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Think like a founder

Here’s a thought for you: starting a company is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. In the beginning, the founder has pieces scattered all over the table, and is trying to figure out how to fit them together into a cohesive, credible whole. There are pieces labelled ‘Innovation’, and ‘Market Penetration’, and ‘Business Plan’ and ‘Attracting Investors’, and so on, and so on. Even for a relatively simple business, there will be many pieces spread around, all of which need to be integrated so that the enterprise can become successful.

The thing that determines if it will be successful is the founder’s sense of vision. Even if they don’t know how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, they can visualize what the completed picture will look like. Without that vision, they’ll endlessly be arranging and re-arranging the pieces, trying to figure out which part fits with the next part. In my experience, that sense of vision, of seeing the whole picture, is often the differentiator between ‘nearly’ businesses and ones that make it. Does the founder (or founding team) have a vision which can be successfully brought to fruition? With vision, the enterprise will grow to maturity. Without vision, there will always be the temptation to keep on re-arranging the pieces of the jigsaw.

Keeping the vision alive

This certainly happens when the founder relaxes control, and a business goes into second or third generation leadership. There may be the belief now that there is still a ‘Vision’ – often encapsulated in a Mission Statement on the company website, or on a plaque in the corporate headquarters. But is it any longer actually a vision if no-one in the business understands the pieces of the puzzle that were carefully arranged to create the original offering?
Or as Henry Ford remarked, “Vision without execution is just hallucination.”

It’s great to have ‘values’ in a company. In fact it’s essential, but you have to live them. Later generations of company leaders, and new hires often find this hard, because all they are presented with is the completed picture. They don’t feel the need to puzzle through the process of how and why the company was created. Or as I call it, ‘The Big Why?’ In fact their biggest interest in joining is probably how to maximize their earnings.

Is providing a service enough?

OK, I know we all have to earn a living, but in doing that, let’s not forget all the other factors. For example, in service-based industries (and let’s face it, almost everything is now service-based), the big picture of a great product offering is simply not enough to satisfy us. We need to have all of the parts of the puzzle in place in order to be pleased, or even delighted by our experience. Think of flying: All airlines deliver us from A to B, so they all satisfy their basic promise of the big picture. No doubt on their boardroom walls and corporate headquarters there are Mission Statements pledging safety and efficiency too, plus many other dropdowns.

And yet we have favorite airlines, just as we have favorite everything-elses. They are favored by us because of many extra factors: The smile on the face of an employee, a great cup of coffee rather than a mediocre one, a website which is quick and responsive. Simply delivering the core offering is no longer enough. To return to Henry Ford, his famous maxim no longer holds true: “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” As customers and consumers we do have choice, and we exercise it without mercy.

Survive, and thrive

This is a time of unprecedented stress on businesses of all sizes. Around the world the front line offering of companies is failing them. Either the offering is no longer fit for purpose, or the values of the company have somehow been forgotten in the scramble to stay alive. Clearly not every business will survive, and many will have to radically re-scale their activities.

Now is the time to therefore look again at the pieces of the jigsaw which go to form the big picture, and freshly consider each piece. In other words, think like a founder. If you actually are a founder, then you should return to the mindset you were in when you were fighting to get started, where every moment was spent in puzzling out how you would succeed in the market.
And if you’re a second or even later generation leader, then believe me, it’s not just about the money! It’s about seriously looking at every part of the equation that originally made your company great. It’s about remembering why all those pieces made up the picture in the first place.


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