Leadership lessons in a crisis from Shackleton’s Endurance expedition

You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things that you think you could not before.

This statement was made by Rahm Emanuel, then the incoming Chief of Staff of the Obama administration. He famously channeled Stanford Nobel Laureate Paul Romer’s saying, A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Waste it they did not. Acting with speed and purpose, coming into office the Obama administration pushed a wealth of transformative legislation.

Over the last week I’ve been speaking with startup founders about how the COVID-19 crisis is catalyzing their businesses thinking into make stuff happen. We agreed it is all about decisive leadership, and many are looking for stories of great leadership outside of business for inspiration.

I’ve referenced to many the most dangerous moment in human history: the morning of Tuesday, October 16, 1962. President John F. Kennedy had reviewed photographic evidence of the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off America’s coast, and thus began thirteen days of existential crisis. The whole nature of life, the shape and future of humanity, was at stake.

The Cuban missile crisis is a chilling tale, for the showdown could easily have gone another way, but for Kennedy’s leadership. Kennedy was cool, rational, careful and willing to compromise. Check out Robert F. Kennedy’s Thirteen Days: A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it relates the key leadership lessons from JFK: he was a leader driven by facts, not preconceptions, by the larger good, and not by his own ego or pride, wanting to be seen as a hero.

In our own hours of slow-motion, there’s real value in engaging with the stories of how leaders have reacted amid tension and tumult in their moments of truth. The vicissitudes of history show us that the past can give us hope that human ingenuity and character can save us from the abyss and keep us on a path to broad, sunlit uplands.

Alas in our current crisis, Boris Johnson hasn’t given me feelings of reassurance and confidence as Kennedy gave the American people. Over the last weeks I’ve not heard a speech from him that assured me with its moral seriousness, depth, or authentic presentation of facts. His utterances are invariably political rhetoric.

Leaders in a crisis need to be able to command authority, trust and respect, implement a coherent strategy, instil confidence, and reassure a nation for whom normal life has been suspended. Johnson is clever but essentially unserious. He seems ill prepared and ponderous. What is striking is just how inarticulate he is when not working from a prepared script.

Johnson can’t find an appropriate tone or method of persuasion. He tried to be statesman like – I must level with the British people – and he tried to be optimistic – We can turn the tide in 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident we can send coronavirus packing in this country – but he lacks gravitas and sounds like quick fire, jejune soundbites from a raconteur.

In the political arena the obvious examples of successful crisis leadership are Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Both were somewhat erratic decision-makers, but they made up for it by being brilliant communicators. Their styles differed, but the public had little difficulty in understanding their core message. Roosevelt made clear that he was willing to try any combination of new ideas in an attempt to end the Depression; Churchill was unambiguous about the need for Britain to resist Nazi Germany, whatever the cost.

For me, startup leaders should resist the temptation to give Churchillian speeches and learn from the calm authority of Roosevelt’s ‘fireside chats’, aiming to connect with the individual whilst speaking to the masses. A leader is a dealer in hope during a crisis, and being calm provides more reassurance than a rebel-rousing call-to-action.

So, let’s look at a story of truly great leadership, applying the lessons of someone who has come before us, and be inspired by their performance to shed light on our paths to the future for our own startup.

Ernest Shackleton was an Irishman of Yorkshire parentage, and one of the greatest Antarctic explorers. Shackleton’s most famous expedition was that of 1914-1916. Lessons have been drawn from his leadership style in this expedition, and how they can be applied to crisis situations. It’s a remarkable story.

Shackleton set out at the age of forty on a self-funded voyage to make what was considered the last great expedition left on Earth – an 1,800 mile crossing of the Antarctic on foot. His ship was the aptly named Endurance, after his family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus by endurance we conquer. The Endurance expedition lasted from August 8, 1914 to August 30, 1916. It was one crisis after another.

All was well at the outset, until just one day’s sail from its destination on the Antarctic coast when the ship got stuck in pack ice. Shackleton and his men were stranded on an ice floe 1,200 miles from land, with no means of communication – and no hope of rescue. When it seemed the situation could not get any worse it did, as the pack ice dragged the ship north for ten months, 600 miles, and then crushed the Endurance. The men were forced to camp on the ice shelf and watch as the ship sank.

All they had were three small lifeboats salvaged from Endurance, just twenty-five feet long to upturn as somewhere to shelter. Temperatures were so low the sea froze. Subsisting on a diet of penguins and seals, they spent four months in the darkness of the polar winter. And then the ice began to melt. After four months of mind-numbing boredom and danger sat on the ice floe, they were suddenly pitched into an intense battle for survival.

In the lifeboats they battled raging, freezing seas for a week, before making land at Elephant Island. It was inhospitable, with no animals for food or fresh water. Shackleton then took five men and sailed another 800 miles in one of the lifeboats, the James Caird, over tumultuous seas to reach South Georgia, part of the Falkland Islands, for help. Their journey lasted sixteen days, navigated only with a sextant.

When they greeted the whaling station manager, Thoralf Sorlle, he looked at them incredulously: Who the hell are you? The remarkable voyage of the James Caird was from April 24 to May 10, 1916. Spending just four days recovering, Shackleton led the rescue effort of his stranded crew. He saved the lives of 27 men stranded. Every single one survived.

‘Shackleton’s Way’ – his leadership philosophy from the Endurance expedition – resonates with themes and messages any startup leader can can take into their venture today. His people-centric leadership style saw them survive against the odds. He built this on camaraderie, loyalty, responsibility, determination and, above all, optimism. The key elements to ‘Shackleton’s Way’ maybe summarised as follows:

Be values based Fortitudine Vincimus by endurance we conquer. Shackleton’s family values shaped his uniquely progressive leadership style. He turned bad experiences into valuable lessons and he insisted on respect for the individual in a climate that demanded cooperation.

A spirit of camaraderie Shackleton created spirit and intimacy between the men. He established order and routine so all his staff knew where they stood, but broke down traditional hierarchies. He used informal gatherings to build an esprit de corps, and spent time with every one individually.

Coach the best from each individual Shackleton led by example. He accepted and understood his crewmen’s quirks and weaknesses. He used informal one-to-one talks to build a bond with his men. He was always willing to help others get their work done. He helped each man reach their potential.

Leading from the front Shackleton let everyone know that he was confident of success. He inspired optimism in everyone. He put down dissent by keeping the malcontents close to him. He got everyone to let go of the past and focus on the future. He sometime led by doing nothing.

Build self-managing teams Shackleton balanced talent and expertise in each team. He ensured all his groups were keeping pace. He remained visible and vigilant. He shored up the weakest links. He got teams to help each other.

Overcoming obstacles together Shackleton took responsibility for getting the job done. He often took risks. He found the inspiration to continue. He kept sight of the big picture. He stepped outside his role as leader to personally help others in their own roles.

Shackleton faced a personal crisis but was famous for ‘thinking on his feet’ time and time again on the Endurance expedition, developing six ‘crisis leadership’ skills:

Challenge your assumptions With the devastating changes in circumstance, Shackleton had to constantly change his thinking. The biggest challenge of leadership is our unspoken attitudes and beliefs we cling to about our businesses, and the need to challenge these.

In the current crisis, rethink your assumptions and attitudes, don’t cling to the past.

Change your perspective Stranded on Elephant Island, Shackleton had to take a fresh perspective and be open-minded. We tend to rely on information that proves us right and screen out anything that contradicts our prevailing point of view. As a result, we often filter, distort or ignore the information, so that we only see what we want to see.

Changing your perspective doesn’t mean throwing out all your old ideas, just the ones that get in the way of on-going change.

Ask the right questions Questions open up new ideas and possibilities. Too often we get stuck by focusing on the solution rather than the problem. Instead, ask future looking questions. Shackleton had to ask himself the right questions, before even thinking about solutions.

What if? Is a great way of unblocking the boundaries to your thinking at the present time.

Question the right answer Most problems have multiple solutions, some are better, easier, cheaper, or more feasible than others, but rarely is there only one right answer. Never settle for the first good answer. Good often gets in the way of great. Shackleton had to identify and then evaluate his options, looking for good and bad points within each.

Don’t jump to solutions, ask yourself What are the options here?

Be honest with empathy Shackleton faced each new crisis head on, topmost on his mind was being honest but optimistic. There are the obvious key concerns, and silence on such matters is dangerous. In the end, failure to tell the truth rapidly erodes trust and confidence. It’s also important you adopt the right tone, it can matter as much as having the right message.

It’s also essential you tell the truth. Shackleton was calm and transparent, and told his men he didn’t have an immediate plan to get them home safely, but was working on one. Shackleton was emphatic about accepting where they were at a given moment, and dealing with that.

You can promise everything to the many until you are unable to deliver even a little to the few. Don’t back yourself into this corner.

Listen Shackleton took time to listen to his men’s concerns and answer their questions. He recognised that the quieter you become, the more you can hear. At a time of a highly infectious disease, an online virtual coffee gathering of your team enables you to listen to their voices, listen to their concerns.

In the midst our own current crisis, startup founders need to grab Shackleton’s mantle, and take inspiration from Intel’s Andy Grove who famously said, Bad companies are destroyed by crisis; good companies survive them; great companies are improved by them.

Shackleton was essentially a fighter, but he was overflowing with kindness and generosity, affectionate and loyal to his crew. His personal motto was reach beyond your expectations. So push yourself forward, be a Shackleton not a Johnson. COVID-19 sees us all facing our Antarctic moment.

‘Dream of painting, then paint your dream’ – inspiration for entrepreneurs from Van Gogh

Einstein’s favourite habit was gedankenerfahrung, it’s when he’d close his eyes and imagined how physics worked in the real world, instead of formulas drawn on a chalkboard.

When he was 16 he imagined what it would be like to ride on a beam of light – how it would travel and how it would bend? He contemplated gravity by imagining bowling balls and billiard balls competing for space on a trampoline surface.

Gedankenerfahrung means ‘thought experiment’, daydreaming. Imagination has nothing to do with physics, but Einstein’s imagination is what made him a genius physicist, connecting his math skills to his dreaming in a way that let him see what others could not.

Entrepreneurs have something of this too, outlier success comes from them going out of their way to be disruptive, to make people think differently. Likewise artists, thinking in pictures and images, using their imagination to navigate the human experience to present new ideas.

Vincent Van Gogh was one such artist, where fantasy and reality merged in some of his most enduring paintings. With his bright sunflowers, searing wheat fields and blazing yellow skies, Van Gogh was a fanatic about light, giving the world many of its most treasured paintings. His 1888 Sunflowers remains one of the most popular still life in the history of art.

But he was also enthralled with night time. The painter of the most audacious, crazy, passionate, frenzied, unleashed bursts of brushwork, may be more evident in his daylight paint­ings, but in paintings such as his iconic The Starry Night, painted while in an asylum in Saint-Rémy, his touch is more restrained and you really see his craftsmanship and endeavour.

Van Gogh’s was only an artist for the last decade of his life. Before painting pictures that would adorn the walls of the most celebrated museums, he tried (and failed) at three other careers. He spent the final years of his life traveling through Belgium, Holland, and France in pursuit of his artistic vision.

Alone in a studio or in the fields, Van Gogh’s discipline was as firm as his genius was unruly, and he taught himself all the elements of classical technique with pains­taking thoroughness. He had initially absorbed the dark palette of great Dutch painters such as Rembrandt. As an art student in Antwerp, he had the opportunity to see the work of contemporaries and frequent cafés and exhibitions.

