photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/mondayne/8090010193
photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/mondayne/8090010193

This post is a contribution to Startup Edition.

Tools are a Commodity

We could talk all day about the tools we use. Agile is Best! Pomodoro is Best! Pen and Paper is Best! Getting everyone in a room is Best! (You get the idea.) Because everything in a startup changes ALL THE TIME, it’s also important to consider the conceptual tools you should be using in your startup.

You might pronounce them as Empathy, Resilience, Learning, and Persistence. Doubtless there are other conceptual tools that people find useful and beneficial, but these are the ones I use most often.

What should you reinforce?

Empathy means understanding what it feels like when you are a customer. It also means literally walking a mile in the customer’s shoes. If you are not shaking your fist at the screen when your code does something stupid that customers experience every day, you are not modeling empathy. To get more empathy, stop being a smarty-pants startup person, and think more like a customer. (And get out of the building.)

Resilience is the ability to rebound when bad stuff happens. Because startups do not act according to Standard Operating Procedure. If you are resilient you’ll be better able to pick new paths, to take care of yourself and your teammates, and to invent new ways of solving problems in the course of doing business. You also won’t really know that you’re being resilient until you look back and see the obstacles you’ve overcome. So trust in yourself, do the right thing for you and for your teammates and the people you care about, and you’ll get more resilient. You can always have more work and money. You cannot have more time with the people you care about and you cannot get your bad decisions back. Embrace sunk costs and don’t let them become an anchor that prevents change.

Learning is the most important tool you can use in a startup and generally in life. Learning ensures that you can test ideas and decide when they are wrong and when they are right. Learning also gives you the ability to adapt to a new environment and add new skills. And learning changes you without you even realizing it. So you should keep on learning everywhere. I keep a stack of books on my bedside table and read one or two books per week.

Persistence is the glue that allows you to respond when you are not feeling empathetic, when you are not very resilient, and when you feel that the learning you should be doing is stalled. Persistence is getting up in the morning and understanding the 20% of the work that you absolutely must do that will deliver 80% of the reward. When you are persistent, you are doing the hard practice that makes many other things possible. And when you can’t be persistent (this happens too) you should embrace the sunk cost and go outside. Meet people. Exercise. And above all, embrace the Cult of Done. Perfect is the enemy of Done.

Why Focus on Portable Tools?

Why are these the tools that I use in a startup? I use these tools because they are portable, I can share them with other people, and they are additive. There are many tools and services that people could be using in their startups, and they are all dependent upon the people in these startups to use them well. Start with the tools that reinforce empathy, resilience, learning, and persistence and your startup will prosper.

This post is a contribution to Startup Edition.

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