Focus Your Strengths, Don't Fault Them

Scott BelskyI’ve had this article on How to Make Your Business Dream a Reality open in my browser for a couple of weeks now since I saw it tweeted. I kept it there thinking I should riff on it, and just didn’t get to it… until now. The article subtitle is “Coming up with ideas is easy. Executing on them is the hard part. These tips from Scott Belsky can help get you started.” Sounds intriguing, right? Unfortunately, he had me sneering when I hit point #1, which reads:

Hire the killjoys.
The first step to activating the Action Method, Belsky says, is to create an “immune system” that kills ideas. This means hiring killjoys to capture every action step and say no to new ideas — rightfully so, in most cases.

“It’s important for entrepreneurs to hire people they don’t necessarily want to have a beer with but who can be the immune system in their startup,” Belsky says.

But isn’t this the classic advice of a manager to an entrepreneur? Managers are concerned with what is, and with making what is run as smoothly as possible. Not that there’s anything wrong with that… managers are an essential part of executing a successful business strategy. Managers tackle the delivery side of the operation, making sure that products ship and customers are happy. Can’t make it without that.

But.

It sounds to me like Belsky is faulting entrepreneurs for their strengths, for which he ought to have his knuckles rapped. You don’t fault people’s strengths, you focus them. This means that the true entrepreneur shouldn’t be tasked with delivering every idea, but with continuing to innovate and to write down the best of his ideas for further evaluation. Yes, these ideas need a good hard look and may or may not be realistically implemented in the short term… but hidden among them will be the company’s best value propositions and the most effective means of finding competitive advantages over competitors. Among these ideas are can be found the product development strategies that will keep the company innovative.

Entrepreneurs thrive on chaos, and managers detest it. Sometimes the chaos at the wrong time in the wrong way can sink the company, so true: many of these ideas may need to be shelved or scrapped, but without having them continually shuffling across the radar, the company stops innovating. In other words, it starts dieing. But at least it will die a steady, effective, well-organized death.

Whether it’s what he intends or not, Belsky seems to want to make managers of entrepreneurs, which is an ineffective use of resources. Like plowing a field with a racehorse. Not that you can’t make it work, but there are better-suited horses for the job and better-suited jobs for the horse. Belsky’s other two points are both about taking action, presumably on the first idea. And here I agree — you’ve got to actually ship if you’re going to get anywhere, and if the next idea is going to have any value built upon the first.

The problem is all in his first point, where the entrepreneur is told to hire killjoys. I can’t think of worse advice for people who want to keep enjoying what they do. No, the advice here should be to hire people who cover your weaknesses — hire some really good managers. But try to find ones with a little bit of imagination, ones who “get” what you’re about, and let them run with the execution of your best ideas. But don’t try to re-shape yourself into their mold, into something you’re not. Stick with your strengths: keep being an entrepreneur.

The entrepreneur’s “problem” is compared to ADD, and the managerial ‘fix’ is the metaphorical Ritalin. That seems so deja-vu, almost cliche… and perhaps apropos, given the fact that society seems to be generally over-prone to reach for the Ritalin these days. I’m thinking of an outstanbding TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson where one story’s punchline is that the little girl doesn’t have ADD, she’s just a born dancer. The moral of the story has to do with not stifling creativity.

Guess I won’t buy his book, and will just keep being what I am instead.