There, having encountered young painters like Gauguin, as well as older artists such as Monet, the brighter colours and the expressive force he’d been searching for erupted. He painted feverishly. And then, just as he achieved a new mastery over brush and pigment, he lost control of his life. In a fit of hallucinations and anguish, he severed part of his ear and delivered it to a prostitute at a local brothel.

After neighbours petitioned the police, he was locked up in a hospital. From then on, the fits recurred unpredictably, and he spent most of the last two years of his life in asylums, painting what he could see through the bars of his window or from the surrounding gardens and fields.

Van Gogh never thought his paintings would become such stars in the art firmament. In 1890, less than two months before he ended his life with a pistol shot, he wrote to a Paris newspaper critic who had praised his work, It is absolutely certain that I shall never do important things.

Van Gogh shot himself soon after painting The Starry Night and died two days later. Painted in June 1889, it depicts the view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy, just before sunrise, with the addition of an idealised village. Against the backdrop of this poignant biography, Van Gogh’s night pictures take on added significance, for it was to the night sky, and to the stars, that Van Gogh often looked for solace.

The night scenes captured his interest in mixing dreams and reality, observation and imagination. He lived at night. He didn’t sleep until three or four in the morning. He wrote, read, drank, went to see friends, spent entire nights in cafés or meditated over the rich associations he saw in the night sky.

It was during the night hours that his experiments with imagination and memory went the farthest. The Starry Night he considered a failed attempt at abstraction. Vincent didn’t live to know that in his reaching for the stars, he had created a masterpiece.

The Starry Night was painted in Van Gogh’s ground-floor studio in the asylum, a view which he painted variations of no fewer than twenty-one times, depicted at different times of day and under various weather conditions, including sunrise, moonrise, sunshine-filled days, overcast days, windy days, and one day with rain. The Starry Night is the only nocturne in the series of views.

Although he sold only one painting during his lifetime, his idiosyncratic, emotionally evocative style has continued to influence artists to the present day. His unstable, impulsive personal temperament became synonymous with the romantic image of the tortured artist, using gestural application of paint and symbolic colours to express subjective emotions.

Entrepreneurs know the value of being innovative and memorable like Van Gogh, unlocking new conversations and possibilities. Modern day entrepreneurial behaviours mirror Van Gogh’s, so what we can learn from his attitude and approach to his art that will guide us in our startup thinking? Here are my thoughts, with quotes from Van Gogh to illustrate his entrepreneurial attitudes.

Open mindedness One must spoil as many canvases as one succeeds with. Van Gogh’s work was always drawn from a huge range of influences. His uniqueness was often the product of combining existing elements in new ways, with a prowess for producing something entirely his own, throwing ideas together randomly to discover new combinations and possibilities. This ability to create genuine uniqueness is a key trait of entrepreneurs.

Restlessness For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream. Van Gogh never succumbed to the stick-to-a-formula mantra. At the height of the success he pressed the eject button, and re-emerged with something completely new and unexpected. Not all of his experiments worked, but this willingness to try out new ideas, knowing that not all will triumph, is a trait every innovator needs.

Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process. Van Gogh was a thinker, hungry for new experiences to stimulate his creativity. Socialising your own startup idea with other entrepreneurs will help shape, inform and improve your thinking. Never miss the opportunity for gaining and sharing insight.

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination I dream of painting and then I paint my dream. Reality, plus a sprinkle of imagination and intuition, turns that which seems impossible into something that is possible. If you can imagine it, and you can believe it, you can achieve it by asking yourself the question, ‘What if?’ Then go do.

The ability to follow your gut instincts as an entrepreneur is vital to the creation process and carving out your own niche. Steve Jobs followed his instincts to create the iPhone as Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel.

You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything? You are what you are! Ignore the naysayers, your startup is your road of self-discovery. Listen to your inner voice and stand up tall knowing who you are. Like Van Gogh, have ambition that reaches way beyond your current horizon.

Your audience or customers are craving the unexpected – give it to them I hope to make something good one day. I haven’t yet, but I am pursuing it and fighting for it. They want to be wowed. Why not come up with some novel, out of the box ideas like Van Gogh did, and give them a little clue about the depth of your uniqueness?

The artist can easily be pulled into copying what is ‘trendy’, but the best artist and entrepreneurs don’t copy, they produce outside of the norm. The most successful aren’t trying to think outside the proverbial box, they no longer see ‘the box’ as they aren’t trying to copy, they are interested in creating something new and improving upon what has already been done.

Be bold and experiment If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced When a canvas (or any startup venture) starts, the learning and journey are as important as the end result. You should always experiment, prototype and be thoughtful about the whole process. Look to the future, but start with the small steps today. Van Gogh left many unfinished canvases, which may not have been true reflections of his intended meaning, but they added to his thinking.

Value critique There may be a great fire in our hearts, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke. Being different and disruptive doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to other opinions. Artists are accustomed to hearing direct critique, incorporating feedback into their work, and defending their choices.

Practicing accepting critique can vastly improve not only your products but your entire startup process. This is what stands at the basis of the Lean Startup Method — get feedback, iterate, improve and continue with speed in order to one day get it right.

Take pride in your work Paintings have a life of their own that derives from the painter’s soul. Van Gogh strove for perfection, to create something that resonated with his identity, a personal statement about himself. The products, content, and service you provide from your startup should be a reflection of yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t settle for ‘good enough’. Van Gogh told other artists to Make sure it’s so good it doesn’t die with you, and you can apply that to any product or service.

Keep working – do it for yourself One must work and dare if one really wants to live. Don’t let anyone’s opinion of your work stop you from doing what you are so driven to do. The work will evolve. Don’t ever try to deliberately force your work to fit the desires of the masses. First and foremost, focus on your practice. Second, make sure you have a strong, cohesive body of work. Third, make your presence known.

