But before we get into that, let’s start with a question that inevitably comes at the end of almost all conversations with CEOs on Founder’s Mentality: “OK, so if you were me, what would you do starting tomorrow?” […]
My first thought was, of course, “all the lonely people,” the refrain from the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” and both CEOs looked at me quizzically as I started to hum the song. My second thought was that it is time to write a blog on this topic. […]
On a trip to Switzerland recently, I had the great pleasure of hearing famed mountaineer Reinhold Messner speak at a corporate event. He was handing out copies of his latest book, My Life at the Limit, and I snatched one up to read on my plane ride home. Messner was the first climber to conquer all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks, the first to summit Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen, and has been to both poles and crossed the Gobi Desert. I’ll admit it’s far less glamorous, but his story also has parallels with how founders manage their profit and loss statements so effectively. Let me explain. […]
When it comes to discussing effective decision-making processes, my Bain colleague Jimmy Allen has a favorite parable: He talks about an early job working as a “clearer” for the deputy assistant of international trade within the US Department of Commerce.
The clearer existed to collect approvals for the stream of official documents passed around Washington. Typically, some policy guy would draft a document and then staple a yellow sheet of paper on the front with 50 or more names and titles on it. Jimmy’s job was to shuffle between offices up and down the Washington Mall seeking signatures and fixes. Any adjustments would mean a second draft and another trip around the mall in the sticky summer heat.
Any discussion of how companies can “maintain the insurgency” as they grow toward scale will eventually run into a fundamental tension. On the one hand, maintaining an insurgent mindset requires expansiveness—stretching beyond a company’s existing revenue streams and narrow market definition to imagine how the original insurgent mission can be applied in new, disruptive ways. On the other, sustaining profitable growth requires intense focus—a companywide commitment to continuously improve the company’s core business and exploit its full potential.
The solution to this seeming contradiction is for leaders to strike a balance between core focus and an insurgent mission as they debate growth strategies. But it’s important to understand why the tension is a necessary one. […]
Radiolab posted a wonderful story recently about the shrinking fish off the coast of Key West, Florida. It reported on a paper written by a doctoral student, Loren McClenachan, who had the idea to study 50 years of photographs taken by fishermen on their return from a chartered fishing trip.
You can see the shots here of proud fishermen displaying their catch hanging from their tails. In the 1950s, there were a lot of proud fishermen posing in front of dozens of six-foot-long fish. In the 1960s, a new generation of fishermen stood proudly in front of fish that were still pretty big. By the 2000s, the fishing parties were still displaying lots of fish, but none were more than a foot long. […]
At the most recent FM100 meeting in Jakarta, as members discussed the “Monday morning” actions they would take when they returned to their companies, one member said he needed to “zero-base” his center.
This thought came as he reflected on the westward winds that were killing his business— the lost voices of the front line and the erosion of accountability. A lot of zero-basing exercises start with the ideal and then add complexity to address obstacles to this ideal. Let’s examine these two items. […]