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 and combined culture with strategy to create a faster, flatter and more flexible organisation that ultimately proved successful in defeating AQI.
But Team of Teams isn’t only a military book, it’s packed full of lessons about strategy for businesses as well. If you are a seasoned business executive struggling to come to terms with new ways of working, or a startup 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’s ability to predict the future was only slightly better 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 ability to predict the future and become a superforecaster.
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.” Boyd is widely considered to be one of the world’s greatest military strategists, despite the fact that it’s unlikely you have ever heard of him. Over his career he bought the Air Force its Aerial Attack Study, invented Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) Theory and was the father of the F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. He brought strategic thinking to the armed forces more generally, and now to business: he created a decision making framework called the OODA loop, his Patterns of Conflict brief provided the strategic basis for the US military’s 100 hour victory in the first Gulf War and still underpins US Marine Corps fighting doctrine to this day.
John Boyd was an endearing eccentric and strategic genius who is brought wonderfully to life by author Robert Coram in his meticulously researched book. Coram demonstrates what one man, surrounded by a few devoted and loyal Acolytes, can do to change the world. Maneuverability, as it relates to military (and business) strategy, we learn is key. Continue reading
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
The June 2015 edition of Wired magazine lead with “41 lessons from Uber’s success”. Leading industry commentators shared their opinions, but it was Josh Elman from Greylock Partners that hit it out the park. Reflecting on Uber, his advice is to: “Do one thing really well – then figure out what the second leap is”. That’s some of the best startup advice you will ever hear.
The most successful companies did this. Elman 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
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