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Don't let that hungry little startup eat your lunch

Groping for the future


“In all the time I spent with him, I never once heard him refer to his ability to see the future. He couldn’t see it — that’s why he had to grope for it.”

Michael Lewis, “The New New Thing” (talking about entrepreneur Jim Clark)

Jim Clark famously founded Netscape, Silicon Graphics, myCFO and Healtheon – a true serial entrepreneur. Lewis’ account of Clark’s success is not so much a how-to guide, but rather insight into the force of nature known as Jim Clark.

If you could learn brilliance, chutzpah, the maniacal need to become wealthy and how to take risk, Clark might be a role model. But you can’t really learn those things (and may not want to because he took the same approach to marriage) as much as you must be born with them.

However, Lewis’ line about groping for the future has, within it, a good lesson. Complimentarily (though long before Lewis), Marcel Proust said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Well, maybe both…

Although you may not learn brilliance or risky behavior, you can learn to see things with fresh eyes — to grope for the future. The challenge is that it’s hard for us to “unknow” what we know to be true, forget our current expertise and, even more so, think about dropping our current platform and jumping to a new one — one that we’re groping for.

True entrepreneurs have a built-in disposition for this. Product extensions, supporting infrastructure and execution — those are things for others to worry about. Entrepreneurs just want to build the new thing and will risk all to do so. Most of us aren’t built this way.

Those who are adept at product extensions, supporting infrastructure and execution are probably thinking, “I could teach that entrepreneur a thing or two and make him more successful!” If you could get him to sit still for a minute, perhaps you could.

There’s something, however, that entrepreneurs can teach the “organization man,” and that’s groping for the future — having new eyes to consider alternative views of what the future may hold and place bets on things just a bit beyond the visible curve in the road.

You don’t have to think about creative destruction or how to purposefully cannibalize your business 24 hours a day, but it’s better to put some energy into it before that hungry little startup eats your lunch! By all means, grow your business, and then extend product lines and markets — looking for adjacencies. But occasionally put in your new eyes.

The fact that you cannot see the future doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grope for it.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is president of Applied Strategy®. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Todd is the author of Never Kick a Cow Chip On A Hot Day: Real Lessons for Real CEOs and Those Who Want To Be (Morgan James Publishing, 2016). Connect with Todd on LinkedIn, Twitter, call 303-527-0417 or email todd@toddordal.com.

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