Monthly Archive: January 2012

Fail faster … or too BIG to fail?

Three years after the initial bank bailouts and the rescue of a bunch of really crappily run companies, I think it’s fair to say that too big to fail was a myth. The intention of corporate bailouts was to prevent the financial carnage that it was believed would inevitably ensue should one of those bloated, broken, massively incompetent businesses go to the wall. The result of the bailouts however has been financial carnage of an entirely different sort.

There have been successes of course. General Motors is one such example; a company that was so saddled with the weight of years of bad decisions and bad union negotiations that it was universally considered to be doomed, has emerged from the embrace of the US government to fight again, stronger, leaner and probably with a bright future ahead of it.

The same can’t be said however, for most of the junk that governments around the world – and especially the British and United States governments – currently own, or have a big stake in.

But preventing big banks and corporations from failing might have an even worse impact in the future than the obvious financial knock-on. A culture that even considers rescuing mediocrity or worse is not a culture that believes in excellence. And a culture that does not believe in excellence gets what it deserves.

Compare too big to fail with the Silicon Valley mantra of fail more and fail faster and you get a sense of why it is that a bunch of nerds in California are consistently changing the world and have done so again and again for decades.

Their traditional cultural reticence to become emotionally attached to anything that isn’t simply wow, means that they fail one hell of a lot. And that’s a good thing. When they succeed, they end up producing the sorts of excellent products and software that you’re reading this blog post on right now.

Personally, I just can’t see how any of the rubbish that got bailed out is ever going to provide the same value.

Release yourself from entitlement

Mark Twain said it first: Release yourself from entitlement. Mark Twain said a lot of very clever stuff actually. Not only was he a great writer, he’s a really, really underrated thinker. Ned Hardy, the self-anointed curator of the Internet lists a bunch of Twain’s brilliant ideas on his blog and I recommend you go and look them up.

But I want to deal with this one in particular, because in these economic times which seem to be getting gloomier, not better, we all need to learn that we should be grateful for what we’ve got and work hard to continually deserve it.

Now that may sound like a load of nonsense when you’re in your daily grind, and the boss or a client is having an unreasonable day, but I am telling you now, I know it to be an absolute truth. I abandoned the security of a position at a company I co-founded 18 months ago, to go it alone, and though this has been the steepest learning curve I have ever had to ride up in my little roller coaster car, and worth its weight in gold for that, I wonder if I know now what I knew then, if I’d have done it.

If you have the pugnacity to wage war with your own existence and try to constantly re-invent, re-invent, then doing what I did is probably inevitable, regardless of the circumstances, economic or otherwise. I read a quote somewhere the other day that said ‘You see a mousetrap; I see free cheese and a challenge‘, and that’s pretty much summed up the past 20 years for me.

And I wonder sometimes if I’m cursed with it. If my own base libertarian mindset which sneers at entitlement isn’t more closely akin to a self-destruct button I’m compelled to push now and then.

The only thing I can say in defence of my brutality towards anything approximating a comfort zone is that it’s prepared me to face all the challenges I have for a substantial period of time now, in order to gain some traction.

Not everyone has that, and that’s a good thing. Not everyone should want it either. I’m a single guy with no dependents; I have the luxury of being able to make slightly insane choices.

But even if you aren’t, in this phase of our economic existence, which is likely to continue killing businesses for a few years yet to come, it’s important that you choose to stand out, be exceptional and give more than you expect to get in return. It’s a death dance for the entitled. That’s not a bad thing. Don’t be one of them, because I need to warn you, it’s cold out here if you don’t have a very thick skin.

Put the emphasis back on creating, where it belongs

I recently published a novel I’ve had kicking around for the best part of a year, as an Amazon Kindle ebook, and in the process I’ve learned something important about how easily we can allow aspects of a project to turn into monsters, obscuring the actual creative work that matters.

I’m not going to drone on about my book, so don’t worry. This isn’t the place for that. But I think it’s worth using it as an example of a project into which the extra stages which traditionally creep in and assume a disproportionate amount of importance have been removed in one single swoop.

Specifically, I mean Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which really highlights the issue for me.

It used to be that as an author, you’d spend a year writing a book and then years after that, trying to get the attention of a literary agent who might recommend you to a publisher. You’d spend far more time trying to peddle it than you did creating it in the first place. I get why that’s so, in a saturated world where there’s more and more bilge to sift through in the search for a potential commercial hit, but it’s never been much fun for the author.

With Kindle Direct Publishing however, Amazon makes it easy to publish, set a price and start selling. The emphasis of work has suddenly been returned to the process of writing, just as it should be.

Of course by publishing this way, you’re one of many books on a very busy site, and getting attention for your work is hard. But people who emphasize that as a means of discrediting the process are assuming that any traditional publisher of a new novelist would make any sizeable effort at marketing on their behalf anyway.

Aside from publishing, the reason this topic has suddenly set all my dendrites buzzing is because it’s highlighted for me how much time in my life I’ve wasted in pointless meetings, discussions, planning sessions and hours of research and report creating that have prevented me from putting the wheels of a project in motion even when the creative thinking is sound enough to take a chance on.

I’m sort of an instinctive guy and I’m happy to take risks to test my instincts. But often I’ve seen the wheels of a great creative idea grind to a halt because others feel more proof is needed before they’ll give things a whirl.

That kind of goes against the creative grain.

It’s not like relying on your instincts isn’t fraught with pitfalls of its own. But at least it’s about action. And personally, I’d pick that, every time.