Getting to "yes" in a world of "no"…

Archive for April, 2012

Review: “Confessions of an Entrepreneur” by Chris Robson…

At last! Chris Robson’s “Confessions of an Entrepreneur” (home page, Amazon page) is a book about specifically UK entrepreneurship I’m happy to recommend, particularly to those in the audience at my recent UCL lecture. Here’s a book that actually tries to deal with the raw emotional and social challenges sharply foregrounded by being an entrepreneur.

Of course, it’s far from perfect: more than a few of the entrepreneurs’ stories he draws upon to thicken up his personal narrative fall into the twin camps of “pub success theatre” and “stories from mates who’ve done well” (which, given that he went to Eton, occasionally fail to satisfy), rather than being genuinely challenging tales from the entrepreneurial bleeding edge. And even though Robson has tried to include structured lists as section takeaways, that isn’t enough to transform the book into a self-help guide to entrepreneurship. The most enjoyable – and useful – parts of “Confessions…” are those where he’s just talking about steering stuff while under duress from different angles.

Frankly, the big reason for buying this book is not that it is stuffed with Lean meat or business tricks to help you get your own startup going more easily (for it is actually at its worst when aspiring to the whole business self-help canon) but that its honesty about the real-life difficulties entrepreneurs face will surely help you feel a little less alone and stranded deep in the turbulent startup seas. And that is basically priceless! 😉

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Jumping the octopus, and pivoting…

In TV reviewer jargon, a show is said to have jumped the shark when it starts adding in ridiculous things to make it interesting, in lieu of anything worthwhile happening to any of the characters, or in lieu of any decent story. The phrase derived from a late episode of “Happy Days”, when The Fonz waterski-jumped over a shark: it just reeked so badly of sad, arthritic desperation that it begat a phrase of its own.

So this week, when I finally caught up with an episode from the current series of CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), now with Ted Danson at the helm, it was with great sadness that I saw the cast mugging it up around a sexual act involving a Japanese lady in a bath with an octopus. In bringing this to the screen, I think the CSI producers and writers managed to shark jump even further than The Fonz ever managed: in fact, this for me was the moment when CSI jumped the octopus, sad as it is to say.

Actually, I rather liked the first few series of CSI: just as with the pilot for the X-Files, all the themes and ideas that then played out over numerous seasons were present right from the start. But the central plot conceit that worked the best was the whole idea of pitching Grissom & Willows as Dad & Mom and the other CSIs as the children fighting for parental affection: it kind of asked the question “could a family work together?” Somehow that got lost in the haze when Grissom left the show: perhaps everyone forgot that that was what CSI was really all about.

All of which brings me to one hot issue in Startup Land: the dichotomy between Pivot and Persist, which is basically a Lean Startup way of asking Twist or Stick? That is, should you keep on with what you’re doing, or bring a new card in to change the dynamic? What’s missing from the whole picture surrounding this is that sometimes you really have to have faith in what you’re doing – to have faith that you’ve nailed the formula.

For me, CSI bringing in Ray Langston was an unsuccessful pivot simply because they dropped the magic human formula from the team when they did so. And now bringing in DB Russell is apparently turning the whole thing into music hall: not good, not good at all.

As far as pivoting goes, I really do think the kicker isn’t about technology but about the magic human formula at the heart of the business – for nearly all businesses are inherently social, are about people. Sure, if you haven’t yet touched on a magic formula, pivot all you like: but if you’ve found the thing that connects you to customers, don’t throw it away in a rush to pivot. Stay Grissom!