Prioritise consistency over heroic efforts For the great doesn’t happen through impulse alone, and is a succession of little things that are brought together People often assume that art is a part-time muse-fuelled blitz, pouring out genius. But that’s simply not the case. Though inspiration can suddenly strike, turning it into a tangible finished product is a matter of sustained effort.

It’s getting up every day and doing the work, taking thousands of fresh touches and refreshes alongside the productive mornings. It’s the same for your startup, it’s a combination of inspiration and sheer hard work.

Both the artist and entrepreneur must get their ideas and products into the marketplace and into the hands of customers. We don’t know the artist who kept their art at home hidden away. The same is true of entrepreneurs who we admire – they got out of the building and their ideas into the hands of customers.

For Van Gogh, it ended in tragedy at the young age of 37 with a self-induced gunshot to the abdomen. During his life, Van Gogh produced some of the most revolutionary works of art the world has ever known. What’s holding your entrepreneurial dream? Dream of painting and then paint your dream.

As a startup founder, your future is unwritten

Rebel’s Wood is a young forest on the Atlantic-facing North West side of the Isle of Skye. Hidden away on the shores of Loch Bracadale is this beautiful woodland of native broad leaf trees, predominantly Birch, Alder, Rowan, Oak and Willow. This healthy young forest is doing well after taking a while to poke their heads above the bracken, due to the slow growing conditions of the far North.

The wood was formed by some 8,000 saplings being planted in 2003 in memory of Joe Strummer, founder and front man of the Clash, who died in 17 years ago yesterday, December 22, 2002 aged 50 from a rare heart condition. Strummer was instrumental in setting up the Future Forests campaign, dedicated to planting trees across the world to combat global warming, so it’s an appropriate commemoration.

Joe Strummer was a pioneering, enterprising musician, one of a special few. The Clash were one of the great rebel rock bands of all time, fusing a variety of musical styles, with riotous live performances, and left-wing political and social activism, that inspired many. Through his songwriting Strummer showed young people his radicalism, defiance, and resistance to social injustice. I wonder what he’d make of our country today.

After releasing their final album in 1985, the Clash split, and Strummer went into a personal wilderness for over a decade. Returning with what was to be his final music venture, with a new band, The Mescaleros, Strummer was reborn. Remarkably, his final music displays a steadfast work ethic and renewed creativity, experimentation and innovation in his musicianship.

Strummer and The Mescaleros recorded three magnificent albums, which showcase a reborn, vibrant Strummer producing music radically different from his previous work.  More insightful and mature, a collection of stunning compositions and poetic, freely associative lyrics concerning a host of global subjects close to his heart.

On 15 November 2002, Strummer and the Mescaleros played a benefit gig for striking fire fighters in London, at Acton Town Hall. Mick Jones, his former partner in The Clash was in the audience, and in an impromptu act, joined the band on stage to play a few classic Clash tunes. This performance marked the first time since 1983 that Strummer and Jones had performed together. But within three weeks, Strummer was dead.

Strummer made his mark, redefining music, and reaffirming the principles of committed, intelligent political and social commentary and opposition through music. For someone who used his music to galvanize and promote progressive action, his final performance was most fitting.

In 2018, a 32-song compilation album titled Joe Strummer 001 was released, featuring previously unheard demos from The Clash, twelve new songs and Strummer’s final recordings. This was the last time we heard from Joe Strummer.

Strummer was dynamic, controversial and confrontational. His social conscience, attitude and acerbic, verbal wit in his lyrics, and cutting, humane and distinct voice made him one of the most talismanic musicians we’ve ever seen. He epitomises disruptive creativity. Originality was a trait characterising both the man and musician.

His brutally confessional and outspoken work was a huge influence on subsequent generations of singers, songwriters and social reformers. He made people think, he made me think. In the years since his death, his image has become a staple of T-shirts and posters, used as a symbol of individuality. He had interesting things to say, and was more interested in pushing boundaries than just making commercial music.

Strummer’s ideology of constant innovation and originality in his craft is very rare. His zest and restlessness puts him alongside the names we associate with C21st tech entrepreneurship and innovation, people who’ve built amazing digital services, devices, new business models or social-media platforms. Like them, Strummer wanted to open up fundamental opportunities for humanity, but through his music rather than tech.

Strummer had the entrepreneurial spark that emphasises experimentation and individuality. Cloning produces replicas, not originals. Originality. What does it mean to you? Originality results from the power of imagination, like Picasso and Einstein, Bowie, Jobs and Musk.

It’s up to the individual to take advantage of that imagination and turn it into something great. When you dare to be an original, you are in essence daring to be yourself and who you really are. That’s entrepreneurship. It’s true. Life is too short to live it trying to be anything other than your true original self. Be who you are, and be it the best way you know how.

So, how to remember Joe Strummer, as the seventeenth anniversary of his untimely death passes. The John Lennon of his generation, reflecting on his personality, his voice, his actions and his personal values, what can we take from Strummer the individual and the musician into our startup business thinking?

Start small Bootstrapping and learning your craft, with a strong work ethic and determination, will always give you the foundations to make your dream a reality. You have to make a start, make it happen for yourself. Strummer never forgot where it all started for him: I bought a ukulele. No kidding. I saved some money, £1.99, and bought it down Shaftesbury Avenue. Then the guy I was busking with taught me to play Johnny B. Goode. I was on my own for the first time with this ukulele and Johnny B. Goode. And that’s how I started.

Never give up attitude One eminent trait of Strummer was that no matter what the obstacles, he never gave up. He was self-driven. Unlike ordinary men, he displayed determination to continue and keep moving forward through all challenges. He had a clear idea of what he wanted and was wholeheartedly driven to do the right thing. Persistence is very important. You should not give up unless you are forced to give up.

