Thursday, September 6, 2007

Ego play in Startups

I've just read this new post on Guy Kawasaki's Blog titled: "Are You an Egomaniac? Ten Questions with Steven Smith". Steven had written a book he co-authored with David Marcum called egonomics: What Makes Ego Our Greatest Asset (or Most Expensive Liability). For those of you who have been reading my Blog you would know that I'm a big fan of Guy's work and blog.

To start, let's play a little with related definitions:
Confidence: "confidence that doesn’t have to exert itself to “prove” it’s confidence" (Steven Smith)
Humility: "modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance." (
Ambition: "an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame, or wealth, and the willingness to strive for its attainment" (
Ego: "an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others" (WordNet)

Here's my thinking on this:


My definition of ego would be: "Overgrown self sense of one's superiority over others". In other words, regardless of whether true or not, helpful or not, you think you're better and thus you shouldn't care.

It begins at going into broadcast mode: one starts to broadcast their opinions on literally everything, whether they know something about it, vaguely, or none. This is the first killing: when one is broadcasting, they are not listening. Not listening to customers, not listening to the market, (and worse, IMHO), not listening to your staff.

By not listening to the outside world, the market data is non-existent, or irrelevant, so the product and technology might be irrelevant too. Existing customers and potential prospects will not be impressed by this relationship and you'll have a hard time selling. The good news, there may be other people in the organization that might actually be more receptive to the market and be able to provide that balance back.

By not listening to your staff you immediately invalidate any chance of correcting the flawed scheme of creating product in vacuum. But there's a far higher price tag on becoming oblivious the team's input: IT WILL DRIVE THE TEAM AWAY. What made them join a high risk, high toll exercise in the first place? exciting workplace, innovation, creativity, being able to participate and contribute to the decision making process. They did not join for the non-existent 401k!

Another way to look at it is that the true capital of startups comes from the synergies between members of the team. How come? imagine every team member would be raising their hands as their motivation is higher. The overall covered ground resembles the knowledge and innovation capital. Healthy startups have motivated employees whose synergies cover a lot of ground. The alternative is having de-motivated spearheads who cover almost no ground and the innovation is weak. in big organizations many spearheads may still cover a lot of ground but in a startup it is immediately visible that a lot of ground is uncovered.

(Quote from the post:)

Question: What should you do if you work for an egotist?

Answer: Run to the nearest exit and find somewhere else to work

Allow me a quick look at an interesting post made by Announce Mobile's CEO, Jeff Mould (the blog seems to be down but hopefully will come back): His post speaks about why should they consider a partnership request from this startup whose employees aren't productive (spending too much time on the web).
That post caught my eye: forget for a minute how would an outsider know that the other startup employees are being non-productive etc., but what's really happening here: why would employees become non-productive at a startup??? Did they join to become non-productive web addicts?
Here's my advice Jeff: this startup's management has frustrated their talented entrepreneurial people: go get them, get the talent that's been deprived and make it flourish. Go after the IP, too, if appropriate, but the main point here: there's human capital there waiting to be salvaged.

Another comment that's extremely important for me to make: "How-to become an entrepreneur" guides have the tendency of promoting the 'believe in yourself' theme, but sometimes I get the feel as I'm reading through these things that the authors are taking it a bit too far. Perhaps to the ego turf. I strongly agree that ambition is crucial in the game, humility, especially to those who you should be receptive to, is no less important.

To wrap up, here's a quote from one of the comments to Guy's post, by Michael Sporer:
"the ones that accomplish the most, are those who can keep ego at the door. Big egos lead to closed minds; closed minds hurt organizations."

Thanks for reading, interested in your thoughts

No comments: