In 2004, one of the greatest war machines of all time, the US military, was struggling to beat back Al Queda in Iraq (AQI). Whilst the allied forces had huge advantage in numbers, equipment and training, the commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force, General Stanley McChrystal, realised that conventional military tactics and command structures were failing. Team of Teams: New Rules for Engagement in a Complex World gives McChrystal’s account of how he and his colleagues discarded a century of conventional wisdom to create a faster, flatter and more flexible organisation that ultimately proved successful in defeating AQI.
Team of Teams isn’t only a military book. If you are a seasoned executive struggling to come to terms with new ways of working, or an entrepreneur scaling a business, whilst at the same time grappling with how to keep a startup culture alive, then you should give it a read.
In a landmark study undertaken between 1984 and 2004, Wharton Professor Philip Tetlock showed that the average expert was only slightly better at predicting the future than a layperson using random guesswork. His latest project, which began in 2011, has since shown that there are some people with real, demonstrable foresight. These are often ordinary people who have an extraordinary ability to predict the future with a degree of accuracy significantly greater than the average. In his book Superforecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction, co-authored with Dan Gardner, Tetlock identifies how you can improve your accuracy of future predictions and become a superforecaster.
Howard Marks is the Chairman and cofounder of Oaktree Capital Management and author of The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor. According to the book’s sleeve, he is renowned for his insightful assessments of market opportunity and risk. He is sought out by the world’s leading investors, and his client memos brim with astute commentary and time tested fundamental philosophy. On a more personal note he’s one of my investing heroes. A value investor at heart, his broad thinking and eloquent expression is pertinent to anyone with investment and business interests both professional and personal. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I’ve chosen three of my favourite things with a nod towards to the entrepreneurial thinker: the importance of second level thinking, the role of luck in success & having a sense for where we stand.
Paul Kalanithi, M.D., was a neurosurgeon and writer. He graduated from Stanford University in 2000 with a B.A. and M.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Human Biology. He earned an M.Phil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine from the University of Cambridge before attending medical school. In 2007, Paul graduated cum laude from the Yale School of Medicine. He returned to Stanford for residency training in Neurological Surgery and a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroscience. In 2013 he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, though continued to work, completing his neurosurgery residency in 2014. He also authored the book When Breath Becomes Air, which detailed his journey through treatment and eventually his death in March 2015. He is survived by his wife Lucy and their daughter Cady.
Although I’d heard of this book before, I first stumbled across it in a charity shop about one month after I’d finished 5 months of chemotherapy for colorectal cancer. I cried my way through much of the book, but I had to read about Paul’s journey and his exploration of life and death. Continue reading
Robert Coram, author of Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, describes John Boyd as “first, last and always a fighter pilot – a loud talking, cigar-smoking, bigger-than-life fighter pilot”. But also as more than that: “he was that rarest of creatures – a thinking fighter pilot.”
Doing justice to the scale of Boyd’s achievements here is hard; only by reading the whole of this beautiful book will you understand Boyd’s endearing eccentricity and gain a masterclass in the importance of maneuverability as it relates to military (and business) strategy. With wonderfully researched detail, Robert Coram demonstrates what one man, surrounded by a few devoted and loyal Acolytes, can do to change the world. Continue reading
If asked to name one book that has most changed my life, my answer is always Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It is the book that I reached for in the darkest depths of treatment for cancer, as I searched for rational answers to very complicated questions. It’s the book that kickstarted an incredible learning journey. Thinking Fast and Slow is a book about biases of intuition. The human brain works very well most of the time and our judgments are sound. However, it is prone to engage in a number of fallacies and systematic errors that lead to flawed opinions and adverse decision making, otherwise known as cognitive biases. We assume certain things automatically without having thought them through carefully. Kahneman calls these assumptions heuristics and he goes on to outline almost fifty of them in the book.
Phil ‘Shoe Dog’ Knight is the founder, former CEO and now Executive Chairman of Nike. In Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike he tells his story of taking the business from humble origins, through an IPO in 1980 and onto its current $30 billion market capitalisation. To put that in perspective, if you had invested $1,000 at IPO without reinvesting dividends, your investment would be worth $729,575 today, that’s a Compound Annual Growth Rate of just over 20.7% (according to Investopedia and based on December 2015 share price).
