In the late seventeenth century, Isaac Newton famously said ‘if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ He recognised a profound truth that ideas and innovations are seldom born in isolation; more often than not, they are simply iterations of those that came before them.
In high school, I was a sprinter. Metaphorically that is. I took on way too much. I wanted to make it big, and do it fast. My ambition and enthusiasm for education, sports and extracurricular activities exceeded my output levels, mainly because I was spread too thin. ‘The fruit of patience is very sweet,’ my father repeated reassuringly over breakfast as I gulped down my hot chocolate, but the Urdu proverb didn’t resonate at all with a young man eager to take on the world.
Winston Churchill once wisely said 'it's a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.' He was addressing the nation in a BBC broadcast, speculating on how Russia may or may not respond in the wake of one of the most uncertain times in recent history - World War II. Leaders are often judged by how they manage uncertainty: when the stakes are high, yet our control of the possible outcomes is limited. At times like this, working out probabilities and other forms of statistical analysis are of little use. Great leaders that have triumphed over the beast of uncertainty are often those that have relied on calculated intuition and instinct.
Legend has it that way back in third century Rome, Emperor Claudius II wished for a radical transformation of his army. While his soldiers were loyal and dedicated, he believed that they could give more. He wanted the success of the military to be each soldier's only meaningful purpose in life. Such men were hard to find; although many were passionate and had risked their lives for the Empire, the soldiers had their loved ones and family life outside of the army. The Emperor saw this as a weakness and a distraction, so he took the bold and ruthless step - and forbade marriage altogether.
Nearly everyone has boogied to the 70s disco tune "Kung Fu Fighting". The song topped the US Billboard charts in 1974, selling 11 million singles, yet Carl Douglas, the recording artist who sang and composed it, remains virtually unknown, having never been able to repeat his earlier success. He’s hardly alone. The ‘second album syndrome’, also known as ‘the sophomore slump’, is a common affliction among musicians, athletes, movie directors and entrepreneurs. But why is it so challenging to come back for the second act? What separates the ‘serial winners’ from the ‘one hit wonders’?
I worry. I worry a heck of a lot. In fact, I start my day with a healthy dose of worrying. But I don’t let my worrying break me down. While it’s typically associated with weakness and has a negative connotation in the world of business, what most people haven’t pondered is how wonderfully effective worrying can actually be. If channelled correctly it can turn into the positive energy and laser focus needed to execute your business objectives.
Andy Grove, the iconic late CEO of Intel, was a famous worrier and eloquently divulged his worrisome mantra in his bestseller, Only the Paranoid Survive.
Grizzly bears are often imagined as fearsome beasts, better known for their brawn than their brain. A brief study of their hibernating habits, however, would suggest a smarter, more strategic creature. Grizzlies go underground into cozy dens and hibernate for up to seven months in a year. During hibernation, they become hyper-efficient; their respiration decreases from six to ten breaths every minute to just one breath every forty-five seconds. They do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate during hibernation, living off a layer of fat built up during the summer and autumn months.
Everyone sees what you appear to be; few experience what you really are.’ - Machiavelli
If the above statement is to be believed and the Underwoods and Machiavellis of this world move among us, then, sinister as it may be, the entrepreneur must learn to navigate a world in which deceit runs rampant.
Machiavelli, the much-maligned political strategist from the 15th century, remains one of the most controversial and divisive figures in the world of business today. Many a naive entrepreneur disregards the importance of karma and reputation, and reads The Prince as if it were a self-help manual.
While filming ‘Walk the Line’, the biopic about American country music star Johnny Cash, Joaquin Phoenix bewildered audiences when he actually learned to play the guitar and sing in his character’s deep, calm, bass-baritone voice. When filming the emotionally wounded and dangerously psychotic villain Commodus in The Gladiator, Joaquin carried a sword around with him everywhere, whether on or off set.
Phoenix is an aficionado of ‘method acting’, a dramatic technique in which actors try to identify as closely as possible with the character played.
People who are on the fringes of your network can actually be more valuable to you than those closer to you. Those on the fringes - referred to by academics as ‘loose networks’ - can bring fresh ideas and plug you into more marketplaces.
