Creativity Tips #1: How big is critical mass?


Often the idea is to come up with creative ideas that will reach critical mass.

But how big is critical mass?

I think there is no one definite answer to this question.

The size of the critical mass depends on the nature of the idea and size of your target market.

There is a certain mass and size of plutonium that you need to create in order to start a nuclear reaction… a reaction that tips, that spreads, that cycles out of control.

In the idea business, critical mass is the minimum size of the excited audience that leads to a wildfire.

Critical mass is when People start embracing your idea because, “everyone else is…”

For every idea that spreads, it turns out that the critical mass is different.

Understand firstly how big critical mass means for your idea.

For example, if I want to start a yo-yo trend at the local primary school, critical mass might be as small as a dozen of the right kids yo-yo-ing during lunch.

In an environment that small and tightly knit, it is sufficient.

On the other hand, the critical mass for a better laptop computer is in the gazillions, because the current standard is so deeply entrenched and the addressable market is both huge and loosely knit.

The chances that you will launch a new laptop computer that catches on because everyone else is using it are small indeed.

Being a TEDx curator, I always struggled to understand why a lot of people in certain countries don’t know TED talks.

TED talks don’t have to reach nearly the proportions of a typical YouTube video in order to have a significant impact, because the population of curious idea spreaders that watch and spread these talks is small and connected.

The same is not true for a new music video from the musician you manage.

If your idea is not spreading, one reason might be that it is for too many people.

Or it might be because the cohort that appreciates it is not tightly connected.

When you focus on a smaller, more connected group, it is far easier to make an impact.

StartUp Tip #150: My last tip of this series


This is my 150 StartUp Tip and my last post blog of The StartUp Tips series.

Four months ago, I started one of the longest series I have ever written about.

For the past four months for each day, week days, weekends, public holidays, I shared my thoughts, my experiences, the experiences of my mentees and that of my fellow entrepreneur colleagues.

I did not plan to write 150 StartUp Tips, it was gradual process. One post at a time.

Here is the problem with gradual: It is chronic, insidious, and subtle.

Gradual is not loud. 

When bread gets stale, fungus grows gradually, quietly, in the dark.

The newspapers report that South Africans are “supersize”, with two-thirds of women and a third of men being overweight or obese.

I can tell you how we got that way: one McDonalds fry at a time. We didn’t get overweight in a week.

Your company did not hire 30 or 100 or 1,000 non-contributing employees all at once. That took years.

The problem with gradual is that we don’t notice the damage until the damage is extreme.

People have no trouble opening their hearts and their wallets to hurricane victims, but we often do not take the time to help a community that is slowly sinking into despair.

No company sets out to be average, but far too many let themselves end up that way.

No plant manager decides to turn her plant into a dirty, unsafe, inefficient facility, but it happens, gradually. Day by day, bit by bit, we get stuck.

And what happens when we finally realise that the problems we face are bad enough that they need fixing?

Panic sets in.

We rush around, ready to spend money. We put all of our efforts into finding the quick fix.

Consultants charge companies huge fees, describing how they can undo 30 or 40 years of bad planning with a single reorganisation.

Here is the point of gradual: You don’t win an Olympic gold medal with a few weeks of intensive training.

There is no such thing as an overnight opera sensation.

Great law firms or design companies do not spring up overnight, like rock supergroups that decide to get together one weekend.

Every great company, every great brand, and every great career has been built in exactly the same way: bit by bit, step by step, little by little.

Entrepreneurs who are both smart and patient can take the same inexorable downward force that drives some startups to mediocrity and turn it on its head.

If every element of an startup gets a little better every day, then that startup will become unstoppable.

A startup that builds that kind of momentum will soon evolve into a market leader.

Yet our impatience negates the simplicity of that statement.

“Slowly I turned . . . step by step . . . inch by inch . . .” said the Three Stooges, it worked for them, and it can work for us.