Aim for the big picture Strummer wanted to be the best, get his voice heard above everyone else. He had something to say. He was ready to take big risks when there were no short-term gains in sight. There was a time when no one believed in him or his music, but this did not dent his self-belief. He just kept going – keep the big vision, take small steps – and then with The Mescaleros he went again, saw success. Nothing is impossible.

Strummer was audacious, his philosophy reflected in these quotes:

Listen to the voices in your head – what do you mean, you don’t hear voices inside your head, is it just me then? Whatever the voices tell you, trust them and your instinct, and go for it. Trust yourself and your intuition.

Expect a lot from yourself, believe in yourself Don’t let someone else define your agenda, you decide what is possible for you. Dare to believe you can be the best, and make it happen. Embrace challenges and setbacks as defining moments, learn from them, use them as springboards.

Chose your attitude Regardless of appearances, no one escapes life without enduring tough moments and cul-de-sacs. The truth is, life is messy and unpredictable. The difference between those who overcome challenges and those who succumb to them is largely one of attitude.

Build prototypes Joe’s risk-taking and creativity always had a balance between experimentation and implementation. He didn’t just throw caution to the wind. He prototyped and tested many versions of his songs, he re-recorded constantly, always looking for some new and unique angle.

For each finished track, there were about twenty alternate takes in different styles and genres. He practiced each version over and over until something clicked. If after a while, he couldn’t come up with something that met his standards, he dumped it.

He was tirelessly, unflaggingly optimistic Despite all his trials and tribulations, Strummer also had an ace up his sleeve – he had a resolute glass-half-full mentality, ignoring the doubters and naysayers. The secret to his innovation lied in his enthusiasm. If you wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be better, it is a bright day. Otherwise, it’s not.

The future is unwritten There were moments when Strummer wanted to be left with his thoughts. He liked being alone, he needed time to compute what he had listened to and heard. He once said Thinking is what gets me out of bed in the mornings. But according to his wife Lucinda, it was also his excuse for burning the midnight oil. He would say, ‘I’m thinking, I’m thinking.’ And I would go: ‘No you’re not, you’re just staying up!'”

The future is unwritten is a headline quote just before his death, which captures the essence of Strummer and entrepreneurs, restless, curious individual, never satisfied with the status quo. He continuously searched out anything he could do to break new ground. This helped him grow as an artist and human being, and further distanced himself from others. He was an individual, in every sense of the word.

In today’s startup environment, we have to be different to be seen. Don’t be a sheep in wolf’s clothing, or another sheep’s clothing. It’s better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation. Individualism is a human thing. Don’t waste your time trying to be a copycat. Be yourself, stand out from the crowd, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Being Joe Strummer meant turning rebellion into meaning. He hit a chord in my youth that has never stopped humming. Strummer was the key that opened the door for me out of teenage apathy, giving me inspiration.

It’s Christmas 2019. The offices are empty, the roads are quiet. All around the world, people are putting on Clash songs today in tribute as they remember Joe Strummer lives forever. Take a leaf our of Joe’s book, and remember as a startup founder, your future is unwritten. Go easy, step lightly, stay free.

Directions to Rebel’s Wood – From Dunvegan follow the A836 South for half a mile; turn right onto the B884 and follow for half a mile; turn left to Orbost (signposted) and follow for two miles. Park in the yard and follow on foot the track to Bharcasig (Barabhaig) and continue south to the site.

Innovation lesssons from Carl Elsener III and his Swiss Army Knife

Carl Elsener III started his working life as a teenage apprentice cutler straight from school, but from these humble beginnings went on to turn a relatively simple penknife into a global phenomenon – the multi-functional Swiss Army Knife.

The famous red-handled knife with the Swiss white cross has held a lifetime fascination for me, offering a spoon, fork, compass, screwdriver, mini-screwdriver for spectacles, can opener, wood and metal saw, toothpick, tweezers, scissors, pliers, key ring, fish-scaler and magnifying glass. Moving with the times, some latest models come with an LED light, laser pointer, USB memory stick, digital clock, Bluetooth or even MP3 player, but I’ve stuck with the basic model.

Elsener is up there as one of the greatest innovators of all time, with his product shaping a lasting impression of innovation, ingenuity and uniqueness. Today, 45,000 knives are produced daily in Ibach, Switzerland, providing current annual revenues of more than $500m and making Victorinox the largest cutlery manufacturer in Europe.

It started when Elsener’s grandfather opened a cutlery business in 1884. In 1891 the company won its first contract with the Swiss army. Members of the Swiss military received the first Elsener-designed knife, complete with a blade, reamer, screwdriver, and can opener. In 1897, he introduced the Officer’s Knife, which included a corkscrew. After his mother died in 1909, he chose her name, Victoria, as his trademark, then added the suffix inox (stainless steel was also called inox steel from the French noxydable) in 1921 as a nod to the tough components.

Elsener took over as CEO from his father in 1950 when the knives were still hand made. After introducing machine production, he quickly recognised the popularity of his Schweizer Offiziersmesser (‘Officer’s Knife’) among US forces personnel based in post-war Europe. It was the Americans who, unable to get their tongues round Offiziersmesser, first called it the Swiss Army Knife.

He was a tireless man who could work until two in the morning. When he woke up in the middle of the night with an idea, he wrote it down on the wallpaper so as not to forget it. Despite his success, his motto remained: Gueti sache chone immer no bässer wärde – Good things can always be made better.

US sales declined sharply after 9/11. Once a popular item at airport duty-free stores, the knives were banned from air travel. Victorinox refused to lay off employees, instead coming up with an unorthodox solution: it leased workers to other companies, but continued to pay their wages. The company has since adapted some of their products to be flight-friendly, including versions that contain all of the original tools minus any blades.

Does the Swiss army actually use Swiss Army knives today? Absolutely! The army also has an implement not found on civilian models that can open ammunition cans and scrape carbon from firearms. Not much of a weapon there. Corkscrews. Bottle openers. Come on, buddy, let’s go. You get past me, the guy in the back of me, he’s got a spoon. Back off, I’ve got the toe clippers right here. Apologies for the comedy, but I’ve had my Swiss Army Knife since a thirteen year old scout, and not sure I could fight off more than a rabid squirrel.

NASA commissioned a special edition for their astronauts, and the knife has been invaluable in various space mission emergencies, including the first time the space shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station, and one of the tools on the pocket knife was used to open the hatch connecting the two. There are pictures of the moment the penknife was used to open the hatch.

Swiss Army Knives in space is just one of the many extraordinary episodes in the history of Elsener’s product. These include bespoke penknives being made for US presidents, and models of the original Swiss Army Knife being placed in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York and the State Museum of Applied Arts and Design in Munich.

There is real dignity and romance to Elsener’s entrepreneurial endeavours, his is a moment of time in building a unique product and a business that scaled into a global enterprise with a clear brand identity. So what can we learn about his spirit, vivacity, attitude and creativity into today’s startup thinking? How do you keep innovating and pushing the ambition? Here are some of the best values of entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation that I see from Elsener that should spark your startup thinking today.

A DIY ethic drives innovation Elsener was revered for his Do-It-Yourself abilities. He didn’t quite make it up as he went along, but like any startup he had to find his market, experiment and determine product-market fit, working out where the audience was. The ‘product’ was simple and yet a work of precision and design. Success is achieved by a host of variables, none more so that sheer-bloodied single-mindedness to get up there and make it happen – talent rocks, but attitude is king. It’s about conviction and determination to make it happen – by doing it yourself. 

Belief Elsener took on an established industry with major, established organisations in control and broke the rules with his own product thinking. In doing so, he changed the dynamics and disrupted an established market. He had enduring success and created a lasting legacy, measured in branding and cultural – finance too, but that’s the applause, not the goal. Elsener made the mind shift change that is needed to begin thinking and behaving like a startup and ask themselves the questions that an entrepreneur must ask.

Authenticity inspires customers Elsener started with a bold expression of his own, to be truly authentic, not seeking to copy or replicate others. The startup leadership lesson here is one of my favourites: you can be confident and competent all you want, but if you’re not accepted as real, and having a point of difference in what you offer customer, you won’t inspire a following. What’s your signature tune and tone of voice?

Just copying something is no good, unless you just want to be a tribute band. It’s vital to keep playing around and pushing yourself in business, create your own product. Don’t be afraid to build a business or revenue model that plays to your strengths, even if it’s non-conventional – is there anything else quite like a Swiss Army Knife?

Be your own image If you plan on getting noticed, establishing a brand promise, and creating an image is vital. Elsener’s design makes the product instantly recognisable, it stands out visually, just as John Pasche designed the ‘tongue and lips’ logo for The Rolling Stones in 1971, originally reproduced on the Sticky Fingers album.

Playing it safe gets you nowhere – turn your back on competitors If you don’t take risks you’ll never excel. Playing it safe all the time becomes the most dangerous move of all. Deviate from routines. Rote activity doesn’t lead to the path of innovation or disruptive technology. Elsener never played it safe.

Turn your back on competitors. Yes, ignore them. They aren’t running your business. You are. So instead of focusing on your competitors, focus on your customers. Be empathetic. Know them inside and out. Invest in relationships, not transactions. Learn what makes them tick, how they feel, what they need. This may sound like basic sales training, but it’s vital at the brand level, too. If you know what matters to your customers, you can structure your brand offering with the confidence that it will connect.

Open mindedness Elsener’s work is drawn from a diverse range of influences. The uniqueness in the product plus constant change and update, combining existing elements in new ways, produces something entirely its own, with a prowess for almost throwing stuff together randomly to discover new combinations and possibilities. This ability to create genuine uniqueness is a key trait of any entrepreneurial business. Not all of Elsener’s experiments worked, but their willingness to try out new ideas, knowing that not all will triumph, is a trait every startup needs.

Stand for something, and be true to your purpose Elsener had a vision, was strong minded and had a clear sense of purpose. He was shaped by deeply held personal and passionate values and remained true to them, quickly finding out that there are millions of people who shared those same values and aspirations. Founders never rest on their laurels, they retain the mix of spirit, drive, and passion, more than willing to rebel against the norm, are restless do go again, yet stay true to their vision.

Be a brand At the brand level, you’re not competing product vs. product. It’s not a feature vs. feature game. Your brand needs to have a relevant place in your customers’ hearts and minds. So be true to your brand and the promise you make and bring it out in everything you do. Leading from your authentic vision and consistency of purpose will help your brand mean more to people. And that alone will make you more memorable.

Can you make your product or service stand out as a Swiss Army Knife? It is held that consumers have mind-space for only three brands in any given category: the leader, the challenger, and the one other company lucky enough (or hard-working enough) to be noticed. The rule of three may still be true, but the sheer proliferation of brands flooding a sector can make it especially difficult for any startup brand to stand out.

In an over-crowded category you may find yourself fighting against forces greater than direct competitors. Sheer clutter can be a more powerful distraction to potential customers than any competitor’s offering. Your brand and how it connects to the people that matter to you is a key in differentiating yourself from your competition.

We’re all the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. You need to be authentic, as Oscar Wilde said Be yourself, everyone else it taken, and as Steve Jobs was known for his Be Unique, Be Different personal motto.

