one trick unicorn

Years ago, I rented a massive piece of real estate for a business. Immediately after making the rather substantial commitment (money- and time-wise), the landlord said this: “entrepreneurship is like boxing against a wall. You have to keep boxing until the wall remains in its place.” A clear message, packaged in an unrefined, even slightly unappealing metaphor.

There are hundreds of ways to encourage someone not to give up, some more esoteric than others. We can’t possibly all be the most charismatic, eloquent, and intelligent entrepreneurs. Even incredibly savvy entrepreneurs have made silly mistakes or, worse, failed miserably. Even if you are all those things (more power to you), all the building blocks have to fall in their right place at the right time. Considering those building blocks to be bricks, the above “wall metaphor” regains charm.

If there was ever one skill to master as an entrepreneur, it’s perseverance. If you (I’m looking at you show pony) have but one trick up your sleeve, let it be this: refuse to die (professionally).

professional problem solver

I solve problems for a living. Problems I’ve created in the past. Problems people have created for me. Wild problems that suddenly appear out of nowhere. Quiet problems you barely knew existed. Would you like some problems with that? Don’t mind if I do.

Entrepreneurship requires kind Pit Bulls. Dogs that set their teeth in a problem, refusing to let go until the issue is resolved.

There are a couple of ways to go about it. You could either sign on the dotted line making a problem go away. Telling employees to go left. A supplier to go forward. A manager to go backward. Similar to moving chess pieces across the board. Approving or disapproving matters all day long. We’ll refer to this as interruption-based problem-solving.

The other way around could look like this. A rather unpleasant fragrance protrudes in the hallway. You put on your boots and anticipate the toilets about to overflow. Consequently, when they do overflow, you grab a shovel and start shoveling, well… Shit. Let’s call this problem-solving method: boots on the ground.

Senior (vice) problem solvers or even chief executive problem solvers with a long career at big companies are often excellent interruption-based problem solvers. Inversely, they suck at the boots on the ground style.

Startups have little need for interruption-based problem-solving. When it’s just you and four other people, there isn’t much use in strategically approaching how to approve the right person for the job to alleviate the sanitary situation. Again, put on your boots and shovel shit.

If problem-solving doesn’t make your heart skip a beat, consider a different career.

whose baby crying

What’s worse than your baby keeping you from sleeping, crying incessantly? The neighbor’s baby keeping you up all night squealing like there is no tomorrow, in a tiny apartment with paper walls and virtually no sound isolation.

What are the options? Wait until the baby grows up? Move to a different place? Encourage the neighbors to move out? Build a sound isolated wall? Frankly, none of these options are valid from a practical point of view. Side note: the latter option isn’t valid per se because acoustics isn’t an exact science. The material is costly, and the results are often vastly underwhelming.

In business, incumbents and newcomers in your industry can be annoying, keeping you up all night, much like the neighbor’s crying baby. Sometimes, there just isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.

Radical change is what’s required to deal with those situations. Staying true to your personal beliefs and your business’ values, look past the problem and see if any solutions start with you. Without leaving everything you stand for behind, there might be features you can implement that are radically different, embracing the opportunity to set yourself apart.

In the end, you can’t control what you can’t control. Keep track of your competitors, but (laser) focus on you.

thanks for nothing

I have never seen Bambi. I do know this, though. A rabbit named Thumper says, at one point in the movie: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Forgiving Thumper’s lack of double negatives knowledge, after all, a talking rabbit is spectacular enough as it is.

Would the claim hold ground in a business context? Not likely. What if Thumper was a consultant advising businesses? When a company pays another company, the latter shouldn’t be told what they want to hear. Consultants and advisors should tell their clients the truth, however inconvenient it may be.

If Thumper’s claim isn’t transferable to a business context as such, what parts should be altered, if any? How about: “if you can’t say something actionable, don’t say anything at all.” Surely, business-to-business clients want to be inspired too once in a while. Maybe they want to hear about new developments in their own – or an adjacent domain. Advice, unasked for, is doomed to be dismissed. Upon establishing that the client is actively seeking advice, tell the client what to do and how to do it.

In a recent conversation with a professional service I’m using, they presented me with options. Unfortunately for them, options I knew existed. Without telling me pro’s and con’s, risks and pitfalls, you have literally wasted my time. Thanks for nothing.

André 3000, part of the iconic hip-hop duo Outkast, once laid out super solid business advice. Read this in your best Atlanta, Georgia accent, shorty.

“This old lady told me, if I ain’t got nothin’ good, say nathan.
That’s why I don’t talk much.
I swear it don’t cost much, to pay attention to me.
I tell like it is, then I tell it how it could be.”

