“Being negative is not how we make progress.” – Google’s Larry Page, Google I/O Conference, 5/15/13
Yesterday, Facebook friend Dave Morin (brainy CEO of Path), posted a quote from Larry Page’s May 15th Google I/O 2013 presentation. Larry Page’s quote: “Being negative is not how we make progress.”
No disrespect to Larry Page (he’s a smart guy), but that’s myth disproved by mountains of scientific research. Being negative can actually be healthy (both personally and professionally) and propel progress. Martin Seligman’s University of Pennsylvania research found that optimism can prevent people from seeing reality with necessary clarity and foster complacency. A University of Waterloo study found that negative thinking can improve your finances. University of Chicago research found that negative feedback inspired experienced professionals to strive harder than positive feedback. A European study of 40,000 people found that being overly optimistic was associated with a higher risk of disability and death.
Illustrious innovator and inventor Thomas Edison agreed.
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress.” – Thomas Edison
“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.” – Thomas Edison
Does being negative kill progress? No. A healthy dose of pessimism can motivate you go out there and make it happen. Other biz “taboos” with surprising benefits: renegade thinking, rewarding failure, creative destruction, team competition, productive friction, and collaboration with competitors.
No hard feelings, Larry Page. Your dad was a computer science professor at MSU and I’m a loyal Spartan.
The Lean Startup Movement proclaimed the power of the pivot (“quick course corrections from one idea to the next”). Eric Ries and his band of merry men have convinced entrepreneurs everywhere that pivots are the salvation of startups.
The problem with pivots?
When you pivot, you trade a set of known problems for a new set of unknown problems.
True success takes time. You succeed by learning, through incremental gains.
Pivots can prevent learning and mask the real problem: bad execution.
“We pivoted” often means “our execution sucked.”
Most startups pivot too soon, rather than improving execution of ideas that have yet to reach their full potential.
Successful startups set vision, think big, execute well, and evolve incrementally.
In his recent Huffington Post column titled, “Why Most Venture Backed Companies Fail,” brainy BTM Institute founder Faisal Hoque agrees.
“As many as 75% of venture-backed companies never return cash to investors, with 30-40% of those liquidating assets where investors lose all of their money. The success rate of private equity firms isn’t much better,” Faisal writes. “Money doesn’t guarantee success; only effective execution can deliver that goal. I believe improving the odds for venture-backed companies requires better execution. Creating value from any venture is hard work…”
Research points to the challenges of execution/commercialization: 70% of CEOs who fail do so not because of bad strategy, but because of bad execution.¹ For every seven new product ideas, only 1.5 are launched, and only 1 succeeds.²
Tempted to pivot to something new? You might do better by taking stock of your assets and executing upon them better. According to a Bain & Company study, 9 out of 10 companies that revived growth after a downturn did so by better leveraging existing assets rather than pivoting to new ones.
Ideas have to be executed well to generate value. Before you change course and pivot prematurely, ask yourself if your real problem is execution.
Earlier today, Groupon fired CEO Andrew Mason. Mason posted his exit letter publicly, noting that it would eventually be leaked to the press anyway.
Mason’s letter begins:
“You become what you disrupt.”
The Dave McClure / 500 Startups “#UNSEXY CONFERENCE” is breaking buzz sound barriers today. Many tweeps are retweeting a meme quipped during one of today’s sessions by Jesse Robbins, CEO of Opscode / O’Reilly Radar contributor / and Co-Chair of the Velocity Conference. The quote? “You Become What You Disrupt.”
Jesse Robbins originally advanced this theory in 2007. Back then, he used Skype to illustrate his point. Alas, the glory days of Skype are long over. Skype has had its share of problems and it only gets worse (it lacks context, it’s de facto illegal in many countries, and overwrought with bugs, crashes, patches, and fixes). But back then, Jesse upheld Skype as a shining star example and declared, “you become what you disrupt.”
Disruption is temporal. You don’t become what you disrupt. You become what you sustain. Disruption by no means equals sustainable success. You may successfully disrupt but fail to be successful. Disruption creates an opportunity to become something else *OR* flame out quickly. You are creating a space for evolution. And unless your company is prepared, poised and perfectly positioned for EVOLUTION — pursuing unmitigated disruption and revolution will merely accelerate your path to failure. Laurence Capron’s recent research proves what we already know instinctively: business survival depends on differentiated products and services, multifaceted growth strategies, and management leadership capabilities.
A few poignant stories:
On Friday, Jeffrey Phillips (@ovoinnovation) tweeted “As we say in Texas, the only things in the middle of the road are yellow lines and roadkill. Innovation isn’t for everyone.” He followed up his tweet with a blog post in which he declared that innovation is only about the edge and disruption. Balderdash, we thought. Only Jim Hightower (twice elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner) and his merry band of populists talk trash about the middle of the road and dead armadillos. Ever heard of the excluded middle law? The idea that “middle of the road” is bad is a false dilemma. Sometimes middle of the road options are better.
My mechanic told me, “I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.”
Is this the way your company views innovation? Are you desperately pursuing disruptive innovation while overlooking the real problem?
You aren’t alone. According to the Wall Street Journal…
Ahh yes. The disease of INNOVATION has consumed the world. And there’s really only one cure. It’s time to get back to basic good business.
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