Be unique, like a Swiss Army Knife. Don’t compare yourself with anyone else, if you do so, you are insulting yourself. If you want to stand out from the crowd, give people a reason not to forget you. Are you unreasonable? Here’s one good reason why you should be: The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man. So said George Bernard Shaw in his play Man and Superman back in 1903.

In addition to surreal jokes about extracting boy scouts from horses’ hooves (or vice versa), there are tales of how the Elsener knives were carried by famous explorers from Everest climbers and American astronauts who took it to the moon. Sometimes macabre stories did the rounds of emergency self-amputations and life-saving tracheotomies. But it is a truly unforgettable product and brand.

Elsener would often be mistaken for a janitor when he opened the door to visitors to the factory in his overalls. He went to work daily on his bicycle. He handed over control of the family firm in 2007 to Carl Elsener IV, the oldest of his eleven surviving children. He was humble, but remarkable.

We look to the skies to change the world, but you don’t change the world simply by looking at it. You change it by living in it. Take a leaf from Carl Elsener’s book of life, and make your mark.

Lessons in entrepreneurship from the poetry of John Cooper Clarke & Rudyard Kipling

Poetry, for me, is not something to be read quietly in a corner and reflected upon. It is always a phonetic medium, every time. At school, we had to memorise it. This included all twenty stanzas of The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It was a compendium, unbelievably long, and we were often called upon to stand up and recite selected verses to the rest of the class from memory. That brought home the fact that poetry should be heard first.

I’ve recently been revisiting the work of Salford born ‘punk poet’ John Cooper Clarke. Now aged seventy, with nine albums behind him, his current tour is no different to that when I saw him in 1979, a set characterised by lively, rapid-fire renditions of his observational poems performed a cappella.

Known as ‘the bard of Salford’, he usually refers to himself on stage as Johnny Clarke, the name behind the hairstyle.  He has a huge talent, kind heart and sparkling wit. He’s the godfather of British performance poetry, a poet who writes about darkness and decay but makes people laugh, a human cartoon, a gentleman punk, a man who has stayed exactly the same for over forty years but never grown stale.

John Cooper Clarke uses words of anger, humour and disdain in equal measure. He’s the real deal, funny and caustic, the velvet voice of discontent. His anarchic punk poetry has thrilled people for decades and his no nonsense approach to his work and life in general has held appeal for many years. Long may his slender frame and spiky top produce words and deeds that keep us on our toes and alive to the wonders of the world.

His last collection titled The Luckiest Guy Alive contained forty poems and amply demonstrates that his scabrous wit and vivid way with words remains untamed. His writing is guided by a desire to communicate his thoughts on our shared humanity.

Learning poetry by heart at school, while you won’t understand it at the time, it may sneak up on you thirty years later. Poetry is the shortest possible way of saying something that needs saying. There’s something to cherish in the words, a thought that the work itself will outlast us all.

One of my favourite poems is If, written by the English poet and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Rudyard Kipling. This poem has always been a stand out piece of writing for me, I think it’s inspirational not only for startup leaders and entrepreneurs, but for all people who want to maximise their potential and live life to the fullest.

The poem contains mottos and maxims for life. The poem is also a blueprint for personal integrity, behaviour and self-development. If is perhaps even more relevant today than when Kipling wrote it, as an ethos and a personal philosophy.

Kipling’s life was one replete with trials, hardships, and sorrows, but time and again he overcame them. This poem, which is really one long single sentence, encapsulates the lessons he learned. It is believed that he wrote If as four, eight-line stanzas of advice to his son, John,

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;

If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings — nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And — which is more — you’ll be a Man, my son!

So what makes Kipling’s If, the ultimate entrepreneur’s poem? This is an inspirational poem that expresses various ways in which you can rise above adversity that we will almost face at some point in one’s startup life. Throughout the poem, Kipling offers multiple scenarios, contrasting both positive and negative, along with a glimpse into how one should conduct oneself.

The poem has an almost mathematical proof about it with its if-then scenario. Kipling leaves the then until the final two lines, revealing that if he or she is able to do all that was just mentioned, he or she will not only have the world at his or her fingertips, but he or she will also be a ‘Man’ – as it’s written for his son John, it’s heartfelt fatherly advice.

Kipling keeps a positive and upbeat tone throughout, informing the reader what to do in order to be a successful person in life. The poem reads like one continuous thought. I read it as a magnificent tribute to many  great virtues – staying composed under stress, remaining humble when victorious, never despairing when defeated, and always retaining honour and authenticity.

So let’s look at a few of the verses and their relevance to startup founders.

Trust in yourself

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you; if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too.

This reminds me of one of my favourite business quotes, from former CEO of Netscape Jim Barksdale: If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.  In a startup, we will always have doubters and critics in all that we do. Listen to them because someone will be valid observations, but also have confidence in yourself, don’t fold, stay composed when under pressure. So, on the same hand, take constructive criticism to heart, without being too self-righteous.

Keep a balanced mindset and outlook

Kipling reminds us of the importance of maintaining a level head:

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master; If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same;

It points to the relationship between inspiration and desperation, which we’ve all faced in our startup ventures. When you are under pressure, the things that are best and worst about people and business, come to the fore. We’ve all been there. Pushed a bit too far, been a bit too snappy. Truth is that these things happen to us all but that’s not the interesting part; it’s the response that really does matter.

Kipling urges us to not follow the crowd, but be our own thinkers and stand firm in our own beliefs and values. He reminds us there are answers we may not have, and to keep an open mind to learning. Kipling urges us to dream and think, but to not get so caught up in dreams and thoughts that we lose our grasp on reality.