We are not going to fix our startup, our economy, or our miserable negative attitude, with just 150 startup tips.

You are not going to build a great business because of a neat idea that you got in the shower one day.

You are not going to find that perfect job just because your CV ends up on the right desk on the right day.

The way out of our paralysis is simpler than that: It is about thinking small and thinking gradual.

The way out is to select some the tips and apply them to your business drip by drip, one day at a time, step by step over time.

While some entrepreneurs will look for shortcuts, a few smart entrepreneurs are quietly working hard on their businesses.

The truth is, gradual change is challenging and hard. Challenging, because:

  • The people around you are demanding something great right now; and
  • Hard, because gradual requires the faith to know that your hard work is worth the investment.

The new startup is not fast. It is gradual, slow, measured, and organised.

It is taking small gradual steps. Which, it turns out, is the fastest way of all to get back to where you want to be.

It took me over four months to write these tips, but it took over ten years of gradual learning to get the experience of being an entrepreneur.

Thank you for letting me write the Startup Tips series for you, and thank you for being along for the ride.

Asante Sana.

StartUp Tip #149: Someone will notice


You can learn a new skill, today, for free.

You can take initiative and do a new task at work, right now, without asking anyone.

You can make a connection, find a flaw, contribute an insight, now.

Or not.

I believe in a fluid system, when people are moving forward, unfortunately others are falling behind.

Not everyone will take the initiative, learn a new skill, connect and contribute.

The question, then, is not, “when is my next big break?”

No, I think the question is, “will I grab these opportunities to become someone who is already doing work at a higher level?”

You see, the thing with opportunities is that they are already there.

They are waiting for you to take them, they are not going to be given to you.

Continue doing your best. Act ‘as if’.

If the people around you do not notice what an asset you have become, someone else will.

Not everyone will notice you and that’s okay.

Those who get you, will notice you.

StartUp Tip #148: Go make something happen


It is all well and good that we have thinkers in our midst.

But more than ever before, Africa needs doers than thinkers.

We need to build things that matter, than think about things that matter.

We need more engineers and entrepreneurs than politicians.

No, we don’t need another meeting, and we definitely don’t need another conference or summit.

Go make something happen.

If I had to pick one piece of entrepreneurship advice to give you, that would be it.


Make something happen today, before you go home, before the end of the week. Launch that idea, post that post, run that ad, call that customer.

Go the edge, that edge you have been holding back from… and do it today. Without waiting for the committee or your boss or the market.

If you were waiting for a sign, this is it. Not that you needed it anyway.

Just go.

StartUp Tip #147: Is it meeting your needs…


Or merely creating new wants?

Is it helping you or is it derailing you?

Is it bringing you closer to people that matter or taking you away from them?

Is it honoring your time or squandering your time?

Is it making you look smart or is it taking you more into debt?

Is it connecting you with those you care about, or separating you from them?

Is it exposing you or giving you a place to hide?

Is it important, or only urgent?

Is it right, or simply convenient?

Is it making things better, or merely more difficult?

Is it scaling your work or wasting it?

What is it for?

StartUp Tip #146: The rejectionists


We can choose to define ourselves [our smarts, our art, our brand, our character] on who rejects us.

Or we can choose to focus on those that care enough to think we matter.

Not everyone will embrace our art, but not everyone will reject it as well.

Shun people who don’t believe in you… They don’t get it & they won’t get it.

Even if you prove them wrong, they will go on to criticize other people somewhere.

Focus on your true believers. Do your best for them. You owe it to them for their loyalty to you all along

Carrying around a list of everyone who thinks you are not good enough is exhausting.

StartUp Tip #145: The Work-Week concept is 91 years only


In my book: The StartUp Revolution: Fit In or Stand Out, I make reference to the fact that the concept of a job as we know it today started 100 years ago [91 years ago to be precise].

Before that, people didn’t have to go to work and get paid at the end of the week [or month]

Before that there was no month-end rush as we know it.

