I’ve been scarce the past week, a combination of travel, work, and reflection that filled the days. The photos below illustrate the range of the week’s activity. ‘And most of the news is good: with strong results in-hand the business is rushing ahead with operations and fundraising. This put me in Maastricht, Dorset, London, and Nottingham day-by-day, meeting with my clinical, financial, and industrial partners.
After cash, confidence is the most important quality for a startup to cultivate. I used to think that this was simply a matter of articulating a clear goal and a plan for getting there, of looking confident.
But, if things start to drift sideways unexpectedly, if plans are necessarily revised and timelines extend, people lose faith. Their perception of the risks increase, they wonder if they are still part of a capable and winning team. This erosion can’t be stemmed with a shrug and a smile.
The key qualities seem to come down to communication and execution. It’s important to be clear and concise about what has happened and what is being done about it, managing the perception early. Then it’s vital that milestones be set and hit. They can be small and close, but doing those things that you say you will are more important than saying things will get better.
And never, ever present good news until it’s a fact, not a belief. Once trust starts to erode, confidence can never be regained.
I did not make it to TEFAF this year. Making choices, my priorities lay in serious conversations with friends and in closing important design reviews. The show was extensively covered in major media (two articles in the Times, alone) and attracted a more glittering patronage than usual, although there was suggestion that the Contemporary Art exhibitions, my favorites, were less substantial.
The travel has left me more time for reading, though, whether ploughing through Cross-Channel seas or rumbling along the north-south rail lines. ‘Two excellent recommendations:
The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal, observes Ben Horowitz in The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The hard thing is laying people off if you miss that goal. It isn’t hard to hire great people…set up an org chart…dream big. The hard part is confronting unreasonable demands….getting people to communicate….waking in the middle of the night in a cold sweat as the dream hits reality. Ben argues that entrepreneurship is a struggle, and that endurance and persistence are needed to succeed. Rooted in personal experiences building companies, his observations and prescriptions ring true with my own.
Work stops being fun when you’re triple booked through your day; stress and fear build when someone else calls the shots for you. And losing commitment to relationships and meaning in life is to turn away from gaining wisdom and peace. It sounds New-Age, but the book comes from the Mayo Clinic and summarizes recent research about why our minds wander, why we tend to dwell on the negative, how that affects our life, and what we can do about it. The psychology resonates with me (especially for the wandering mind associated with long, solitary days on the road) but I haven’t bought into the five prescriptive remedies (managing attention, gratitude, compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness). I’ll find practical points to adopt, though, and even the pink-cloud sections give me things to think about (in the recommended focused /attentive way).
All of these psychological points seem to circle concepts of mindfulness, extensively covered in the business press as the path to creativity and productivity. I’ve long been interested in flow states, optimal experience where a focused mind enjoys enhanced creativity and insight. The ten qualities of flow have a complimentary fit with these other books, and I’ve been reflecting on the overlap, looking for the best ideas.
‘nothing conclusive yet. But, as the business regains its footing, this seems like the right time to reconsider these topics.
‘if only to avoid the traps that caught me in 2013.