Friday, August 31, 2007

Commandments for the Crazies

Had a beer with a friend last week. He's considering starting a business (I hope he stops whining and takes the plunge). Between guzzles, he asked: Don't you have a list of things I should consider before making a decision? Gulp. Remember all those talks you used to give to entrepreneurs? Double gulp, and a nod.

I unearthed and dusted off -- is it possible to dust off a computer file? -- a few dusty presentations. Therein I would close my talks with a Kawasaki/Letterman knock-off: 12 Commandments for the Crazies (i.e., things to consider if you're crazy enough to start a business; I would have slimmed the list to a tidy 10, but I didn't have time). Here's the list:

12. Cui bono?
11. Be big, hairy and audacious.
10. Do the other thing.
9. Be lucky.
8. It's the jockey. Not the horse.
7. Big pie. Small slice.
6. Greed > Fear = $.
5. God damn it, be a Wham-It.
4. Increase shareholder wealth. Daily.
3. Just do it.
2. There is no finish line.
1. Never sacrifice your integrity.
If you've read this blog (or seen my presentation), most of the above are familiar. I have authored posts about cui bono, luck, jockeys v. horses, the fundamentals of greed versus fear, being a Wham-It!, and my translation of Nike's "Just do it" mantra to entrepreneurship.

The others:
- Be big, hairy and audacious: With credit to Collins and Porras and their mid-90s tome, Built to Last, I would reference JFK's 1961 challenge: This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth. NASA was born, the nation rallied, the rest is history. Collins and Porras: "A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines."

- Do the other thing: Business is not a science; it’s not black and white. Rather, it is an intoxicatingly frustrating and rewarding sea of grey ambiguity (recall our past post about thinking in grey). There are few rules, and it’s human nature to do the reactive, obvious thing; true progress and value are achieved by doing the other thing.

- Big pie, small slice: Successful enterprises are competitively allocentric. Individual egos are shelved for the organization's well-being. Too often, entrepreneurs focus on their slice of the pie (their position in the company's cap table), versus the grand pie: a large slice (majority stake) of a small pie (company with little value) has little value; a small slice (minority position) of a large pie is tasty.

- Increase shareholder wealth. Daily. Companies exist to create wealth. Period. We had a practice at one of my prior companies, a daily "five o'clock stand-up meeting" question: What are we doing to increase shareholder wealth? If we're spending time on stuff that fails to propel value, quit doing it; focus solely on progress and wealth-generating activities.

- There is no finish line: Building a business is a marathon (check that: a perpetual chronicle of 26.2-milers). The minute you're satisfied, you're cooked: cramps set in, apathy trumps ambition, the finish line is a fuzzy mirage, and other racers (your competitors) race past.

- Never sacrifice your integrity: Enough said.

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