We can’t help ourselves when we work with what we love. According to Steve Blank, founders who love what they do are more likely to do well:
You need to do what you are doing because you love it, because you can’t think of anything better to do with your life. And if that is not the case, don’t do this because it’s going to be a miserable 10 or 20 years. If you are looking at getting rich like the Facebook boys, or the Google boys, or whatever the hot startup is now, that is the wrong reason to do it. If you are chasing the money, I will guarantee you, the more you chase it, the further away is goes. (Steve Blank at MAP14, Mar 13, 2014,
It’s undeniable that we will put so much energy into the things we love. Love is like gas - if we have a lot, we can drive further. But also, we might not measure our lovely journey - this is the teaser of what is coming next.
From the point of view of planning, it’s not difficult to hear great thinkers’ recommendations that objectives and key results should have inspiring goals and ambitious concrete measures.
After celebrating that we drive better with inspiring goals and love in the tank, I invite you to reflect on the challenges when this
love thing energy drives our rides.
The execution path of a strong believer can blind them from seeing the big picture and the challenges of the external environment. Steve Blank also acknowledges the flip side of being a firm believer and how founders - especially great founders - are highly subjective and being a victim of their vision:
I am the founder; I implicitly understand the problem, so let’s just get to work and build the complete solution. That is a lot easier than getting out of the building and having to talk with a bunch of people. Or telling you that your baby is ugly. [..] No one wants to hear that your baby is ugly - it’s your vision. (Steve Blank at MAP14, Mar 13, 2014,
We might think that following a vision is not too bad, especially in the case of founders, as they are executing towards the market and eventually find data. But when the action journey is too colored and there are high expectations, the encounter with the unexpected (or unwanted) may not turn exactly into an awakening call. There is still room for more trouble as denial might come into the scene:
[If] they tell you that your baby is ugly, smoke is going to start coming out of your ears because cognitive dissonance is going to set in. You are a believer and now they are telling you that you are wrong? Are these people stupid? Which is - the first reaction of a great founder is: They just don’t get it. (Steve Blank at MAP14, Mar 13, 2014,
Therefore, there is a little bit of a paradox because a founder needs to drink the holy water, but it produces bad outcomes if they drink too much. Maybe all of this goes back to the romanticization of ____ (fill in with the process name) as shown in the example from Startups: Stop Romanticizing Your Brand and Tailor it for Early Adopters. Let’s consider that angle.
Glenn Kelman, the CEO of Redfin, shows a complex situation applicable in the context when founders need to hire board members. At Building Your Board with Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman, Glenn has revealed the challenges he lived through as he interviewed very successful people to join his board of directors:
I was so busy, like looking ecstatic, as they talked to me when I debriefed with James or Jeff. And I said, “What they say? I don’t know, but that was really impressive.” (Glenn Kelman at Greylock, June 13, 2017, 18m17s)
Glenn’s point is that his attention was taken away, and he couldn’t do much initially. Glenn was impressed or also trying to impress. But why was he impressed in the first place? Well, he is a human right? His movements are driven by inspiration. He loves entrepreneurship; he loves that people can put a dent in the universe and change it. All right, I made that up, but he is telling us that he was spending time being impressed instead of using the time, and the time of his candidates, in a wiser way. Therefore, the interaction with his potential board members suffered from tension, with a bias - a sort of enchantment.
Another similar situation is documented by Sal Khan, the inspiring founder of Khan Academy. Khan narrates the situation that he lived when he met Bill Gates for the first time:
"We met, and he asked what I was up to, and this is one of those surreal times in your life when 20% of your brain is trying to speak in a cohesive way and the other 80% is saying - that is Bill Gates!" (Sal Khan @ Kleiner Perkins, December 2, 2014, 19m30s)
These situations show good and bad aspects when high energy and passion follow the execution. This double-edged sword applies to many conditions, such as an individual executing a science project, an author writing an article, a family member helping their family, founders creating a prototype, an early-stage team validating a product, etc.
For the case of larger organizations, although you won’t find love/passion/energy involved, I recommend you read about the challenges presented in Andy Grove’s in his article entitled Strategic Dissonance.
One thing is to fear the difficulties of the execution path when there is too much energy. Another thing is to know what to do. Perhaps the saying that “love can make you do crazy things” can shed light.
Consider a team with a truly inspiring goal and the notion that their energy is in abundance. It’s not that the driver cannot see the proper exits or that they can’t do the math. It might be that the drivers can’t deal with the judgment problem because they can get confused with feedback as they outperform beyond normal.
Fred Kofman, the author of Conscious Business, helps us understand that the feedback - as we perceive from our performance - has a significant impact on how we play the game. The following illustration shows what happens if a team compensates individuals based on local performance attributes:
In the illustration, if a soccer team compensates the attacking individual by its score - by the number of goals they score - they could still lose, as shown in the 4-5 case.
Based on how soccer teams solve their problems, Fred goes on to suggest a challenging solution for us life systems:
In a non-linear system, in order to optimize the system, you have to sub-optimize the subsystems. (Fred Kofman @ Linkedin, August 12, 2013, 17m58s)
This viewpoint suggests a strategy the local performance enchants the high-caring individual.
It is easy to write and tough to do, especially for individuals who don’t have a team to shock-absorb what they do. Telling ourselves to remove love is not an objective solution. Picking less inspiring goals can be worse. But we might be inspired by the points from Steve and Fred to engage in reflecting and improving our awareness about what we do and especially how we do it:
[x] Do what you love, yes.
[x] Being more conscious about the risk of our convictions, yes.
[x] Improving consciousness (and accountability) about the activities that we outperform, yes.
[ ] _______, yes. (put your ideas here)
We know a lot that we can do, especially when we care too much. But one area to look at is to allow time to reflect, to consider. Our drive to deliver outcomes is now in the dashboard, we know. But are we allowing ourselves to measure the amount of time with other non-urgent activities that could be strategic? Are we allowing ourselves to engage with reflections and planning? Are we checking, reviewing, and shock-absorbing our actions? Are we evaluating our activities with help from our teams or the external environment? Checking our key results against the explicit goal is critical, of course. But our ultimate goal - in the execution path and amid uncertainty - is to learn, fail less, and see the bigger picture.