I recently familiarized myself with undoubtedly one of the great leaders of the written history: Napoleon Bonaparte
What could a 21st century entrepreneur learn from him?
That question in mind I borrowed a few quotes from Napoleon.
1. If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.
This idea seems strongly counterintuitive but depends a lot on what kind of a success you’re after. The hint of truth that I see here is the fact that delivering nothing is actually a bit overrated. A half-assed effort on making things happen often looks worse than completely dismissing the task. But I have to agree that there is great power just in the promise itself. Aiming high is the key.
2. Ability is nothing without opportunity.
Being an entrepreneur, you will work with people with enormous amounts of skills and abilities. I feel the entrepreneur should be the least able person of the team. But the entrepreneur is the person who shows the opportunity and directs the ability to where it’s needed.
3. When small men attempt great enterprises, they always end by reducing them to the level of their mediocrity.
This sounds like saying don’t try anything big cause you’ll fail. But I will argue there’s a bigger truth underneath. The greatness of the entrepreneurial team is dependent on the amount of balls they have on their effort. The factual evidence seems to indicate that most teams eventually “get real” on their vision. Reality is what brings great ideas to mediocrity. But there is an easy way out and that is not accepting the reality. A good reason to do something is that people tell you it can’t be done.
4. There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time.
This is a fact. Still few people act accordingly. Irrelevant things and chores keep stealing the time of people. People work without knowing why. No money in the world can buy back your wasted time. It should be criminal to make people do work that they wouldn’t do gladly even without pay.
5. To do all that one is able to do, is to be a man; to do all that one would like to do, is to be a god.
So true. God was an entrepreneur.
Yesterday I saw a great video once again recorded on last year’s TED talks. Simon Sinek spent his 18 minutes by explaining how great leaders inspire action. It’s stuff that anyone can understand so I can fully recommend watching it.
The core of his message is the model with three levels of message:
Whatever you do, remember why you do it.
This message is undeniable and experience shows it to be true. People who do stuff for the wrong motives are seldom successful. People who know why they do what they do will succeed. This same applies to companies. Everyone working for a company must know why the company exists in the first place. The marketing message should start from the core of “Why” and develop via “How” to the concrete “What”.
We know why.
We want to see a world where everyone knows what to do when they see a lost item lying around. We want them to say “hey, I need to tell the owner I found it”. We will make FinderBase.com the service that first comes to people’s minds when that happens.
Why – How – What
It’s as simple as that.
Now that I’m leaving for my military refresher, it’s a good time to recall the lessons learned from the military.
Much of the military training is – or feels – irrelevant. It feels like that when you’re the one learning the lessons. If you put your mind to it you might notice that some things still make sense. Here are some common doctrines in military training:
- Things are best learned with repetition.
- Take a small pain now save a huge pain in the future.
- Start with the very basics.
- Encourage simplicity.
But not all military leadership is useless.
When I joined the military in 1999, they had just adopted a new leadership discipline called the deep lead (in Finnish syväjohtaminen). At that time it felt like a mantra that was blindly taught to everyone without anyone understanding what it was about. Now in retrospect, the four cornerstones of deep leadership actually make sense:
- Building trust. Obviously trust is very important in any relationship. Whether it’s in the military where you have to trust people with your life or in the business world where you trust people with your career and even your money. Being open and showing integrity will make you trustworthy within the group you’re working with.
- Inspiring way to motivate. Some leaders are innately motivating. Others can lead with their own example. Being inspired is actually close to the passion that I consider the starting point for anything remarkable. Using your passion to motivate others is the next logical step after that.
- Intellectual stimulus. People like challenges. A good leader will challenge both himself and the people in the team. But a good challenge isn’t something that the people will stress out the people. A good challenge is inspiring and challenging enough from every individual’s own perspective.
- Individual confrontation. A good leader will know what motivates each person that he’s working with. When trying to achieve something remarkable all people have to be able to give their 100 %. This isn’t possible unless they have been given the space to do that.
The funny thing is that although this doctrine originated in the military, it seems to be more applicable to business life. Even Taneli Tikka shares these ideas in one of his presentations.
I attended today an event where four panelists got to present their ideas about growth entrepreneurship. Most of the attendees were likely there to hear the ideas of the big gurus like Risto Siilasmaa and even Marko Parkkinen.
Was it any good?
Well, it was ok. Absolutely nothing spectacular but usual chit-chat about growing your business and making it international etc. However one thing got my attention over the others. Risto Siilasmaa presented his list of four critical factors in a successful start-up.
I disagree with every one of them.
- Great idea. Saying it is about the idea sounds like the words of a cynical business angel who has to hear 300 bad pitches per year. Not a single idea out there is great from the start. Think of Google. Two guys wanting to make a search engine bigger than Altavista by using a slightly different algorithm to rank the pages. Think of the milliondollarhomepage.com. Guy wanting to sell pixels on a random website. Idea is great after it has become reality. Before that it’s absolutely worthless.
- Competence. With competence Siilasmaa refers to competent people. It is obviously utter rubbish that the pure competence of the team would have anything to do with a start-up’s success. Academic degrees and experience have their place but the true success stories are built by semi-competent people. Or better yet the real experts join a new venture team when it’s exciting and compelling enough. Making a company sound exciting requires drive, ambition and passion. These have nothing to do with competence. This is something anyone can have from day one.
- Capital. Saying a company needs capital to be successful is like saying a baby needs diapers to pee. It can protect the outside but will never fix the problems inside, only complicates them. On the other hand, money is the most abundant resource out there. Ask for money and everyone thinks you’re ripping them off. Offer them a good service and eventually someone will give you a generous tip.
- Functional infrastructure/environment. This last point was about the need of an environment where you find the necessary consultants and apparently also about the socioeconomic situation on the market. Whichever it was or even if he meant both of them, I don’t agree. The causality is missing in this argument. Is the environment causing the success or is the environment actually a consequence of the success itself?
What’s the bottom line?
Don’t buy every half-baked comment the gurus tell you. Form your own opinion.