If you can’t say something actionable, wait until you can formulate a plan and approach before presenting your findings.

not a winner

There are no medals for pioneering.

In the song titled “#1”, Nelly asks (himself) “What does it take to be number one?” Boasting that he already is number one, he leaves the question unanswered, to go on by rapping: “Two is not a winner, and three nobody remembers.” Recite this (in your mind) with a thick St. Louis accent for optimal results.

In entrepreneurship, there are many times where you explicitly don’t want to be number one. Pioneering is hard. Heck, paving the way is super tiring and risky. You do all the hard, inglorious work. Stuck with your boots in the mud, digging for gold. Only for somebody else to enter later and reap all the benefits. Bootstrapping from a garage can (mentally) feel like being out there in Klondike.

If you absolutely must pioneer. Think twice and stock up on plenty of energy, fuel, and courage. There may have been more than one fictitious claim in Nelly’s hit record but sometimes, two is a winner, and three everybody remembers.

brand new brand

How exhilarating it is to be at the forefront of something new.

Fourteen years ago, right before I left my home country for an undefined period, a friend of mine told me this: “you’ll get to reinvent yourself and be a whole new you.”

I always had trouble understanding what she meant by that. In my mind, I was happy with who I was. So why should I reinvent myself?

I think she meant that, upon starting something new, you have a choice to meticulously and deliberately curate baggage that you want to leave behind.

Here is to a new beginning. One that is bound to be stunningly phenomenal. A brand new you. A — no negativity allowed — rebranding for your business, kicking last year in the behind. May your personal and entrepreneurial endeavors be prosperous.

the best worst year

2020 was both the best and worst year thus far.

The inability to achieve mundane and ambitious goals makes 2020 one of the worst years ever. Stuck indoors. Unable to meet family, friends, and clients. Many of us were overcome by a feeling of helplessness, witnessing infection rates rising. People were suffering from illnesses. Many lives were lost. Tragic really.

On the other hand, the best year ever because 2020 made us appreciate what we have even more. After all, gratitude is one of the best attitudes.

Running a business is, more often than not, a rollercoaster with a rapid succession of ups and downs. That was terrifying! Let’s do it again. Success stories of businesses with track records consisting out of nothing but smooth sailing are scarce. When push comes to shove, and those types of companies encounter a setback, it’ll be much harder for them to redeem themselves. They have no memory or experience to draw from in those demanding situations.

Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right when he said: “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” Weather the storm, relentlessly. Acknowledge the learnings and ride the waves.

douchebag idol

They say: “never meet your heroes.” Why? If your idol is a total douchebag, you’re going to feel completely devastated and you’ll be left with more questions than answers.

What if engaging in intellectually fulfilling conversation with your idol doesn’t work out. Maybe watching sand run through an hourglass proves to be a more stimulating activity than talking with them.

It’s your idol’s good right to be a total douchebag. It’s not your right to expect them not to be.

If you meet your idol — deliberately or accidentally — see how you can provide value for them. Perhaps, your idol will create value for you one day. Don’t count on it, though.

Get rid of the emotional layer of worship when running into your idol and get to work.

pop-up ego

After years of training, trying to keep your ego in check, you think you’ve nailed it. You’ve become a calmer person and stopped taking everything personal. Difficult to measure the intangible ego, but you feel confident in saying your ego is tiny. Even contemplating the chance, you got rid of your ego altogether.

Until a situation presents itself where suddenly the ego pops up as if it never left. Hello, darkness, my old friend. Like some commercial real estate that’s been vacant for the longest time and almost overnight, a retailer decides to set up (a pop-up) shop. It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s at play. The adrenaline you feel when somebody in traffic breaks unexpectedly and a collision seems imminent. The visceral reaction that lets an adrenaline shot ring out in your body. The sequel to your life: “the ego returns”. This time it’s back with a vengeance.

The trick isn’t to try to suppress the ego. The trick is to actively look for more ego evoking situations to train responses better.

decrease dimensionality

Problem-solving requires understanding dimensionality. Problems in our mind aren’t bound to physical space, meaning that they rarely have but one dimension. A single dimension would be the least required parameters to define a (part of a) problem.

Identify both the characteristics and the number of all the different dimensions present in a particular problem. Once identified, the next step is to reduce the dimensionality as much as possible.

Occam’s razor states: “entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.” In other words, the simplest answer is the best answer. Simple answers are easier to falsify, which increases their likelihood of being correct.

With multiple, sometimes interlaced dimensions, finding a starting point is challenging. Untangle all dimensions one by one. This way, clarity is created. We can reintroduce complexity where necessary along the way.