Don’t Expect, Connect!


On January 24, a story about Harvard Faculty voting bold changes to the MBA program caught my eye. It did for a number of reasons.

First among them is that I have been working with a dedicated team of faculty and advisers from the local business and VC community on a program that resembles Harvard's proposed direction for the past five years. It is offered by The Fox School of Business at Temple University.

The site really doesn't do the Enterprise Management Consulting Practice participants enough justice — these are exceptionally well run programs, both for the caliber of the professionals on the Advisory Board, the consulting projects, and the caliber and engagement of the students.

Which brings me to the point of this post — staying hungry.

Starting off

The students I have met and counseled are definitely cut of a resilient cloth — they will need it. We need them. Starting off can seem thrilling or daunting, depending on one's viewpoint. You can choose to feel  intimidated, or confident enough to know what you want and also who you need to enroll to help you.

I remember an entrepreneur a couple of years back who was completing his international MBA while building a company, and with a 2-year old at home. The perfect storm. He transmitted a calm energy, yet make no mistake, he was going to succeed — because he wanted it enough.

A good start gets you more that halfway there. You show up, do something, and get things in motion.

Keeping at it

This part is a bit less sexy, although it can be very interesting. Your resilience will be tested. If your idea is big enough, people will wait it out while secretly hoping you fail. When you start to gain traction, they will work hard at copying what they see.

Keeping at it often means finding new mentors, or a better fit with investors. In some cases, hanging out with a different crowd, one more interested in supporting you — people who will tell you the truth when you need to hear it, even when you're not ready.

To go from start to success, you inevitably pass through strategic quitting. That's what got me through the dip with the social network I birthed and curated (the link in this paragraph). And believe me, every birth and growth phase comes with its share of blood, sweat, and tears.

What comes next

Then things seem to level off a little at first, and a bit more every week, month, and year. Some businesses scale, others change, others yet seem to have been built to flip. What comes next may surprise you, especially if the return on investment in your business is not going as expected.

Something else happens here. People become complacent. Processes and systems are put in place — to varying degrees of success, depending on your business — and routine sets in. Business as usual becomes a mantra. Except for it's no longer business as usual in the market, it never was.

It just was never this fast in pace of change.

Don't believe the "business as usual" lie especially if it's in a press release. I've authored some of those earlier in my career. Fought with management to avoid putting those three treacherous words in — business as unusual was the new catchphrase for "you should pay attention, now."

Because often those three words mean something is going to change pronto — insane is the new normal, in some circles.

Staying hungry

Which brings me to the point of this post, staying hungry. Every professional faces a plateau eventually. I've talked with solopreneurs, free agents, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and general managers for lines of business in large corporations.

Plateau is the business person Sirens' Island. Surround yourself with trusted advisers who will spring forward and hold you to your vision, even as the allure of a comfortable position in the market is strong and you struggle to get loose into it, and beg to be released from accountability.

They will save you from actions and decisions that would cast the company you built in a sea of destruction.

Don't expect, connect!

I've been writing about connections for a long time and for many reasons. First among them is that the key to our success is making connections — between people and with ideas. We need to keep vigilant about our habits. The moment we feel "settled in" should unsettle us.

I'm seeing evidence of a way of thinking I've seen before, circa 2000-2001. As Collins wrote in his seminal article at Fast Company:

Built to Flip. An intriguing idea: No need to build a company, much less one with enduring value. Today, it's enough to pull together a good story, to implement the rough draft of an idea, and — presto! — instant wealth.

No need to bother with the time-honored method of most self-made millionaires: to create substantial value by working diligently over an extended period. In the built-to-flip world, the notion of investing persistent effort in order to build a great company seems, well, quaint, unnecessary — even stupid.

Don't expect, connect! Let's learn from the past. Let's stay vigilant and hold each other accountable on discovering the full weight of the real costs of each decision — especially to ourselves.


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