Plan B

Plan A doesn’t always work out. That’s why it’s useful to have a plan B.

However, you can’t have a plan B for everything, all the time. There will be unexpected twists and turns for which you haven’t had the time to prepare a plan B.

When these occur, your best bet is to, to the extent possible, take your time. Although it doesn’t seem like it in the heat of the moment, a plan B often emerges, either in the form of a new way of approaching the existing opportunity for which you had designed plan A, or in the form of a new opportunity altogether.

What makes Thanksgiving different

In a recent conversation about holidays, I shared that I look forward to Thanksgiving in particular because of the fact that it’s different than other holidays. While most other holidays are celebratory in nature, Thanksgiving is about expressing gratitude for, rather than celebrating, what we have.

I’m glad it’s that time of year again.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Consensus and the final decision maker

Flat corporate organizations are in fashion these days. The theory is that the best decisions are made by consensus, and that it’s important to strive towards building that consensus by giving everyone, independent of their seniority, the right to voice their opinion.

I support giving everyone the right to voice their opinion. Often the most junior team members have the most knowledge about an issue, so it’s important to draw on this knowledge during the decision-making process.

I also support decision making by consensus when this consensus can be achieved.

However, in many cases, it isn’t possible to reach consensus. Even after an issue is debated at length, there remain different perspectives on the right course of action.

When this happens, there needs to be a final decision maker. The puck needs to stop somewhere. In other words, when decision making by consensus doesn’t produce an outcome, the organization benefits from having a final decision maker decide on and state what will be done.

The alternative is that everyone leaves with their own idea of what needs to be done, the organization heads in multiple often opposing directions, and there is no accountability for the outcomes of these actions. It’s both inefficient and doesn’t produce results.

When consensus can’t be formed, it’s worth trading away a pleasant sounding but inefficient flat organization for an efficient and results producing final decision maker.

Anticipation

I remember when I was a child, I would wake up very excited the day when my favorite soccer club was due to play. I would wait in anticipation of the game throughout the day, and the feeling of anticipation was often as great, if not greater, than the feeling of watching the game in the evening.

The same is true for many events that you anticipate, both personally and professionally. The feeling of anticipation is greater than the feeling you get when the event actually takes place.

The feeling of anticipation may have evolved in this way so that we don’t lose sight of our targets. Without it, we might otherwise stop pursuing some long term targets that actually provide us with an evolutionary edge.

Similarly to the feeling of anticipation of a target often being stronger than the feeling of actually experiencing the target, the journey is often more rewarding than the destination.

Integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, adaptability, salesmanship, and ambition

In an earlier post, I wrote that the attributes of a great founder are integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, and salesmanship.

I recently gave a presentation on what makes a great founder, and in preparing for the presentation, realized that I was missing two attributes.

The first attribute is adaptability. Since a startup is essentially a series of experiments designed to solve different problems at different stages of the company, adaptability is a key part of being a great founder. Specifically, knowing what you need to do (intelligence) and doing it yourself (personal energy) or by attracting and motivating others (collective energy) isn’t enough. You also need to be able to change what you’re doing altogether when it isn’t working, or to change how you go about what you’re doing based on where your startup is in its life journey. This requires adaptability.

The second attribute is ambition. Startup outcomes are governed by power laws, whereby a portfolio’s best performing startup’s return can be exponentially greater than that of the second best performing one, the second best performing startup’s return can be exponentially greater than that of the third best performing one, and so on. As a result, each of the founders that an investor backs needs to have the potential to deliver that best performing startup outcome that will drive the investor’s fund level returns. And this requires being a very ambitious founder.

So the attributes through which I now define a great founder are integrity, intelligence, personal energy, collective energy, adaptability, salesmanship, and ambition.

No recognition

A good way to decide what to do in life is to think about what you would do if you were to receive absolutely no recognition for doing it.

Because chances are that, given the extent of competition and the role of luck in determining outcomes, this is what is going to happen.

However, counterintuitively, if you do such a thing with no desire for recognition, you just might do it well enough to be recognized.

Success and rejection

Jack Ma is the founder of China’s largest e-commerce group Alibaba. Although Alibaba started off as an e-commerce company, it has since expanded to offer other services like payments and cloud computing.

In the video below, Jack speaks about his personal story, how he built Alibaba, and Alibaba’s future plans. What particularly caught my attention was Jack’s perspective on being rejected. He was rejected by Harvard 10 times, Kentucky Fried Chicken in an application process where 23 of 24 candidates were accepted, and his local police department which accepted the 4 other applicants while rejecting only Jack.

He mentions that even at its current large size and negotiating power, Alibaba is still often rejected. This is a strong reminder that you need to want something to be successful, but the more you want, the more likely you are to be rejected. So success and rejection come hand in hand.

The full interview is below.

Abilities as repeated experiences

Sometimes you have the benefit of having the time to prepare for something in advance. When this is the case, if you put in the time, you can greatly increase your chances of reaching a positive outcome.

At other times, you don’t have time to prepare. Something happens to which you need to react on the spot.

When this is the case, if you have been faced with a similar situation before where your natural reaction was already tested to produce a positive or a negative outcome, this increases the chance that you engage in a current response that produces a positive outcome. This is the value of experience.

If you haven’t been faced with a similar situation before, that is if you don’t have contextual experience, the best you can do is to think about what’s happening as calmly as you can in whatever time is available. This is hard to do because, when faced with uncharted territory for which we haven’t had time to prepare, our natural reaction is to let our emotions guide our actions.

However, if you can remind yourself that what is now uncharted territory will soon become charted, that is, if you can see the new situation as an opportunity to gain experience rather than a reflection of your abilities, you can greatly improve your chance of reacting in a way that creates a positive outcome.

Most abilities are just repeated experiences.

Seizing the opportunity

Every situation that you create for yourself or encounter in life is either an opportunity or a threat.

You can either see the threat, by focusing on the downside in the event that things go wrong, or see the opportunity, by focusing on the doors that will open if things go right.

Once you see the opportunity, your subconscious, which is responsible for most of your outcomes in life, naturally works for you to seize it.

Parting on good terms

Startups have high turnover. The reasons are both due to the nature of startups and the nature of the people they tend to attract. Specifically, startups are bumpy rides where the bumps can throw many people off the ride, and they tend to attract people who are too restless to stand still in one place for an extended period of time.

As a result of this high turnover, when you work with a startup, you eventually develop a wide network of people who go on to roles outside of the startup. And many of these roles are once again in the startup community. You eventually reach a position where you know more people outside the startup than in it. In other words, you know more people who have left the startup than people who continue to work there.

If you hope to retain the option to continue to work with the people who have left, it’s important to part on good terms. This isn’t always possible, because it requires that both parties leave on terms where they believe that they were treated fairly, or that a party who believes that they were treated unfairly chooses to part on good terms despite this.

Not everyone is prepared to do this.¬†However, it’s worth doing for the part that’s in your control.

From the perspective of the employer, this means things like agreeing to serve as a reference for the employee in the future, or at least not speaking poorly of them unless there’s a very strong reason to do so, and not nickel and diming the employee’s exit terms.

From the perspective of the employee, this means things like continuing to work hard until the day you leave, transferring your workload to the organization or another employee who will take over your responsibilities, and not speaking poorly about the organization following your departure.

I’ve seen both good and bad departures. The former sometimes produce new opportunities which carry more value than what the original appeared to hold at the time. The latter don’t.