Are You Crazy - Enough?

posted Aug 22, 2013, 10:01 AM by Douglas McCartney   [ updated Aug 30, 2013, 10:44 AM ]
I've got a short note for today to highlight a nice write up by fellow Colby grad Andrew Johnson, Ph.D., published on his blog Upstart Life Sciences*. I'll also call your attention to a very appropriate poem by Ruydyard Kipling (perhaps my one literary reference for the year? I'm an Econ grad and MBA after all, so any such references put me ahead of the game I think.) 

Are You A Crazy Entrepreneur? 

As Andrew notes, the startup focused professional and in particular CEO loves the stress and adrenalin rush of the ups and downs and occassional sheer chaos that can be a startup. To me, it's that thrill of remaining calm in the face of uncertainty and nearly constant change. It's a chance to be constantly learning new things and pushing yourself and fellow team members into new uncharted waters. To tackle things you've likely never dealt with before so you rarely have to solve the same problem twice. In short, it is pretty much a reverse of the old bromide "If you can keep calm when all around are losing it, YOU don't have all the facts about the situation". Instead, of course, you do understand but you're crazy enough to embrace it instead of run away from it. 

Or a Rock-Steady Established Company Type?

Conversely, as he notes, the CEO at an established company thrives in a much more risk-adverse world, excelling instead when the focus is on scaling an existing process. Where data and deliberate decision making trump seat-of-the-pants rubrics. It is that deep more complete problem solving attitude that perhaps the startup mentality sometimes lacks. In my mind, I think of it as having the faith and gumption to keep repeating something that is successful over and over again until you get board to tears by it. And then to get up the next day and do it again. Of course you are refining, improving, and fixing certainly, but never without data and reasoned purpose behind the change. 

You Decide What You Are - Or Do You?

Where Andrew's focus turns of course is knowing yourself and knowing when you need to let go and seek out the time and opportunity to replace yourself. This is of course the real trick of it and the place most startup minded folk get into trouble. It's their baby, their company, and their creation. How could they possibly let it go? But as Andrew notes, there is more than enough reward for those that do so. First, it is best for their company. Investors will be more interested in a startup whose leader knows when to turn the reins over to a established company personality. It also is the best way to get oneself into your next great venture.

But as I suspect Andrew would certainly allow and even assert, that this is somewhat of an over simplification. The reality is that any good (should we say great) leader is one that is a bit of both. If you are all one or all of the other, you likely lack the flexibility and even fortitude to lead in either case. Because, as anyone who's been in business very long knows - any organization, from the smallest startup to the rebuilt colossus IBM - has its crazy times as well as steady times - on an ongoing basis. 

What Did Kipling Have to Say About It?

So how does Ruydyard Kipling, the famous poet and author figure into this? Consider his following poem:


(‘Brother Square-Toes’—Rewards and Fairies)

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

I think you'll find that well said. I sourced it from here on the web: