StartUp Tip #97: Why ask why?


The secret to creativity is curiosity.

We often forget to teach kids to be curious.

A student who has no perceived math ability, or can’t write properly or the inability to sit still for five minutes gets immediate and escalating attention.

We call these kids, problem kids, we even invented medical terms with medication that these kids should be on.

The student with no curiosity, on the other hand, is no problem at all. He is easily managed.

Keep quiet, don’t ask questions, don’t break anything are the teacher’s favourite because they are easy to manage. They are obedient, you see.

We ask the obedient to write a list of noise-makers in class. The “not-curious” to police the curious.

Same thing is true for most of the people we hire.

We would like them to follow instructions, not ask questions, not question the status quo. Be obedient, and just do as they are told.

These are the boss’s favourite, they get promoted quicker, because I know, says the boss, when I’m not there, things will go as usual. Nothing broken… and nothing improved.

At work, we adopt the attitude that says:

Don’t touch it, you will break it,

Instead of:

Touch it and make it better.

Yet, without “why?” there can be no: “here is how to make it better.”

The future belongs to the curios ones. The ones who are not afraid to try it, to explore it, poke at it, question it, turn it inside out.

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StartUp Tip #96: Push through tired


By the time winter ends [in South Africa], and the festive season is approaching, a lot of entrepreneurs are tired.

If 2017 is a race, whether it is a race against yourself, the competition or your teammates, do not you think everyone is going to be tired halfway through?

The most successful entrepreneurs will not be the one with the slickest sales presentation, the newest gimmick or the most competitive pricing.

The most successful entrepreneur will be the one with the most perseverance; the one who can fight through ”tired”.

Looking for an “Aha!” moment? Here it is. All of this is already within you.

You don’t need to attend a seminar to uncover some hidden truths.

Every time you feel tired remind yourself that 99% of entrepreneurs probably feel the same way you do.

What will set you apart is your ability to push through the tired.

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StartUp Tip #95: Win the fight, lose the customer


Does it really matter if you are right?

Given the choice between:

  • Acknowledging that your customer is upset; or
  • Proving to her that she is wrong,

Which will you choose?

You can be right or you can have empathy.

You can’t do both.

It is not the nature of capitalism to need to teach people a lesson, it is the nature of being a human, we just blame it on capitalism.

In fact, smart entrepreneurs understand that the word ‘right’ in “The customer is always right” does not mean that they would win in court or a debate.

It means, “If you want the customer to remain a customer, you need to permit him to believe he is right.”

If someone thinks they are unhappy, then you know what? They are.

Trying say this to yourself:

“I have no problem accepting that you are unhappy, upset or even angry.

Next time, I would prefer to arrange our interaction so you do not end up feeling that way, and I probably could have done it this time, too.

You have my attention and my empathy and I value you. Thanks for being here.”

If you cannot be happy with that, then sure, go ahead and fire the customer, cause they are going to leave anyway.

The need to win the argument is how you lose the relationship.

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StartUp Tip #94: Insatiable


When is enough, enough?

One question that is not easy to answer.

For some people there is never enough.

For others, they will say X will be enough and when they reach X, they want Y and more.

Some people’s thirst is insatiable, it is impossible to satisfy.

Some people are just insatiable. They are impossible to satisfy.

Long-lasting systems cannot survive if they remain insatiable.

An insatiable thirst for food, power, energy, reassurance, clicks, funding or other raw material will eventually lead to failure.

Putting money into a business that never really grows will run the funder dry.

That is because there is never enough to satisfy someone or something that is insatiable.

The startup amps up because its need is unmet.

It gets out of balance, changing what had previously worked to get more of what it craves.

Sooner or later, it blows up and crash.

More fame! More money! More investment! Push too hard and you lose what you came with and do not get what you came for.

An insatiable appetite is a symptom: There is a hole in the bucket. Something is leaking out.

When a system (or a person) continues to demand more and more but does not produce in response, that is because the resources are not being used properly, something is leaking.

If your startup demands ever more attention or effort or cash to produce the same output, it makes more sense to focus on the leak than it does to work ever harder to feed the beast.

Yes, insatiability can lead to all things nasty if it means a never ending dissatisfaction and/or an unquenchable greed.

But what if we are talking about qualities like curiousity & a thirst for learning.

I hope your curiosity & thirst for learning is never satisfied. If it is we are doomed.

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Startup Tip #93: Rare honesty


Not sure how often communication like this actually occurs:

Note From Boss To Employees.

  1. I am sometimes under enormous pressure from upper management; pressure that you seldom see. Anything that you can do to make my job easier will be greatly appreciated.
  2. Your interests are important, but please remember that I also have to juggle the concerns and feelings of a bunch of other people, including individuals outside of the department.
  3. I may not have been given a huge amount of training before being named to a supervisory position. As a result, I’ve had to learn through trial and error. That’s not always bad. Many of my responsibilities can only be learned through practice.
  4. If you are a former co-worker of mine, please recognize that supervising former peers is one of the toughest jobs any supervisor faces. The support that you give me is crucial.
  5. I will make mistakes. Please give me the same understanding that you’d like me to give you when you blunder.
  6. If I do something dumb or am on the verge of doing so, please tell me. Don’t hint. Tell me.
  7. I don’t like unpleasant surprises. Let me in on bad news as soon as possible. (Things that you believe are obvious may not be that clear to me. On the other hand, you’d be surprised at how quickly the latest gossip reaches my ears.)
  8. I expect you to take initiative. If you keep bouncing things to me, I’m going to wonder why I have you around.
  9. You should ask questions if you don’t know what to do. On the other hand, you should not have to be taught the same thing over and over again.
  10. Let’s respect each other’s time. We each have a job to do and the more we can reduce unnecessary interruptions, the happier we’ll each be.
  11. Don’t let all of my talk about meeting goals and producing results lead you into unethical behavior. You always have my permission to be ethical.
  12. If either of us has a problem with the other’s performance, let’s talk about it.


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StartUp Tip #92: Class and good manners


If war has an opposite, it’s not peace, it’s civilization. (inspired by Ursula LeGuin writing in 1969)

Civilization is the foundation of every successful culture.

It permits us to live in safety, without being crippled by fear.

Civilization is the willingness to discuss our differences, not to fight over them.

Civilization is efficient, in that it permits every member of society to contribute at her highest level of utility. And it’s at the heart of morality, because civilization is based on fairness.

The civilization of a human encampment, a city or town where people look out for one another and help when help is needed is worth seeking out.

To be always at risk, to live in a society where violence is likely, this undermines our ability to be the people we seek to become.

Over the last ten generations, we’ve made huge progress in creating an ever more civilized culture. Slavery (still far too prevalent) is now seen as an abomination.

Access to information and healthcare is better than it’s ever been.

Human culture is  far from fully civilized, but as the years go by, we are getting better at seeing all the ways we have to improve.

We live in a civilized world.

People who still slap others, use violence against women and the vulnerable, shout at employees, hurl insults and racists remarks at others, are not civilised.

They are uncouth, classless and don’t belong in a civilized world.

There are some things that money just cannot buy, like manners, morals and intelligence.

Money cannot buy you class. 

Class is knowing what to say, when to say it, and when to stop.

Having class is the ability to walk away from a bad situation with a smile on your face and forgiveness in your heart.

Class is an aura of confidence that is being sure without being cocky.

Class is the sure footedness that comes with knowing that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

Class is not swag.

Class is timeless.

Class is not the appearance, it is the essence.

Class is self-knowledge.

Class is the quiet-confidence that comes with knowing what you want, and don’t need external validations.

We must always challenge those who display uncivilized, classless and uncouth behavior no manner how much money they have or position they hold.

The standard can come from each of us. We can do it. We can speak up.

Kindness makes you the most beautiful person in the world no matter how you look

We can decide to care a little more.

We can stand up to the boss, the CEO, or the elected representative and say, “wait,” when they cross the line, when they pursue profit at the cost of community, when they throw out the rules in search of dom-krag [a brawl] instead.

The race to the bottom and the urge to win at all costs are not new, but they are not part of who we are and ought to be today in a civilized world.

There is nothing as sexy and attractive as focus, hard work, honest and good manners. Just that subtle hard work, no attention seeking. The quiet confidence.

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StartUp Tip #91: Genchi Genbutsu


The importance of basing decisions on firsthand understanding of customers is one of the core principles that underlies Toyota Production System.

At Toyota, this goes by the Japanese term genchi genbutsu.

In english, it is usually translated as a directive to “go and see for yourself” so that your decisions can be based on deep first-hand.

It suggests that in order to truly understand a situation one needs to go to genba (現場) or, the “real place” – where work is done.

You cannot be sure you really understand any part of any business problem unless you go and see for yourself firsthand.

It is unacceptable to take anything for granted or to rely on the reports of others.

Entrepreneurs are not made in the classroom.

Having an MBA in Entrepreneurship doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs are made in the art of action.

Having an idea is or academic papers one thing, but starting a business is another.

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StartUp Tip #90: When you are in a hole…


….. the best thing to do is stop digging

Ever felt yourself losing the crowd?

During a sales pitch, during a date, during a public speech.

Ever felt that your situation is getting worse and worse each day?

Where are you continuing to dig yourself into a deep hole?

Perhaps you continue to overspend creating more and more credit card debt or perhaps you are not taking the steps that will enable you to seek a better job.

You know that feeling.

The audience is not laughing at your jokes.

It feels like you are pouring your energy into a black hole of emptiness.

The instinct is to double-down, put more effort, put more and more. Tell funnier jokes. Show more enthusiasm. Try harder.

Don’t do it.

You will just dig a deeper hole and make an even worse impression.

If you can, try end the session politely and save face.

If you can’t, just walk away. Literally. Standing on a stage? Stop talking, say thanks, and exit left.

In a sales meeting? Stop talking, say thanks, and exit left.

On a date? Stop talking, say thanks, and exit left.

Don’t make excuse. Stop digging.

Move on.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

Awareness is the first step. The next step is to take action.

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StartUp Tip #89: Improve your flirting skills with trial and error


If you look at how creativity works in any field, whether it is in music, writing poetry, architecture, science, technology, developing computer programs, there is a constant process of trial and error.

So to be creative in any field means you try things out, tinkering, breaking stuff, hypothesizing, testing, drip by drip.

We don’t always know what we like and what we can do until we start trying new things.

You create your life according to the talents you discover or not.

Too many people go through the whole of their lives in a state of anxiety, thinking: “Well if I try it, it won’t work.”

Anyone who achieves anything in life is prepared to be wrong.

Most learning, especially most startup learning, occurs the same way, through trial and error.

Error occurs whether you want it to or not.

Error is difficult to avoid.

It is not clear that research or preparation have an enormous impact on error, especially marketing error.

Error is clearly not in short supply.

Trial, on the other hand, is quite scarce, especially in some business.

People mistakenly believe that one way to successfully avoid error is to avoid trial.

When starting a business try to expect the rejection and be okay with it.

Consider the fact that, you are fine with either acceptance or rejection just because you will have the chance to improve yourself for the next time.

Improve your flirting skills with trial and error.

We need more trial.

And if you succeed, just keep going out …

Never settle.

As the legendary Michael Jordan has said before:

“I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

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StartUp Tip #88: Focus on what matters


I read many books as I set about trying to become a better, more effective entrepreneur and manager.

Some books are life-changing while others seemed more harmful than helpful.

One of the more harmful advices I always come across is that of “focus, focus, focus.”

When people hear it, they nod their heads in agreement.

I agree that it is better to do a few things really well rather than loads poorly.

Focus is important, but on what?

The key question and advice is not to focus but… to focus on what?

What is a more important question to ask is how do I figure out where to focus and what to focus on, or how to apply your energy to it.

It is the what you focus on that’s more important.

Focusing on the wrong thing, perpetuates the problem.

Once you have identified the right thing to focus on…. then focus, focus, focus.

Focus on things that matter and you can control, then you will matter.

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