‘Loose network’ builders push boundaries in their networking just as they do in their business. Its real power comes from meeting people outside your sector, outside your geography, outside your seniority, and outside your income bracket. That way, when an opportunity arises – no matter how left-field – you’ll be equipped to tap into your network.
2014 in particular saw the commercial, but also the residential property market go into hyperdrive, with property values going through the roof and the London residential market alone hitting a valuation of £1.5 trillion.
We need replastering, not just another lick of paint. Given the vivacity of the market it is surprising, then, that we are an industry that has been slow to adapt to change. Much like in the financial industry, the slow and sometimes antiquated legal, financial and brokering sides of the industry are the cause of frustration, delays, and broken deals.
‘A wise man makes his own decisions; an ignorant man follows the public opinion’ - Grantland Rice
The success of any organisation depends on the effectiveness of the decisions made. There have been many debates on the effectiveness of individual decision-making over group decision-making. My view is that ‘too many chefs spoil the broth’. Despite my strong feelings on this subject, I’m also of the view that you don’t want to build a team where everyone’s in agreement either. Having people to challenge you is something that a dynamic leader should welcome and embrace. After all, if you’re hiring A-players, they’re not there just to be ‘worker bees’.
Those that grow up with nothing often develop a deep-rooted drive which cannot be understood by those that haven't experienced the grit and gravel of real hardship. This is one of the central principles of frugal innovation. When the human mind is presented with constraints - financial or otherwise - we learn to access recesses of our brain never previously used.
In 2007, two young entrepreneurs named Cheskey and Gebbia withdrew the last few dollars from their accounts. With an immediate need to pay rent to a landlord that was quickly losing his patience, the two young upstarts were struggling badly as their world began to crumble.
After spending early childhood in Brussels, Belgium, completing secondary school at an American international school in Pakistan, surfing through university and my early career in Los Angeles, and now living in London - when people ask me where I'm from, I don't quite know what to say. The most natural response is that "I'm a global citizen" with allegiances not necessarily to a country but more to values and causes that are important to me personally. It may sound a bit nebulous, but I don't think I'm alone in my views on global citizenship. I'm convinced there is a growing base of youngish entrepreneurs in major metropolitan cities like London who'll give you an equally enigmatic response.
Taken straight from Facebook’s business plan, the above mission statement represents an emerging mantra held by today's technology entrepreneurs. Social purpose is becoming increasingly intertwined with business identity. It seems the new generation of entrepreneurs have evolved. What has emerged is a breed of ultra-bright, globally minded, new-generation leaders driven by far more than profit generation.
Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter grew up travelling the New York subway on the J-Z line - dreaming about a life of accolade and achievement. It was in his formative years that he found focus, developed a sharp mind and laid the foundations for his future success. His unshakable confidence and determined business savvy far exceeded that of his peers and he grew tired of their lack of productivity. His entrepreneurial attributes, musical ability and determination for success was palpable and developing rapidly.
"A great commander is judged by his absence." This wise old proverb has been used for many years by various armed forces around the world as a measure of great leadership. When one of my business partners (a former IDF lieutenant) used this phrase in the context of business management last week, it got me thinking. In the modern business world - young leaders-in-the-making yearn the company where seasoned, incumbent leaders can nurture their growth.
After closely analysing my working history - a history which spanned across several continents and various unrelated sectors - my career guidance councillor said these words: “You’re unemployable.” During my MBA at Oxford, landing a prestigious job at an elite consulting firm was considered the pinnacle of success - and I had just been told I didn’t fit the mould.
The martial arts require years of patience and discipline to master. Bruce Lee, conceivably the greatest martial artist of all time, dedicated his life to perfecting these methods of self-defense and built a global following for mastering his craft. Not only did he attain unprecedented levels of control of his body, but he also achieved a degree of mental discipline most thought impossible. Such were his levels of speed and prowess it is reported that during the filming of the 1970's classic "Enter the Dragon", Lee had to slow down the pace at which he moved, as the cameras could not capture his speed.