I cling to the latter.  I know it’s all about making early calls, doing thankless un-sponsored research, bare knuckles, debates and if you luck out, negotiations for the deals to get done.  

Life’s of course tough and revenue streams have significantly dried up compared to my day job life earlier.  But this is what I enjoy doing, my state of bliss.  Period….!


Age and entrepreneurship

August 13, 2007

A very intense probe my Marc Andreesen on the relationship between age and entrepreneurship and a very insightful response by Naval Ravikant.

Both posts are long. I felt tired in the end.  I’ll distil it for you.

Marc’s findings –

·         Generally, productivity — output — rises rapidly from the start of a career to a peak and then declines gradually until retirement.

·         This peak in productivity varies by field, from the late 20s to the early 50s, for reasons that are field-specific.

·         Precocity, longevity, and output rate are linked. “Those who are precocious also tend to display longevity, and both precocity and longevity are positively associated with high output rates per age unit.” High producers produce highly, systematically, over time.

·         The odds of a hit versus a miss do not increase over time. The periods of one’s career with the most hits will also have the most misses. So maximizing quantity — taking more swings at the bat — is much higher payoff than trying to improve one’s batting average.

·         Intelligence, at least as measured by metrics such as IQ, is largely irrelevant.

Naval’s response –

“I started with a variation of the Beard Hypothesis (enthusiasm decreases with age but experience increases, and there’s an optimum cross-over point). This is the easiest viewpoint as you get older and look back at some of your earlier crazier ideas, but notice that that older crowd is very risk-averse. Douglas Adams had a great take on it:

  1. “everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;
  2. anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;
  3. anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilization as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
  4. Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.”

Marc threw a couple of challenges to the readers to see if they can fit into the model and to see if entrepreneurship peaks while you are young or does it when you hover past 30’s well into the evening of your lives. (Hat tip: Ben Casnocha)

I go that entrepreneurship is not something to be straitjacketed or romanticized.  It happens at the confluence of an early sighting of an opportunity by a motivated, competent founder that has the appetite for risk; a resultant drive that stops at nothing until it’s tried, tested and executed.  Not just hard work, it’s filled with despair, frustration, sacrifice (of salary, family life, entertainment) besides passion.  It recognizes neither age nor eminence; first-hand experience and wisdom are its bye-products and is romantic, if at all, only in hindsight…

Reach out to a pioneer

August 5, 2007

Only when you have worked alone — when you have felt around you a black gulf of solitude more isolating than that which surrounds the dying man, and in hope and in despair have trusted to your own unshaken will — then only will you have achieved.” – Olivier Wendell Holmes

When young startup founders set out into careers on their own, unconnected with what they’ve been doing so far, it’s often in response to a call from deep within. This initiative, many a time, meets with rebuke from all around. Some may be sincere, concerned and arising out of fear for the immediate future. But most are insincere, mocking chides with a sharp reaction that translates into a “no-way”. It’s quite difficult to ignore it altogether, but the founders have a choice of being indifferent to it. If someone (pioneer) in your family or friends circle is venturing into something new, do not reprove.  Understand.

Everyone – you, me, average Joe – all have a thought universe. The pioneer crafts a thought universe for herself in her mind and it’s a mistake when early judges attempt to mark it up as sensible or weird. Some universes like the pioneer’s, see the possibilities in an intuitive suggestion she encounters, bump upwards, and leave the glass of mediocre society to rise and meet the higher world; and most universes submit to rebuke, get beaten badly, and bump downwards to lose themselves to mediocrity.  Take your pick.

Lives are enriched by seriousness of purpose. Strong lives are motivated by dynamic purposes. A desire for success is necessary to keep life in motion. Success demands singleness of purpose and is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which (s)he has overcome. The pioneer seems different because (s)he is. Let the pioneer be since her strength lies in that difference, not in similarity.

So much of the pioneer’s time is preparation, so much is routine, and so much retrospect, that the path of her genius contracts itself to a very few hours. The best one should do is to lend her their ears. I think everyone needs the ear of someone else from time to time. It clears up doubts. So too is occasional self examination that clears up a lot of mist. It’s just a sub-conscious stimulus that springs out of existential self doubts that occur to all of us – and not to be confused with a psychosis that calls for any specialist to meddle in. If her need is for a sounding board that reacts, even passively, be her trusted friend.

Getting them on board

June 18, 2007

When managements don’t let you get involved with something that you think you are capable of, but do let someone else deal with it who mucks it up, what would you do?  May be you will carry on for a while.  But if it persists, helplessness gets the better of you and some day soon you will quit in sheer disgust. This has happened with several talented people I know of, who have eventually found their moorings elsewhere and became rock stars.

If you were a hiring manager, who would you rather hire — someone who could deliver the results, or someone who had all of the skills? Having the skills and experience listed doesn’t mean the person can do the work or wants to do it.  If you want to hire superior people, first define superior performance.

Most managers know it’s not the skills and experiences that matter; it’s what the person does with their skills and experience. Lou Adler suggests the use of what he calls – a Performance profile, that provides a handle to identify this important difference.

Some great tips that I found in this post by Marc Andreesen, co-founder of Netscape communication division.  Excerpts –

“I define drive as self-motivation — people who will walk right through brick walls, on their own power, without having to be asked, to achieve whatever goal is in front of them.”

“Driven people don’t tend to stay long at places where they can’t succeed, and just because they haven’t succeeded in the wrong companies doesn’t mean they won’t succeed at your company — if they’re driven”.

“If a candidate has just followed the rules their whole lives, showed up for the right classes and the right tests and the right career opportunities without achieving something distinct and notable, relative to their starting point — then they probably aren’t driven”. And you’re not going to change them.  Motivating people who are fundamentally unmotivated is not easy.  But motivating people who are self-motivated is wind at your back.

“I also like specifically looking for someone who comes from some kind of challenging background — a difficult family situation, say, or someone who had to work his/her way through school — who is nevertheless on par with his/her more fortunate peers in skills and knowledge”. [This is my favorite too. These types have their back facing the wall and would do all it takes to deliver the results so that they can move ahead in life.]

Happy hiring !