The brains behind the concept that we go to work from Monday to Friday and get paid at the end of the week is Henry Ford.

Henry Ford is the brains behind the assembly line, mass production, interchangeable parts, and interchangeable people.

You can have it in any colour as long as it is black.

He choose black not because black was his favorite color, but because black dried quicker and if you wanted to mass produce cars, you need a colour that will dry quicker.

100 years later, the industrial revolution is coming to an end, the concept of a job as we know it is coming to an end.

It is important to know and understand the next revolution so that you can start a business that is relevant.

If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you are right. — Henry Ford

Ps: More information on the industrial revolution and the new revolution get the book: The StartUp Revolution: Fit In or Stand Out  and register for LORA Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship curriculum for more in-depth classes and discussions on the new revolutions and the future of business.

StartUp Tip #144: Going over your time


There is never enough time to get your message across.

Even Fidel Castro, famous for giving six-hour speeches, had plenty more to add.

If you are given 8 minutes, take 8 minutes minus 7 seconds, not 9 minutes.

The extra minute is selfish.

The extra minute does not actually make that much of a difference in how much you are able to communicate.

In fact, it is the non-verbal communication we remember, and if you are rushing, apologizing and stepping on the toes of the person after you, that is what the audience will take away.

Leave the conversation people wanting more than people wanting you to leave.

Avoid talking a lot. Over time, people get tired of listening to you.


StartUp Tip #143: Incompetent professionals


“Change creates incompetence…change creates an environment where you are not an expert.” – Seth Godin

Had an interesting conversation for a colleague today about the fake interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

I believe that all professionals get incompetent during their careers.

A professional is someone who navigates between competence and incompetence over short time frames.

Accountants, lawyers, doctors, etc at some point get incompetent after qualifying.

Continuous education means you continuously learn new things, which means at some point in your life as a professional, you become incompetent.

Learning requires admitting gaps in current skills and knowledge [gaps called incompetence and ignorance] and filling those gaps.

But it is not easy.

Learning and growing [and in the end success] necessitates becoming comfortable with incompetence.

Whether you are studying for the Board exam, learning a second language, parenting, going to night school, pivoting to another career, or starting a business, incompetence must be met head on.

You won’t know much, be good at much, or see much success at first. It is normal and to be expected.

It is okay to be an incompetent professional at first, it should be encouraged.

All success is wrapped in layers of incompetence. Peel back the layers by learning, persisting, and growing.

Everything you want is underneath.

I dare you.

StartUp Tip #142: Attitude is everything


Often when people justify their bad attitudes they say: “I can’t help it, it’s who I am, I was born this way.”

No, you were not born that way, you became that way.

And if you can become that way, you can become the other way. If you want.

Attitude is a learned skill

You can learn math, Swahili, blogging.

You can learn coding, too.

But you can also learn to be more empathetic, passionate, focused, loyal, patient, consistent, persistent and twenty-seven other attitudes.

If you can learn to be better at something, it is a skill.

And if it is a skill, it is yours if you want it.

Which is great news, isn’t it?

StartUp Tip #141: After you have done your best work


And it is still not enough…

After you have written the best memo/blog post/novel/screenplay/art/poem you can possibly imagine writing, after you have contributed your pithiest insight or gone on your best blind date…

and it still has not worked…

You really have no choice but to do it again. To do your best work again, as impossible and unfair as that seems.

It compounds over time.

Best work followed by best work followed by more best work is far more useful and generous than merely doing your best work once and insisting we understand you.

Never stop doing your best just because someone does not give you credit.

StartUp Tip #140: It’s what you do next…


…that counts.

It’s all a mistake, until it works.

That is what innovation is. Mistakes, experiments, mis-steps.

Until it works.

The process is not to avoid the things that don’t work. Because that means avoiding the things that might work…

Instead, our job is to eagerly embrace the mistakes on the road to the impact that we seek.