Credential Feedback Loop
Chris Dixon writes some great stuff on his blog. And this one on the Credentials Trap is no exception.
I talk a lot to people who are deciding between startups and established companies. They’re usually early in their careers and have been exclusively affiliated with well-known schools and companies. As a result, they’re accustomed to praise from family and friends. Going to a startup is scary, as Jessica Livingstone, cofounder of Y Combinator, describes:
Everyone you encounter will have doubts about what you’re doing—investors, potential employees, reporters, your family and friends. What you don’t realize until you start a startup is how much external validation you’ve gotten for the conservative choices you’ve made in the past. You go to college and everyone says, “Great!” Then you graduate get a job at Google and everyone says, “Great!”
But optimizing for external validation is a dangerous trap. You’re fighting over a fixed pie against well-credentialed peers. The most likely outcome is a middle management job where you’ll have little impact and never seriously attempt to realize your ambitions.
This isn’t really about startups or not startups – it is broader than that. At the end of the day you just have to decide if that external validation is what motivates and defines you. If it doesn’t, you won’t have any problem taking the risks you want. If it does, then you’re in trouble when it stops.
External pressure can also work the other way – sometimes people are pressured into taking a risk they aren’t comfortable with based on how they are defined externally – as the A student who must go to a top school or become a lawyer or doctor – but maybe we don’t see how much they struggled to get those A’s, or what they sacrificed… and the top school may not be the best fit for them. Granted, these kinds of “risks” seem “safe” to most people – establishment even – but for the individual in question it may be very uncomfortable if it isn’t how they see themselves.
I had all the external validation I ever wanted in school, highschool, sports, college… and even work after college (working at two different startups). Often people assumed that that external validation was motivating me, but it wasn’t (to me). I majored in the subject for which I got more negative feedback rather than the ones where I was clearly an over-achiever. But I wanted the challenge that came with Computer Science. I went to the company everyone thought was a crazy choice, only to help make it a place that recruited the best graduates from all over the country. I stayed in enterprise software when everyone was starting their bootstrap website.
We even started a consulting firm when everyone says consulting isn’t starting up, or isn’t the way to go… Sometimes you just have to blaze your own trail – right or wrong.
Tying it Back to BPM…
And that independent streak partially defines how we approach BPM at BP3. We’re often given good advice, at the wrong time – too early, or too late – in terms of what to do with our business. So we have to take it under advisement, let people challenge our approach, but keep thinking for ourselves what feels right, what makes sense based on logic and analysis. We are doing something we think is right, even if conventional wisdom disagrees. The only conventional wisdom we’re really interested in is whether our customers are validating what we do by asking for more help and being great references.
We’re not expecting to build the next Google or even billion dollar company. But we’re expecting to build an organization we’re proud of, and take good care of the team that gets us all there.