Thursday, August 15, 2013

Entrepreneurial Lessons from a Book on Toddlers

I've been reading up on toddler discipline (my little one recently entered the stage of reckless abandon and “no daddy!”) and am finding numerous theories/lessons that seem to apply as much to business as parenting.

One particular story resonated with me and I’ve found myself referencing it on several occasions this week within TGA’s walls.

The story is this – in an effort to study the impact of boundaries, a behaviorist removed the fence surrounding a preschool yard to see how the kids would react.  Instead of running wild with their newfound freedom, the kids huddled near the center and seemed paralyzed.  Why?  “There is security in defined limits.”  No different than if you removed the sidewalls on a bridge – everyone would drive slowlyyy down the middle.

As an entrepreneur, there are few to no proverbial “fences” surrounding what you do.  You need to be that child that bravely, almost defiantly, steps out into the danger of the unknown.  The best entrepreneurs I know are the ones who embrace uncertainty and manage change the best. 

But then an interesting thing happens.  You have some success.  You start hiring employees.  You have a C-level title by very nature of being the founder (or part of the founding team).   And then you realize that the exact traits that got you to that point are in many ways contradictory to the skills you need to be a good leader of the team you’re building.

Basic HR responsibilities like a vacation policy, staff handbook, consistent review structure, etc. are more of a nuisance to you than anything.  It’s all about results, not processes.  And when you give someone an assignment, you expect them to figure out how to get it done (and done well) with little need for hand-holding or guidance.  Because that’s the environment you, the entrepreneur, excel in.

But most employees need clarity and structure with these things.  They want (rightfully) to understand the expectations, have clear objectives and know how and when they’ll be evaluated.  They need a leader, a manager.  But often their boss (you, the entrepreneur) can’t relate to these needs.  Especially if you’re a first-time entrepreneur.  So while you did a great job of getting the company from A to B, you now need to adapt your approach quite significantly to get the company from B to C.  Fred Wilson wrote an article called “Becoming A Boss” that is a must-read if this topic is interesting to you.

From my experience there are two main stages to entrepreneurship.  The first is taking an idea and turning it into an actual product with a viable business model – i.e. being the kid that steps away from the pack and heads into unchartered territory where there are no fences.  The second stage is taking your viable business model and turning it into a long-term sustainable company – i.e. getting the pack you just stepped away from to now follow you thanks in large part to the fences you’ve built along the way of your trailblazing journey.  

Being successful with one stage is difficult enough, much less both.  It takes a unique individual who not only has the aforementioned personality traits and skill set, but also possesses a high level of self-awareness, eagerness to learn and willingness to adapt.  Entrepreneurship is not for most, and the personal experience I'm speaking from comes mostly from failure which is not fun.  But if you think you've got what it takes and can handle the ride, the successes and highs can be the thrill of a lifetime.

Good luck and happy entrepreneuring...


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