Friday, December 28, 2012

Startups, Taking Risks and the Myth of the Edge

Unfortunately, not everyone gets to work with startups. Our company interacts with them nearly every minute of the day. Sometimes it's easy to forget that many people don't have the up-close and personal experience with this incredibly dynamic, high-paced section of the workforce. It's a lot of laughs, headaches, tough problems, big choices and many, many wows. While there are some things I would never advocate for anyone to replicate, there are many amazing lessons to be learned from the startup community, a couple of which I want to talk about below. Not every company can be a startup or be like a startup, but every company, every person and every community can implement some aspects of what -- in my humble opinion -- make startups a driving force in creating people who are dreamers, fighters and builders. 

Take Risks

We are all too often governed by fear, due to a combination of biology and past experience. We have been programmed to retreat more often than we advance. Our brains create defenses for us to avoid fear, displeasure and dislike. At the same time, a negative past experience can hold us back from trying again. It takes four to five positive experiences to supersede a negative experience. At our core, we are more often professionally risk adverse then we should be. And it's contradictory because we are often able to incorporate extreme risk taking behavior into our personal lives. Think about all the times you stay out too late, date the person you shouldn't and book the vacation you can't quite afford. These are all the types of risks that we take frequently, often with impulsiveness. When it comes to our professional lives, we are less likely to expose ourselves, and act without trepidation and rumination over all possible consequences. We are uncomfortable asking for the raise, nervous about taking a project that we aren't sure we can excel at, and often fail to create company culture where risks are encouraged and rewarded. 

This is not usually the case in startups. In fact their cultures are often built around the notion that risk isn't just accepted, it's an inherent part of growth and day-to-day functioning. New is the norm and to try things that you don't know and that haven't been done before is a daily reality. This doesn't mean everyone and everything comes up roses. In fact, there are dangerous consequences to this that often manifest themselves in negative aspects like pompous founders and incoherent strategies. However, I think the negative effects are worth it. Encouraging people to dream big, to try new things, and to constantly improve is something worth building a company culture around. It makes people more resilient and creative both at work and at home. 

Finding the Edge