I often go to conferences to talk to audiences about exactly this sort of thing.
Although I usually speak about something specific, like the film Tortoise in Love or Droplet, I always try to catch the opening speeches and am amazed at how the same topics always come up. If it’s not about how we’re all communicating using our mobiles, it’s about the rise of YouTube stars or how Google Glass is going to change everything.
I’ll confess to a small amount of satisfaction when I heard that Google Glass was being put to bed. Of course it wasn’t going to change everything. Listing the technology products we may or may not use is an unimportant part of thinking about the future. It’s far too easy to assume that in two years’ time, everything will have changed whereas in fact, the things that are important rarely stop being so.
So I thought I’d list some of the things that are essential, and will continue to be essential to running a company as far ahead as I can stretch my imagination.
1. Human contact
Working from home is great when it means you can get on with things without being distracted. But nothing beats a face-to-face conversation. At Droplet we use an instant messaging system to talk to each other instead of email, but we talk on the phone in teams every day, and as a whole company every week. We encourage people to talk rather than type if it’s important or difficult. Some people prefer to have as little human contact as possible but that doesn’t work when you’re leading a team. Especially when it comes to explaining the vision for the company and talking about what the goals are.
Our brains are fine coming up with fast answers to things we’ve come across before. But if it’s a really important question, like “what’s the best strategy?” or “what will people think of our new product?” then it’s the time when we’re not consciously thinking about something that can be best for reflection. An increasing amount of research is confirming how important sleep is for processing the things we’ve thought about during the day. “Having a nap at lunch time” and “taking regular breaks” are on my personal list of New Year’s resolutions.
3. What Motivates Us
The first time I saw an RSA talk with this title based on a talk by Dan Pink (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc), I became a convert to the idea that higher rewards lead to worse performance. If you need an example then look at the banking industry. Human beings are more complicated than this, and the tech industry is particularly bad at understanding how people work. That’s because some of the skills you need at the heart of a tech company are sometimes at the extreme end of the personality spectrum.
4. Who to work with
Finding the right people is the single biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career. But it’s also the most important thing that a smart investor will try to understand. Even if you’re like me and you hate using assessment tools, they’re an important way of testing someone’s real abilities in a short space of time. If you don’t have a clear description of what you’re looking for in someone then you won’t know when you’ve found them, or if it’s working out. It’s important you can get on with the people you hire. But it’s more important for everyone’s sakes that they’re the right person, in the right job, at the right time. Having a brilliant person in exactly the right job but at the wrong time in our business journey has been one of the hardest challenges I’ve had to face.
You can have a bad product and still succeed. But even the best product in the world will fail if you can’t get people to buy it. Selling is a hugely undervalued profession and yet without it you’re stuffed. I am a salesperson because if I’m not pitching the product itself to someone I’m selling an idea to the team or the vision of the company to an investor.
If there was one thing I could get better at right now it’s thinking more slowly. Thinking more slowly means you think of more factors, you think through the outcomes more thoroughly and you make better decisions. It’s something both my most recent business partners have been superb at. And they are two of the smartest people I know.