Monday, 8 January 2018

Start Up Graduation

Image result for zero to one
When and wherever possible I have explored what Silicon Valley and major tech companies do differently to the rest of the world. 

This post looks and how, after reading Peter Thiel’s Zero ToOne book, it feels like either a new chapter of my startup journey... but personal issues just might mean it's the end of the road.

When I wrote my EdTech report “Developing Relationships andDelivering Value” a big missing piece of these ideas was the concept of “Social Proof”

"No leader can hope to persuade, regularly and single handedly, all the members of the group. A forceful leader can reasonably expect, however, to persuade some sizable portion of group members. Then the raw information that a substantial number of group members has been convinced can, by itself, convince the rest. Thus the most influential leaders are those who know how to arrange group conditions to allow the principle of social proof to work maximally in their favour" Robert Cialdini

The report above was written in 2013 and was the result of some advice that I was given at one of Bill Aulet’s workshops and an unconventional career journey which started in 2010. 

Seven years later, and after reading Zero to One, (A book that stems from Blake Masters notes on a Stanford course about Startups) it feels like something of a graduation.

What did I know about Peter Thiel before reading this book? From the top of my head... I could tell you three things about him:

1)  That he takes culture seriously as I recalled reading about his advice to the AirBnB founders “Don’t F**K Up the Culture

2)   That he was involved with Silicon Valley Venture Capital

3)  That he was a slightly controversial figure in the media and social media these days as he was one of the few Silicon Valley types who publicly supported Donald Trump.

If I thought hard then I might have been able to recall that he founded PayPal.

Like Bill Aulet, Thiel appears to be another Silicon Valley guru who feels that Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.

You don't ignore advice like this! So, for the last few years, I have just pitched in and helped out with any project where the culture looked promising.

This has included assisting EdShelf with their Kickstarter, supporting various EdChats, being an advocate of the Scottish Independence Referendum (Based 100% on the culture and 0% on the politics that wrecked the potential of change because of the cultural conditions), organizing one of the Digital Citizenship Summits, being an active volunteer of a Silicon Valley for a social enterprise network and a number of research and data curation projects.

Reading Richie Norton’s “Resumes are Dead… and what to do about it” helped to demonstrate that my ideas around “Job Hunting” Vs “Job Fishing” and the advice of

"Do the job you want to have before you get it" 

Helped me to see that I was not entirely insane because of my approach to work.

Reading Chapter 8) Secrets 9) Foundations 10) The Mechanics of Mafia 11) If You Built It, Will They Come? of Zero to One has helped to validate my ideas and methods further… and help me see that I’m most definitely on the right track.

Previously I’ve felt that the struggle - attempts to be understood and/or the unfairness of being vilified when trying to good work extremely difficult and frustrating.(especially when you compare it with the good and the greats’ questionable attempts....Pick a number! Gazelle, FELTAG, the fantastic culture of #IndyRef, Developing the Youth Workforce, Addressing the Attainment Gap).

Today, as well as seeing enough similarities in Zero To One in the advice that other successful entrepreneurs, just like discovering the value of "Social Proof" after writing my EdTech report, there are a few other pieces of the jigsaw that I have been able to add to the startup the puzzle.

I can also see that the mistakes made were not "mistakes" but were simply typical learning experiences that many a (more experienced) entrepreneur has fallen foul of as well.

For example, I’ve seen first hand how 'Thiel’s Law' of 

“A startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed” 

By working on a project where the two founders 

“Developed irreconcilable differences, where the company was the victim”  

In addition to this the core values were nothing more than a cat poster!

Image result for cat poster believe

How did these founders meet? Pretty much the way that Peter Thiel and Blake Masters describe when detailing a cautionary tale about how one of Thiel's partners found a co-founder:

"Met at a networking event, talked for a while, and decided to start a company together. That's no better than marrying the first person you meet at the slot machines in Vegas: You might hit the jackpot, but it probably won't work"

I have also experienced the kind of workplace that Thiel describes regarding his work at a law firm

“The relationships between [the partners at The law firm Thiel worked at] were oddly thin. They spent all day together, but few of them seemed to have much to say to each other outside the office. Why work with a group of people who don’t even like each other? Many seem to think it’s a sacrifice necessary for making money. But taking a merely professional view of the workplace, in which free agents check in and out on a transactional basis, is worse than cold: it’s not even rational" 

Just walk around Glasgow at clocking off time and/or listen to how much people moan about their work on the way home from work or in the coffee shop at lunch time to hear how many people are not investing their time well. Based on my own experience I could not agree more with the following statements:

"Since time is your most valuable asset, it’s odd to spend it working with people who don’t envision any long term future together" 

"If you can’t count durable relationships among the fruits of your time at work, you haven’t invested your time well"

"Promise what no others can: The opportunity to do irreplaceable work on a unique problem alongside great people"

Thiel and Masters book also touch on themes from the fantastic Tribal Leadership...There are simply too many successful people with similar experiences for this stuff not to matter if you want to participate in meaningful work!

Tribal Leadership

I’ve no idea what the short term future holds, perhaps it will be checking in and out on a worse than cold transactional basis doing a bit of cold calling, in a cold environment with people who don’t have much to say to one another.

But I feel I know the mechanics of what’s needed and have developed the tools to build a solid foundation and/or know what to look for in new opportunities in work that might make a difference to young people and have the potential to be a game changing stage 5 tribe and be a part of a great team doing great work.

So even if the best short term options are to join the 4% of the Scottish workforce in call centres before these jobs are replaced by AI and chatbots.

I can either keep an eye out for the company that's achieved "Product Market Fit" and has the culture to match...or startup on my own.

Regardless I now know that I've successfully re-skilled in the way that I had hoped.

The start of the post on the following link details what I set out to do when I chose to gave up my most valuable asset, my time, for free: How I Met Your Awesomeness, but like the way Thiel puts it

"Promise members of your team what no others can: The opportunity to do irreplaceable work on a unique problem alongside great people"

To quote Rands hero/anti-hero: "Offer me this and you can have anything I've got to give"

A Quick Word on Thiel and Trump
Thiel talks about how good companies have some secret sauce and, after reading Zero to One, I can’t help but wonder why others who have read the book and the views expressed can’t see how this Silicon Valley VC’s support of Trump isn’t 100% inspired!

At the end of Zero To One there is a chapter called “The Founders Paradox” which talks about how founders can fluctuate from the villains of the peace to hero worship (And back again).

I just don’t understand how others can’t see how, where, why and when Thiel and his support of Trump will be seen as a stroke of genius… and how one day we’ll be celebrating and thanking him for the 0 to 1 master stroke.

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