The founder bit is the highest order bit in the array of capabilities you can turn on no matter where you work. This bit when turned on, has an order of magnitude more impact on you and your organisation compared to any other attitude or capability.
Flipping on the founder bit lets you take ownership, accountability, and responsibility. It demolishes the comforting facade of being “employed by someone” and forces you to see your organisation stripped down to it’s bare and real potential. It is the red pill that forces you to wake up to the sometimes painful truths about the performance of your organisation, your team, and yourself, and start asking the right questions.
The founder bit is an attitude. You don’t need to be a founder to turn up your founder bit. Indeed there can be actual founders who never really turn it on and are just playing the game of company.
He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot, will be victorious. — Sun Tzu
Management quotes are rife with the metaphor of the “fight”.
- Fight for a raise from your supervisor
- Fight against a competitor for a deal with a customer
- Fight for acceptance from the community you do business in
The fight metaphor pits you against the party who has the resources which must be extracted by force.
Next time you get into this arena, how about fighting for trust?
- Fight for your supervisor’s trust…not their budget
- Fight for your customer’s belief…that you will not let them down
- Fight for a community’s confidence…that you care about their interests
Trust not only changes the battlefield, it eliminates the battle.
Now the fight is with yourself – building capability, consistency, and competence so you are willingly given what you are looking for.
It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.
- Clay Shirky
My father is an artist, art historian, and conservator of painting. One of his roles when I was growing up in the 80s, was Curator of Painting at the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. I had the unique privilege of being exposed to a range of art as a result. Art from the great Indian contemporary painters like M.F. Hussain and Sabavala, to the European greats like Rubens, to painted, sculpted, and gilded masterpieces from ancient India.
I realized back then, that this was an unbounded and fascinating world filled with millions of creations. It took a bit longer to realize that I had by my side, one of the best “filters” for helping me discern the attributes of great art: my father and his band of fellow scholars. When they pointed to a piece of art and agreed (or disagreed) that it was great (or not), it came from years of training, observation, and research, culminating in what we might call discerning taste. If they had an algorithm to identify art they liked, it was only in their sub-conscious, intuitive, matured over time and complex like a fine wine. Equally interesting were their stories associated with the art and artists; bringing them to life, adding a whole other dimension to the decision. Suddenly, a somewhat imperfect piece of art became worthy of restoration or acquisition with the backdrop of story and history.
Somewhere along the way we lost this expert human filter to the online world and need to bring it back.
Taste is a by product of study, observation and being steeped in the culture of the past and present, of “trying to expose yourself to the best things humans have done and then bring those things into what you are doing.” -Steve Jobs 
Good taste, that elusive quality only a handful in our network seem to possess. Can’t define it precisely, but we know it when we see it, and, if it’s aligned with our own sense of taste, we love it, appreciate it, and are inspired by it. Steve Jobs was the Emperor of good taste in the integrated digital experience. Steve Jobs was THE taste-MAKER.
Me? I fall more on the taste-ER and taste-ERR side I think, experimenting my way through new experiences in food, wine, art, books, movies, outdoors (the list goes on), recommended to me by my taste-MAKER friends; trying to steep myself in the things I would like to learn about, help me grow, and enjoy.
I have two confessions about how I handle recommendations:
It was a privilege to speak at the first Startup Saturday (Ahmedabad) this year and meet some of the best local entrepreneurial minds. Thanks to Startup Saturday and their local team for including me. What follows is the core of my talk titled, “Five Uncomfortable Lessons From The Silicon Valley Trenches”, adapted to a readable format.
For my talk to be meaningful I constrained myself to two guidelines:
First, if I was to say something new / different I needed to move away from the prescriptive which is way better documented and better narrated by many others. Instead of focusing on the how tos of pitching, funding, “getting outside the building” etc., I figured that narrating some of my own experiences from the trenches would be more useful.
Second, I wanted to make it relevant to my local audience. The general body of prescriptive knowledge often assumes that passion, drive, and smarts are the great equalizer; startup how tos apply generically; and that culture and experiential DNA (where you come from) are somewhat orthogonal to entrepreneurial success. My experience was different. I learnt that before attempting to disrupt markets, I had to disrupt my own comfort zones because of where I came from, and I suspect, a large segment of the Indian high-tech entrepreneurial talent comes from:
- An engineering/analytical background with an emphasis on data and problem solving…hence a discomfort with fuzziness, approximation, and ever-changing targets.
- An educational system that rewards perfection and “knowing” within the constraints of a syllabus…hence a discomfort, even embarrassment, at “not knowing” or asking for help.
- A tradition of hierarchy of roles and relationships where speaking up and “selling” is impolite…hence a deep-rooted discomfort with the idea of “selling” one’s idea or “marketing” oneself.
The uncomfortable part of these lessons then, is the unlearning and unshackling from this training and scripting to gain a broader perspective of the startup and business.