There are a lot of variables that go in to building a successful company. That list could be a post in and of itself, so I’ll list just a few; product market fit, timing, a clear vision, effective leadership, a deep bench, capital (monetary, human and other), customers, revenue and a dash of luck. For this post I’m going to work under the assumption that most of the above are in place. If that’s not the case, then there are bigger problems that need to be addressed. Assuming we’re good here, then two primary strategies (yes speed and purpose are strategies and competitive advantages) when integrated can amplify results by orders of magnitude. Speed and purpose.
There is no guarantee that any business is going to succeed. In fact, most fail, as is common knowledge. Even if a business has all the above and incorporate speed and purpose in the strategy it does not mean the business will succeed. However, it significantly increases the likelihood, especially for early stage companies that need momentum in order to gain traction in the market.
Let’s Start with Speed
Speed is absolutely a competitive advantage, especially for new companies competing against larger, slower, mature incumbents. Just look at how quickly markets and industries get transformed now compared to the 20th century. There is a graveyard of big brands / industries that couldn’t make the turn fast enough to compete against smaller, faster and more aggressive companies. And it happens quickly. It’s not so much that change happens, as change has always happened, it’s much more about how quickly the change happens. There are two primary driving forces as to why the change happens so quickly; NewCo doesn’t accept the status quo and works at a much faster pace (meaning little market research, no steering committee meetings and decisions made in hours not months) and today’s technology is the foundation speed is built on. Today’s technology allows smaller, less capitalized companies to compete and go to market in a way that just wasn’t possible 30 years ago.
That’s the upside of speed. The downside of speed is if a team is heading in the wrong direction, too many directions or just working quickly for the sake of working quickly with no end result in mind it will either drive off a cliff or run out of gas. Both are bad and both end in a trail of tears. Speed is only a competitive advantage and only amplifies work if it’s combined with the right purpose.
Let’s Talk About Purpose
Ah, the ever elusive purpose. Purpose is the why vs. the what or the how. Why does a business do what it does? Why does a team do what it does? Why does a person do what they do? I’m asking these questions in the context of business not the context of psychology. If there is no purpose than a business, a team, a meeting or an employee won’t exist. The questions I often ask myself and my team is “what are we trying to accomplish here and does it help achieve the ultimate purpose?” If I don’t like the answer, then I re-evaluate doing it all. This includes, meetings, conference calls, projects, products or anything we’re spending time on. Activity for the sake of activity is NOT the goal. Activity for the sake of producing a very specific result that is tied to the ultimate purpose is the goal. I strongly believe that if whatever is happening can’t be tied to a specific result and ultimate purpose than it shouldn’t be done. Period. I have no data to back up this next statement but I believe half of meetings don’t need to happen and those that are left should take half the time.
Every business, team and meeting will have its own purpose, defined by those involved, but they should be consistent and coherent with the ultimate purpose of the business. If the purpose is not clearly defined that’s a sign of poor leadership.
The upside of purpose is it helps given direction and focus to the organization, team, product, and people. However, if everything revolves around purpose, but is done too slowly a business will likely end up in the same place as a business that works with speed and no purpose; a trail of tears. There is also a graveyard of businesses that had a “great” purpose, but just moved to slowly to ever capture the momentum needed to become a leader in the market. Purpose in a vacuum sounds cool and makes for a great dissertation or whitepaper, but alone will produce as much value as the paper the dissertation is written on.
Integration of Speed and Purpose
In today’s environment a company (new or mature) must move with speed. Period. It’s not optional. As importantly, that speed must be tied to a purpose, a specific result it is trying to produce, in order to be successful. There are many people and businesses who are “fast” and are always so “busy” because they have “so” much going on, but they aren’t going anywhere. It’s as if they have a shovel and they’re just digging a giant hole for no reason other than to dig a giant hole. It’s weird to observe from the outside. There are many people and businesses who have a very specific purpose, but they aren’t actually doing anything. They have a great narrative, website, product, deck, mission statement, culture, etc, but when asked what all of that has produced regarding results, the answer is often very little. It’s just too slow.
Then, there are the select few businesses and people who work with speed and purpose and it’s very apparent based on the results they produce. It’s apparent when I walk in the building. It’s apparent when I interact with their people. It’s apparent when they participate in meetings. It’s apparent in their culture. It’s hard to miss it once you’ve seen it or been a part of it. It’s glaringly obvious when it’s not there.
Again, there is no guarantee of success. However, there are common attributes for companies and people that do succeed. Two of these are speed and purpose and when combined together they significantly increase the likelihood that a business will succeed and decrease the likelihood that it ends in a trail of tears. So, define the purpose for the business, team, call, meeting or person and then move super fast to achieve that purpose.