What You Never Thought They would Teach You at the Harvard Business School.
On a daily basis I’m fortunate, and privileged, to meet and discuss topics with a variety of different types of Entrepreneurs. Many are seasoned growth oriented leaders, some are career switchers, and given the spirit of our age, many are talented technologists, with a great product, venturing out on their own for the first time.
Being an entrepreneur myself, and a VC at times, you tend to spot patterns in behaviour that either lends itself well to startup leadership, and those that do not, but are blindly held on to for irrational reasons.
This entrepreneurial pattern recognition always seem to make me remember my time at the Harvard business school’s PLD program. Where our living groups were tasked with playing a competitive videogame against the other living groups. At first when given the task, I was skeptical of the process, intrigued, and approached the process with an open mind as I had come to realize that there always seems to be an epiphinal Mr. Miyagi moment at HBS, where Daniel san has to “Wax on and Wax off” and you ultimately learn something deep and paradigm shifting that you had never really thought of before in the context of business and leadership.
Where this process actually began was earlier in our groups meetings where we literally got to know each other. We were asked to draw our life stories out on paper and share it with the entire group. this was a very scary, yet liberating process, because we discussed our major life milestones, and our greatest life challenge, how we felt at the time of that “crisis”, what we learned from it, and how it changed the way we think about ourselves and the world.
This may seem really “touchy-feely”/Oprah-esque, and you’re right, but at the same time the collective sharing and exposing of one’s life story strips many of the cultural and psychological barriers that exist amongst people, while at the same time brings everyone to the same emotional zero-ground that allows people to simply be themselves. I mean to say, that there is no need to be “anything” other than yourself because there is “nothing” to emotionally hide or make up for. The group creates a collective acceptance of your strengths and flaws that allows an individual to exist within the group without the “reality distortion field” that others perceive or that you might project.
Breaking down these barriers early in our groups time together, I can say is a process that I practice with Entrepreneurs and with potential partners regularly. I find that by getting to the “core” of why we authentically want to pursue a project or be a part of a team, is a nuanced, and greatly overlooked process, to successful team development, that can ultimately have an effect on the viability of the venture in the long run. Aligning values, skills, and temperaments is the invisible capital that can yield huge returns on the entrepreneurial journey if revealed and organized early on in the group’s founding.
Fast forward to the founding of our virtual company in this reality business videogame, and our team was asked to “organize” ourselves into key roles that would manage the viability of the team. I’m not sure if our team took an unconventional approach compared to other teams, but since we had gone through the emotional leveling process earlier in the program, we were very adept at placing people in the right spots based on their strengths and greatest contribution to the overall objective.
We had harmony, efficiency and very little ego in the process because we were all quite honest about what we were all good at. We avoided the “position envy” and “title-whoring” that subverts many teams, for purely extrinsic reasons.
A real management innovation that I personally discovered in the exercise was an idea of “antifragile” leadership, or “playing jazz” as I liked to describe it. Which was a way of approaching the groups challenges as they came, and with the person that was best equipped to handle that particular initiative at the time. We did not have a CEO, not that one isn’t a good idea, but we had a lot of faith in our partnership that we could deal with specific anomalies in the game environment on an as needs basis, governed by our initial strategy.
I was lucky that I came into this aspect of the program with a deep understanding of team dynamics through a lifetime of competitive sports, and also through readings. If I was to recommend one book on team performance it would definitely be the “Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lenceoni
Our strategy became the framework of thinking and the market conditions became the “bars” in which we improvised and highlighted a team member’s strength allowing that person to lead that particular initiative. This method did not replace a strategy but it did create an effective mechanism for our team to make decisions that we’re in the interest of the group, and was a tailor-made solution for us. I don’t suggest that this will work for every team but for us, we found a way to be efficient and galvanized.
We also took an alternative approach to our strategy, which was defined by how we determined success, not only in the game, but also in our team outcomes:
Game outcomes: most profit, lowest debt
What we learned
The third point in this case is something that I’ve come to utilize most from the process of that exercise: Managing Virtual Teams. The game was to be played over the course of our “field work” eg at home. Now as upper middle managers and entrepreneurs, many of us with families, finding time across 6 global time zones to make time sensitive decisions, is not only a difficult task but a necessity in the context of global business. One of our classmates was tasked with making this process organized, clear and effective so that it minimized the time spent on the work, on skype, and to get the greatest outcomes. This is particularly important for entrepreneurs today, especially in the current environment of “the war for talent” where most of the best employees and partners for your business will not be located where your company is and you will have to learn to love the airport, skype and shared office spaces if you are to create a globally competitive startup.
When talking with entrepreneurs I like to ask, how do you define success?, or more specifically I ask, “What great company has no one created yet, and what would it look like from the people to the financial outcomes? For the most part you will always get the novice to say, “make a lot of money”. Which, from my perspective is the laziest of answers that says alot about the entrepreneur and their capabilities. (If this is the case, then I would suggest to these entrepreneurs that they should get into pornography, it’s a much easier way to “make money” and that they should also ask themselves if they believe if all profits are created equal?) Many take a huge sigh, their eyes roll around and pause for a moment. Usually to utter: “I have never really thought of that”, which suggests to me that although they may have never thought of the question in this particular way, they do have the capacity to be considerate of the seriousness of the venture, not only in time, and work, but the emotional investment and energy that is required to make an entrepreneurial venture succeed. The rare gems are the leaders who think about the success of their startup in relationship to the problem they are trying to solve and the impact it will have on them, the business, the talent, and society. These tend to be very big problems, technological in nature, that if solved, unlock a lot of market value, profits to a company, and creates jobs. These types of entrepreneurs understand, or at least think about their solution to the problem, the value that is potentially available, the resources required– human and financial– and have prepared themselves mentally for the emotional endeavor that will be required for them to create and manage a culture of success.
We all hear of the entrepreneurs with the big valuations and the big pay-outs in the end, but never really ask what those entrepreneurs had to pay for that “success” in a comprehensive and human way. Entrepreneurship is not glamorous, at least not the day to day, and what I learned at my time with my peers at HBS, is that you have to be happy with the process, and the people, in pursuing your goals, and be prepared for the downside if you don’t seem to achieve that. Ironically if you look at the process in the right way, even a failure can turn out to be a great experience with salvageable elements if you’re pursuing a great challenge, have great people around you and know why you’re in the game to begin with.
I’m always interested in meeting blockchain entrepreneurs, and technologists who are creating innovative products, so please feel free to contact me here onlinkedin , or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Collin Thompson is the Co-founder, and Managing Director of Intrepid Ventures, a venture development firm that invests, builds, and accelerates Blockchain and IoT companies solving the world’s most difficult problems. Collin focuses on early stage investments, innovation and business design for corporations, governments and entrepreneurs working with Blockchain Technology.