All in Aspirations

The One Question You Should Ask In An Interview...Isn't Enough

If you spend any time online looking for advice (of any sort - personal or business), you’re bound to come across articles that espouse the “1 question you need to ask” or the “3 signs that you’ll be successful”. The intention behind these articles is clear - if you’re on the path to X, and if you pay attention to these one or two or three things, then you’ll get there.

I get the simplicity of the approach and I appreciate it’s allure, especially if the advice is coming from someone we consider to be successful (or from someone who works for a company we consider to be conventionally successful).

If You Do Know, Then Say So

I’ve talked about situations where leaders and managers struggle to say “I don’t know” because of their fear of seeming incompetent or not being “in the know”. It’s an approach that rarely works and, more often than not, breeds frustration and angst, because it goes against the reality that real leaders are human, open and willing to be vulnerable.

On the flip side, we also see situations where perfectly competent individuals - individuals who know their stuff and know the situation at hand - are unwilling to say what they think. They remain quiet even when they know better, even when their expertise, experience and gut are telling them otherwise.

Why does this happen?

Defining Happiness

“To me, happiness is about an expectation of positive change. Every year before 2016, there was an improvement in my expectations — in the team, the product, or the company. This was the first time in my life when the present year felt worse than the last.“ 

The above quote come from Sahil Lavingia’s Medium article titled “Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company”, which recounts how he built what by any normal standard would be considered a successful business but a failure by traditional Venture Capital standards (and as he says, his own).

Get Used To Criticism

If you’re going to do anything different, you’re going to get criticized.

There’s no shortage of folks willing to offer you advice if you’re thinking about a new venture, a new project or a new position. They’ll range from friends, family as well as business colleagues - well intentioned or otherwise. Some of it you might actively ask for, but a lot of it will be offered to you, at no extra cost.

Take Your Power Back

We all like the idea of getting along.

In business relationships specifically, harmony is an essential ingredient in successful, long term relationships. If we have harmony, we have alignment, we have consensus (at least in terms of direction), we have the grounds for collective momentum.

The trick is in making sure that the basis for that harmony is real. Harmony isn’t about happiness, hugs and kisses. It’s often hard to get to, many times requiring debate, disagreement and (periodic) discontent. Achieving real harmony is almost always hard work.

Do The (Next) Right Thing

“There's a concept in Hinduism called "dharma," which means "duty." Your dharma is to always do *the next right thing*, without attachment to the consequences (karma). When you follow your dharma, good karma naturally flows from it. When you don't, it doesn't.“

I’m not a religious person, nor would I call myself overly spiritual, but I do believe in the old saying, “what comes around, goes around”. Which is probably why the above tweet from Asha Rangappa resonated so strongly with me the other day.

Cater To Who Matters - Not To Everyone Else

I’m reading a book called “Coal Black Mornings” by Brett Anderson, the lead singer and founder of the British band, Suede, which had their heyday in the BritPop era of the 1990s through early 2000s.

(Suede is in my Top Five bands of all time, but while popular in Britain, they’ve been largely ignored in the US. If you haven’t heard of them, they’re absolutely worth checking out - start with the first two albums.)

There’s a passage in the book where he talks about his song writing process, and writes:

It’s Personal, Not Personalized

There’s a difference between “personal” and “personalized”. 

In an age where Marketers are working to find ways to make their messages more customized, more tailored, more specific to who we are, there’s still a marked difference between the two. Just because that email is addressed to you, or there’s a special offer made on your birthday, doesn’t actually make it personal. It’s simply programmed to appear that way.  

When It's Too Soon To Quit...

In my last post, I talked about the thought process we (should) go through when deciding if it’s time to quit what we’re doing.

While there were multiple idea threads that inspired that post, one of them was an article by Mariam Naficy, the Founder and CEO of Minted, an online design marketplace. In that article, Mariam talked about how she raised a small seed round from friends and family and then launched the business, originally intending it to be a lifestyle business. And then:

Everyone Has A Platform (Part 1)

The best thing about technology today is that everyone has a platform.

It doesn’t matter whether our preferred medium is in written, audio or visual form, we have access to all the technology we need to create, publish, broadcast and market our message to anyone, whether they’re in our hometown or all the way across the other side of the globe.

How Do You Measure Success?

We’re in a business environment that, for the most part, is fixated on growth. One that values year over year, double and triple digit revenue increases as absolutely essential to being considered a “successful” company, to not be considered a failure.

In particular, if the organization is funded, that’s almost always a base level expectation. You aren’t being funded to simply create a going concern, you’ve been given a charter to create something transformative, huge, the next proverbial unicorn. (The more prominent the funders, the more prominent this expectation becomes.)

There's Always Room For Value (Part 2 - Competition)

In my last post, I talked about how there’s always room for value when deciding to enter a market and that the key is in defining that value in a way that matters to the customer, and is profitable for you.

In this post, I’ll discuss the idea of competition and how defining who you compete with, as well as how they go to market, can and should influence your decision to play within a specific space.

Now, our initial tendency as we evaluate a specific market will be to consider the most obvious competitor in that space. This is our direct competition, and they are always the ones with the biggest brand, revenues, mindshare.

There's Always Room For Value (Part 1 - Markets and Customers)

All too often, when we’re evaluating a new product or service idea, we get caught up in the notion of '“competitive dominance”. That there can only be one competitor who owns that space and, hence, competing in that market is a non-starter. Or, alternately, that there are so many players that that market has become commoditized. Either way, there’s no point playing in that space because the opportunity (for us) is gone.

The Myth of Inbox Zero (Or, For That Matter, Perpetual Happiness)

I don’t believe there is any such thing as Inbox Zero.

I think it’s one of those Holy Grail type of scenarios - we all keep searching for it, but we will never find it, because, in all probability, it doesn’t actually exist. Just like there’s no Ark of Covenant, no Loch Ness Monster, and no better football team than the 2003-2004 Arsenal Invincibles. (Yes, I said it.)

But while it may not be practically possible to get to Inbox Zero, that doesn’t mean we should pursue it.

The Experienced Entrepreneur: What The Data Says

In my post on Monday (Are You Too Old?), I argued that, as an experienced professional, you had to lean into your age and experience instead of trying to downplay or avoid it. As such, you either look for those who value your experience and work with them, or take matters into your own hands, and do something for yourself. In other words, take it as a Call To Action and do what you want.

The interesting thing is that in trying to do what we want, many of us are hounded - constrained - by the same conventional wisdom that drove us to this point in the first place.

Are You Too Old?

I recently came across a survey of US Tech Start-Up Founders by the venture-capital firm, First Round Capital, that yielded an insight that I think most of us, explicitly or implicitly, know to be the case:

37% said age is the strongest investor bias against founders, while 28% cited gender and 26% cited race.

Age is the strongest investor bias. No surprise there. And while the survey was focused on Tech, I don’t think it would be a stretch to envision this to be the case across start ups in other sectors as well.