The Big Bang moment for start-ups

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Big Bang

Lots of popular literature on start-ups portrays success as a rather linear process involving well-crafted plans animated by hard work. Those two elements are indeed helpful, but are no guarantee for success. In fact, they rarely explain success when it comes to start-ups.

The most important moment in a start-up’s life, the instant of creation, is as elusive as the full understanding of the Big Bang is to cosmology. Like in the case of the Universe, the moment when value bursts and allows the start-up to expand tremendously is but an instant as compared to the entire life of the future company.

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Forget IDEO’s T-shaped thinkers – enter “Meta”

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fuller_artzy

If you follow the latest in business thinking, you would have come across the popular – or should I say “populist” – Design Thinking (DT) movement. You might have even heard of IDEO. They are the company that turned the rather loose notion of business as “art” into a profitable consulting model. You’ve probably heard of so called “T-shaped thinkers”. According to Tim Brown and others at IDEO, T-shaped thinkers are the new Da Vincis. They master both the ability to think broadly and deeply. They are generalists and specialists at the same time.

The beauty of simple models, like IDEO’s T-shaped thinkers is they are simple to convey and remember. Their marketing power is undeniable, and they serve the consulting model superbly. But the drawback is they are often too simplistic to be accurate. In fact, I say the T-shaped thinker model is quite poor in capturing the generalist-specialist dichotomy.

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Big Idea 2015 – we have NOT entered the knowledge economy

fur-trading

The modern financial system traces its beginnings to the Middle Ages. As commerce passed a certain sophistication threshold that extended transactions beyond “right here and right now”, bartering broke down as an effective means for exchanging value. Since that inflection point, the world embarked on an ever increasing liquidity quest. As ever more sophisticated financial instruments emerged, they in fact substantially increased the mobility of assets.

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Corporate taxation without representation

corphierarchy

Let’s take a simplified scenario of the mechanics underlying the remuneration relationship between a corporation and an employee in the knowledge economy.

The corporation pays a white collar employee a certain salary and benefits. The corporation in turn charges its clients for the work performed by said employee a much higher rate, double or more (!) what the equivalent cost of the employee’s salary and benefits. This difference pools into a so-called “overhead” budget. The overhead budget covers things such as facilities’ rent, but by far, the largest chunk goes to indirect labor, i.e. executives. They in turn are supposed to make life better for everyone: customers – innovative products and services -, employees – job security -, shareholders – profit.

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Emotions

Emotions

Emotions – sometimes they save the day, and at other times are the source of embarrassment or outright disaster. Whether regarded as an initiator of success or source of failure, emotions are necessary. That is because emotions provide the illogical response necessary to address that portion of reality that is non-deterministic. When reality exceeds our ability to make sense, in lieu of emotions, we would behave like computer algorithms, stuck in infinite compute loops. For humans, emotions represent an effective mechanism for dealing with high uncertainty and complexity circumstances that would otherwise constitute veritable traps of logic. Quite simply, we have been able to get where we are today more based on our ability to ignore logic than follow it. Every leap of faith that preceded a ground breaking innovation had an emotional impulse behind it. Progress is in effect humanity’s recurring impulse to cut the Gordian Knot.

Communism is dead. Long live (corporate) Communism!

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Communism

The sensible consensus is that communism became all but extinct with the end of the Cold War. I say it may be so, but the mindset that fueled it continues to live unhindered. Your next thought may be that I am referring to North Korea. But I have something much closer to home in mind: the U.S. corporate sector. Yes, you didn’t misread. I will dare to say that the mindset of the corporate sector in 2014 is eerily reminiscent of communist thinking.

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Business – a form of human expression

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The tagline “people are our most valued resource” has been so abused by the corporate world that it no longer means anything to anyone. I suspect that in the near future it will be eventually qualified as an offensive truism, and rightfully so. The sooner it disappears off the face of the planet, the better of humanity at large will be.

The debate on the humanism of business continues to be part of a public discourse infused with various degrees of political innuendo – see the 99% movement, the shareholder value argument, etc.

I propose a simple new take on what business is: a form of human expression.

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When competence is offensive

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I remember vividly a meeting that took place a few years ago. I was a management consultant tasked by the owner of a large corporation with overseeing the creation of a new profit and loss business unit. My nemesis was a Vice President who did not want to see his power and “territorial” claims diminished by the new venture. Typical power games and office politics were very much at play. The owner liked to delegate and had a “survival of the fittest mentality” to mediating conflict.

The three of us had gotten together because the named Vice President was overtly sabotaging my efforts. He was making the case to the owner that, while the idea of the new business unit was great, the consultant was poorly fit for the job.

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