Last December I was speaking to a classmate from college who works for a large aerospace company here in the southeast. As expected, we discussed what we are currently up to life. He inquired more about what iTruck is and how things were coming along with iTruck at the time.
The very fact that I am trying to create something and working an idea impressed him. But in that exchange he made a curious statement which stayed with me and which I have pondered on and off in the past few months. He said I am probably the only person he knows who is trying to build something and who did not follow the conventional college-work route.
Last month,I attended a community service session with an organization which works with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in a part of Orlando. Part of the program involves teaching the kids how to make business ideas reality. At the end of the session, I stayed back and had a chat with the management and those who put the program together. One of the ladies involved made another curious comment which stuck with me and even had a greater impact. She said that as someone who grew up in the suburbs you would think the concepts of business ideas curation/formation should not be strange to her. She then went on to say it was through working in such a setting that she really got any first exposure to such.
The picture given by the media and popular culture is one of millennial’s (think shows like HBO’s “Silicon Valley” and “The Social Network”) who are risk taking and entrepreneurial. But the story which is seldom told is that compared to other generations this simply is not so. Factors ranging from skyrocketing students loans which force many to put off taking such risk so they can pay down their debt, to the ludicrous and immoral occupational licencing laws which protect industry incumbents from new entrants, to even changes in the the culture in regards to risk taking and commerce among wide swats of millennial’s all come to play.
Yes, not everyone will be an entrepreneur or cares about business. But its in society’s self-interest to maximize the number of people who can be entrepreneurs by removing all barriers. After all, the bulk of new job creating and innovations and technical advances come from entrepreneurs and startups. One does not really need to think hard about what the future hold for a society which is not creating opportunities fast enough to meet the hopes and expectations of the population. In fact, one only needs to pay very close attentions to a lot of out big cities to see that this dynamics is already playing itself out.
Furthermore, when society is less exposed to people who create opportunities and lack any understanding of what it takes, it creates the potential for social instability. Such opens the door for demagogues and opportunist to portray the actions of a few bad apples as the norm.
I’m not sure why – it might be natural and has something to do with the human makeup – but in relating to others, humans tend to be known for what they are against and not what they stand for or want to change.
Being known for only criticism tends to create uneasy relationships among people. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one those who believes people should be immune to criticism. Criticism has a role it plays which can help those its directed at at get better because after all humans are inherently not perfect but we become better when iron sharpens iron. But when people only offer criticism and are not known for offering solutions or ideas, then a problem exist!
Go ahead and offer criticisms, because as I said they have a key role they play, but make sure that is well balanced so that on the net your are known as someone who stands for something and not someone who is against something.
Though I might not agree with the convictions of some, I respect those who are able to stand by their convictions even when unpopular. Standing by conviction in many ways is a sign of character. If someone can stand by what they believe in regardless of what it might cost them, chances are that in other areas of life they can be trusted. I will trust my life with such kind of people than people who I might agree with on many issues but who lack conviction.
Looking through history, its those who stood by conviction and who refused to compromised who changed history and made a mark on history when many dismissed them as delusional. An example which comes to mind were the uncompromising abolitionist on both sides of the Atlantic who for decades refused to compromise. Many said some humans owning some was the condition through history and the nature of things. But they had conviction which saw an alternative world. They refused to compromise. The rest is history!
People who compromise on their convictions, in a sense are capitulating to the other side and sending a signal that in a sense some of the underlining arguments are right. Second, people respect people who articulate their convictions forthrightly because it signals that such people believe people are capable of handling what they are told and don’t need to be lied to a tricked into buying into a new view.
Standing by conviction, should not be mistaken for being brash or rude. People who come to mind when it comes to examples of people standing by conviction have some of the most gentle and soft spoken demeanor’s around but have the content of their message doing the work for them. Standing by conviction should also not be mistaken for seeing people with opposing views as enemies. In fact people with opposing views can be on talking terms which allow them to know how each person derived their views.
In the tech and entrepreneurship world, having a new tech or business idea in many ways parallels having convictions. At first some dismiss entrepreneurs and their ideas as being unrealistic. Some might give in to this pressure and give up on ideas which they might have actually been very close to having success with. Just like having convictions, having a new tech or business idea which many people don’t buy into or see the use for can be lonely. But its those who failed to give up who are the creators and innovators who change society and improve the lives of countless people directly and indirectly.
In a nutshell its those with conviction – whether in the business, social, or political arenas – who change the world while those who lack conviction fall by the wayside and are forgotten by history.
Once upon a time, I was scared of sharing my ideas because I believed that other people could run off with my ideas. Even worse, I was scare of criticism and the possibility of having my ideas invalidated or having to go back to rework them. So I kept my lips shut and I kept them protected in the confines of by brain and kept refining (or so I thought I was doing) till the perfect moment of execution during which my superior idea will outshine everything else. But with time, I found out that such an approach for a number of reasons is quite misguided.
Obviously, I don’t mean telling everyone you come across about your ideas down the finest and most intricate details. Rather, I mean letting people in on a general outline of your ideas which can be easy to understand and garner criticism and feedback. For example, something like: “I have an idea for a startup which helps owners of trucks and moving businesses better utilized empty space by developing a platform which links people who want to move with people who own trucks.” This is a very basic outline which says little about the underlining technology or how exactly the platform will be developed but says a lot about what the business does.
Nothing makes an idea better than being refined through the interactions and criticism of those it would affect or just others in general. Some will say your ideas are feasible while others will say they are not while others even question your ability to execute. Some will point out the strengths and weakness of you idea while you might gain key insights which no amount of thinking can ever show you. That feedback is key in going back and fine tuning things. In others cases, you might even abandon the project altogether and embark on other things.
For example, I have a presentation which I will be making towards the end of this month for my startup. I originally planned to have the presentation done in the last week of June. But when the organizers of the presentation took a look at my presentation and my business model, they had a billion question and criticisms. Furthermore, they felt my business model was not full proof and requested that I clarify some areas and come up with some key metrics and calculations. Nothing asked had easy answers and took weeks to work on. But through that experience, I came out with a business model on firmer footing.
One thing I have come to discover; this perhaps is the most important. Talk is cheap! Many people talk about how they have great ideas but never execute for many reasons. Some might feel they don’t yet have the experience or resources to execute while others might have commitments which tie them them down. Even some of the most brightest people who might have all it takes and are technically savvy might be poor in execution (e.g. fear) while others who might be of average intelligence or might not yet know all the answers still execute but figure things out as they move along.
An idea protected from external feedback and criticisms is like an industry protected from competition. Industries protected from interaction with other producers, never produce at their peak potential and never serve consumers and society to the best of their abilities. In the same way protected ideas never become the best they can be and in the end will not serve those they meant to serve at the most optimal level possible.