I have an issue with authority. Not that I’ve been arrested or committed any crimes … my issue is more in the sense of my career and how I approach things. I’ve always been one to challenge the status quo, call the spade a spade, push for what I believe to be right and voice my opinion of what’s holding something back from larger growth/adoption/value/whatever. Deconstruction is, I guess, why I love being a part of entrepreneurial endeavors. Early on in my career I met and played club lacrosse with a bunch of guys on a team in Palo Alto. One of them was a pretty big VC (not physically large; but “big” in the sense of having a lot of money and being a partner in a well-known firm). After a while of getting to know him, I asked him for some career advice. I was pissed off at being in a lame inside sales job at a big bio-tech company. I thrashed out at how we sucked in more ways than one with the bullshit access to customer data (green-screen access to an AS-400 while PC’s had been around for years). How we never really knew who our best customers were and who were just yanking our chains. Our customer service reps weren’t connected to our sales reps (different systems and processes) and tons of market opportunity fell on the floor every day. His point back to me: stop admiring the problem and change it. Make a proposal, stake out a position, no matter how politically incorrect. Be respectful, and be prepared – with data. Lean into it – and do so with a goal to at a minimum learn from the experience. He also called it that I was likely not made for “corporate” America – I took it as a compliment.
I hate losing and I’m a competitive son of a bitch. The lessons I’ve learned from sticking my finger in the light switch from time to time have given me some business “battle scars” and more than a few skinned knees. I’ve been fired from companies I founded by my investors, and I’ve built successful businesses I’m proud of.
In any company there is plenty of whitespace. Meaning that not every moment of everyday is prescribed, metered, measured. There’s plenty of time to think and act independently. Time to collaborate, read, research, learn. Time that you can either waste by fucking around, or that you can take advantage of where you are to build something interesting.
If you want to make an impact, move up, make more money, have more responsibility, have more fun, learn more things.. then the equation is pretty simple: make a difference. Piss people off if necessary by challenging the status quo and making the company better. Grow the business faster, generate more leads, land more important customers, streamline business processes, identify new markets. In short: innovate.
I saw this “formula” recently in a Mediapost article and really liked it:
Everyone’s company, customers, and business goals are different. Every organizational structure and people, skills, focus is different. The commonality should be the insatiable desire to constantly get better, add more value to your customers, return more value to your shareholders, have more fun, and win. That doesn’t mean people have to lose, it’s not a zero-sum game – and if it were you’d lose in the long run. The key ingredient is a personal desire to learn, understand, and grow as an individual.
The alternative: hang out, do what you’re told, don’t push for what you believe in, become a cog in the wheel, and collect a paycheck. Not a lot to be proud of, but what the hell at least you make it home in time for the shows on TV that night.