marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Do you Survive like a Cockroach or Thrive with the Best?

"Survival of the fittest is not the same as survival of the best" was the quote that called to me from a recent article on MyVenturePad. It was such a nice and simple way to rethink the phrase "be a survivor". I've seen many co-workers give that recommendation to team members, telling colleagues to be a survivor and keep their heads low when times get tough. As the article continues "A cockroach is one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet. That's survival of the fittest. Do we want our organizations led by cockroaches?"

Seeing this statement made me think about Charlene Li's latest book, "Open Leadership", where she discusses leaders who, instead of sticking their heads in the sand when times get tough, take risks, innovate, and basically try something new to move their companies forward. While what she discusses makes sense and all employees should advocate for the company good, I'll contrast that attitude with other companies I've worked at.  I've seen senior managers instruct subordinates to "just do your job" and "don't take any risks", when in fact, it was the fear of getting fired and a blind adherence to tradition that insured that the company couldn't keep a leadership position even if it fell into one. One company I know was a leader in small router technology, but the founder had a policy of locking up all source code each night for IP protection. No one stole source code, but no development happened after hours or when the founder wasn't there, and, most importantly, no engineer dared to experiment with new ideas w/o the CEO's express approval. While that company is still in business today with decent technology, it's no longer considered a technology leader and rarely mentioned in discussions in SME router RFPs.

Maybe it's not the individuals at fault who want to survive, maybe it's the culture of the company that ushers employees into that mindset. If the company has a culture of fear stemming from firing anyone who takes risks or suggests products or services that might push the corporate comfort zone, then a culture of risk averse employees will be the ones who are hired and stay at the company - surviving until the a better competitor puts them out of business. On the other hand, if the company is willing to consider risks and learning from potential failings, then employees will feel comfortable pushing envelopes and boundaries where the next great product or service might be found. At one company I worked for, the 3D Avatar with stereo sound technology the company had was held at arms length, with most of the company not acknowledging it or its potential. I had a soft spot for it since it was used by the Klingon Language Institute. Fortunately, my CEO, Larry Samuels, and a customer both saw the value in the technology, which allowed me to manage a business development OEM deal that not only generated $1M+ in revenue, but also led to a $5M+ round of financing.  Some people told me that if we hadn't made that deal, the company would have shut down. I prefer to think of the opportunity, and how taking that risk gave us more opportunities and learning that would never have happened if we had killed the 3D avatar and audio technology.

So you might see some optimism bias in my discussion, and yes I prefer to see the glass half-full. I also prefer to believe that businesses are not built on cockroaches who just survive, but on smart risk takers who find ways to thrive.

No comments :

Post a Comment