Knight tells the story of how, what is still widely regarded to be one of the most innovative companies in the world, started and grew out of the back of a van in the early 1970s. A Stanford graduate, avid reader of the Classics and books about military strategy, and a natural introvert, he captures a wonderful story about what he calls his Crazy Idea and the determination and grit it takes to become successful beyond what he’d ever imagined. He also includes some wonderful accounts of the hustle and sometimes downright dirty tactics that it can take to overcome the odds: “you are remembered for the rules you break” is his mantra throughout the book. I’ve captured the best of the rest of his entrepreneurial wisdom in the quotes from the book below.
Yuval Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind charts our origins from hunter gatherers 2.5 million years ago on to the rise of Homo Sapiens 200,000 years ago. He takes the reader through the Cognitive Revolution 70,000 years ago, the Agrarian Revolution 10,000 years ago, into the Scientific Revolution in the 1500s, the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s and on to the present. Harari covers a lot of ground that includes a deep dive into capitalism: “an economic-led system based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit”. He explores how something that began as a theory about how the early economy of the modern age functioned, has grown into much more than an economic doctrine. His standpoint serves as a thought-provoking baseline for anyone that works to build and grow businesses. Continue reading
On 13th February 2015 I was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. At the beginning of August this year my treatment was complete. After nearly two years of grappling with a life-threatening illness, whilst at the same time hanging on to the bones of a business that I had set up just eighteen months before diagnosis, it is time to embrace the new normal. This is my story about cancer and entrepreneurshit. Continue reading
It was great to have the opportunity to give a short talk at the second Forward Partners meet up for the FP50 mentor network. Mentors were keen to know more about how to kick off a mentoring relationship with the founders of startup and early-stage businesses. I talked about the importance of listening and understanding, with some suggested questions that can be asked to open up the conversation.
I started with a quote from Sal Virani’s recently released book Mentor Impact. Based on over 200 mentor interviews and extensive personal experience of working with accelerator programmes across Europe, he launches the book with a quote from one of the best mentors he interviewed (also a founder who had been through an accelerator). That person’s advice to other mentors: Continue reading
Disillusioned with the corporate world and mesmerised by a whole season living in my campervan in the French Alps, I decided it was time for another change. In September 2013 I resigned from Deloitte Consulting and set up my own business as an entrepreneur coach. After five months spent climbing and skiing consequential lines, my rationale was simple: entrepreneurship was going to push me hard and I might end up penniless, but I’d learn a lot and it couldn’t kill me. On that basis, and with some ideas about how I’d grow my business in mind, the decision was made. Just 18 months into my entrepreneurial journey I was told I had Stage 3 colorectal cancer. That most definitely could kill me and I was petrified.
I don’t want to use my illness to define me but it hit at a very specific time in my life. Given the craziness of the experience, it feels like a missed opportunity not to share it and raise awareness. I didn’t keep a diary, so this is an opportunity for memories and personal reflection. I have also recorded a Podcast with Jerry Colonna and the gang at Reboot, a coaching company that helps people to deal with the internal ups and downs of entrepreneurship.
This is my story of being an entrepreneur with cancer.
The startup world loves a buzzword and now we have a new one. Whilst I understand the sentiment behind it, I’m not sure it’s particularly helpful. Posts by Caterina Fake and Adam Draper about the Cockroach caught my positive attention, but on reflection I’m perplexed. A Cockroach is supposedly the name given to startup that makes it through current economic challenges. The origin of the term lies within a Paul Graham post written in October 2008. about why to start a startup in a bad economy. Since then we’ve moved on to the Unicorn phenomenon. Mark Suster has written about why he Fucking Hates Unicorns. I’ll follow up by saying that I’m not a huge fan of the Cockroach. Continue reading
If you picked up the June edition of Wired magazine you’ll have found an excellent article entitled “41 lessons from Uber’s success”. Commentators include Clayton Christensen and Richard Branson, but it’s the point made by Josh Elman from Greylock Partners that really hits home. Reflecting on Uber, his advice is to: “Do one thing really well – then figure out what the second leap is”.
Josh notes that, historically, the most successful companies do this. He cites Facebook’s beginnings as a private social network at colleges, before the company realised that the news feed could help propel the site into a massive multi-billion-user, multi-billion-dollar company. Uber, he says, was the same thing: Continue reading
Sam Altman is the President of Y-Combinator, an American seed fund with investments in over 840 companies including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, Reddit, Zenefits, Instacart and Weebly.
Sam sent a Tweet out the other week expressing the view that consultants get paid the most money whilst delivering the least value. Sam is of course entitled to his perspective but I’m not comfortable with it. Continue reading
An inspiring idea and early validation of your business model are just the start of the entrepreneurial journey. When it comes to scaling, there are a thousand and one things that you could do, but you must focus on the one hundred and one things that you can actually do with limited available cash, resources and time. In Tren Griffin’s blog A Dozen Things I’ve Learned from Steve Jobs about Business, he references one of my favourite quotes from the great man, and a second that I’ve not heard before.
Startup Boards can be a contentious subject. Do you even need a Board in the early stages? When the time comes to introduce more effective governance arrangements, how do you go about attracting the right Board members and developing a high-performance Board culture? There’s no magic wand that you can wave at your governance challenges, and you will find lots of different answers to the same governance questions.
Here’s my list of 10 articles on the subject of startup Boards that I’d really recommend reading. Continue reading
I picked up my copy of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey the other day. I remembered that one of Covey’s principles was to begin with the end in mind and I’ve been doing some detailed thinking recently about what my own end is, so to speak. It struck me that there’s some useful lessons in the book about how to grow a business in 2015.
Covey says that beginning with the end in mind is based on the principle that all things are created twice. First a mental creation, then a physical creation. He uses the example of building a house: “you create it in every detail before you ever hammer the first nail in place” he says. Continue reading
Any startup that has successfully raised follow on funding (angel and beyond) is going to find itself with external investors to keep happy and to do this effectively requires some form of governance structure to be put in place. Achieving this is not actually that complicated but if you’ve never set up a startup Board before, or put any kind of governance structure in place, then it probably feels like a daunting task. Continue reading
I ran a business planning workshop the other month with a group of early-stage businesses, all high flying brands with six figure revenues. I asked the group a simple question: “who here identifies, understands and manages risk within their business?” I was met with laughter. The answer was of course, no one. Startups and early-stage businesses don’t really do risk management. But managing risk within a business is essential because, as the saying goes, “shit happens”.
Here are a few common themes that I have observed about the consideration of risk in startups and early-stage businesses. Continue reading
This post also appears on Medium.
The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries, was first published in 2011 and has since become the bible for startup entrepreneurs around the world. But recently I’ve read a good number of articles that question The Lean Startup. Criticising the lean startup approach is misled though. Why? Because that is all it is, an approach, albeit a very good one. The Lean Startup is not a prescribed formula that guarantees business success. Sadly, “management is complicated”, something that Eric Ries makes very clear in this video where he discusses how the principles and processes explained in The Lean Startup can be used to gain competitive advantage. Continue reading
Did you manage to make it to the acclaimed ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London? Bowie is an incredible talent, combining undeniable song writing ability with outstanding creative flair. He is a true innovator, whose fame has real momentum through constant reinvention. Whilst the days of the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane may be over, Bowie is arguably as well known now as he has ever been.
Whilst exploring the exhibition my mind turned to thinking about what business might be able to learn from him. In a world where pop stars increasingly come and go, David Bowie’s (talent based) fame has endured. This post takes a look at why, and what lessons business can learn. Continue reading
Sir Dave Brailsford, Performance Director of British Cycling and principal for Team Sky, understands what real strategy is, how to formulate it and how to execute it. His strategic approach has helped British riders achieve a record haul of Olympic medals at three successive Olympic Games, produced a World Champion in Mark Cavendish and two successive Tour de France winners in Sir Bradley Wiggins and now Chris Froome. Continue reading