Just be

This is my favourite lesson of the poem. To treat triumph and disaster as the same imposter is to learn how to just be. Startup life is a journey of ups and downs. I’ve learned that the founder who can embrace all volatility and just ‘be’ has the most peace in their entrepreneurial journey.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings; And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss; And lose, and start again at your beginnings; And never breathe a word about your loss;

Kipling demonstrates here the importance of being able to pick oneself up and start again if we fail. We must always be prepared to start again, and be willing to forget about the loss and not dwell on it.

Endurance is a great virtue

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew; To serve your turn long after they are gone; And so hold on where there is nothing in you; Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

These lines are particularly powerful. All entrepreneurs must endure, even if that feels both physically and emotionally impossible. It is also worth noting the capitalisation of Will. Perhaps Kipling wanted to emphasise the resilience of the human spirit by making it a power that is separate from the person who possesses it?

Craft the outcome to your journey

The fourth and final stanza reveals the consequence of doing all of these ifs, but not before Kipling presents us with three more scenarios. The first one deals with how to treat others, regardless of their station in life. Maintaining your honour and authenticity is a standout human quality, treating everyone with respect and open-handedness will take you far.

Take risks. Do what you love. Lead your startup from the front. Do it! Life is too short for dogma, and being trapped living a life you don’t enjoy. It’s easy to let fame and success get to our heads, but Kipling urges us to stay grounded and to remember where we came from.

Life is short. We only have a finite time here on earth – the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run – and should use it as best as we can. Kipling tells us to never give up or waste even a single second of time. If you are given a minute, make sure you use all sixty seconds of it.

Finally, in the last two lines, the outcome of abiding by all of these thoughts is revealed:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

For me, John Cooper Clarke joins Kipling for his art of writing that contain timeless lessons that stays relevant. In fact, I believe these writings and lessons are not just enjoyable, but vital, in that we can reflect on our own situation, find inspiration, and stay grounded.

With our technology advancements, continual globalisation, and the dawn of artificial intelligence, it’s good to be reminded at the end of the day that we must learn to enjoy life for all that it is, and remember life lessons can be captured in poetry, and not just focus on the frenzy of our startup endeavours.

While it’s beneficial to have a work rhythm, don’t let your habits turn into mindless routines. When this happens, you can fall into the doldrums, where you operate on autopilot and stop thinking creatively. Poetry will help you develop a more satisfying and more successful work life.

That is because as entrepreneurs, like poets, we benefit greatly from studying our craft and continuously reflecting on how we’re engaging with our work, colleagues and our surroundings. Even if you have little experience with creative writing, I encourage you to read poetry, it will refresh your perspectives, thinking and reinvigorate and reinspire your daily work habits.

How to give a ‘Pep’​ talk to your startup team

Liverpool FC’s quest to end a 30-year wait to reclaim the domestic English football crown may gave taken a defining step forward on Sunday, Jürgen Klopp’s side beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to give them a nine-point advantage over the reigning champions at the top of the table.

It means a Liverpool side that has lost only one of their past 51 league games would need to lose at least three of their next 26 to let City back in. It is not inconceivable, as Liverpool had a ten-point lead over Pep’s side last season after twenty games played, yet City prevailed. This season, however, Liverpool seem propelled by an unstoppable momentum. Of course City will still have plenty to say, as they have in Pep Guardiola a leader who can inspire like no other, with a track record of winning, intelligent football and a defining leadership philosophy.

Guardiola joined FC Barcelona as a junior aged thirteen. He was quick to work his way into the senior team where he played for ten years. He was the depiction of the way Barcelona played – a highly creative, hard-working player with precise passing. Playing under Johan Cruyff, his role model and who gave Guardiola his debut at the Camp Nou in 1990, his technical finesse, tactical awareness and ability to read the game have made him one of the elite managers in sport. His philosophy is keeping the ball and retaining possession, an evangelist for pace and pressing and width to create chances with quick ball movement.

Guardiola has also gained fame for implementing unorthodox tactics and surprising changes in matches. This inherent hunger and desire for improvement is a consequence of his education at Barcelona’s soccer academy, La Masia, the original building where its young students resided, demonstrating the value of a systematic talent pathway. Guardiola posits that the academy’s ‘language of learning’, originally developed by Cruyff, comprises three interlinked areas:

* ‘The Core Idea’ is to dominate possession of the ball.

* ‘Language’, as employed by Guardiola in this context, is to reinforce understanding and mastery of basic concepts.

* ‘People’ must be completely open to learning and make improvements where necessary. They must have complete faith in the process.

Guardiola has taken these three pillars into his leadership philosophy, seen in the figure of the innovative, obsessive and all-conquering Guardiola on the touchline and in his media interviews. Hs approach is rooted in his players’ ability to comprehend and give expression to his ever-evolving playing philosophy.

Pep talks. He speaks calmly, intently, focused, extolling the group for being the champions. He name checks the best performers on the team and suggests ways for everyone else to adopt the same mentality. He tells stories. He asks questions. Guardiola has an intimate, intensive style of communication. He has worked hard to perfect this because he knows success depends on it. Indeed, the ability to deliver an energising ‘Pep talk’ that spurs individuals and a team to better performance is a prerequisite for any startup leader.

According to the science, most winning ‘Pep talks’ include three key elements: direction giving, expressions of empathy, and meaning making. The most extensive research in this field – dubbed motivating language theory – comes from Jacqueline and Milton Mayfield, at Texas International University who have studied it for nearly three decades. Their findings are backed by studies from sports psychologists and military historians. And all the evidence suggests that once leaders understand these three elements, they can learn to use them more skilfully. Let’s look at the three elements:

* Pep talks are base on information about precisely how to do the task at hand by, for example, giving easily understandable instructions, good definitions of tasks, and detail on how performance will be evaluated.

* Empathetic language shows concern for the performer as a human being. It can include praise, encouragement, gratitude, and acknowledgment of the challenge.

* Meaning-making language explains why a task is important. This involves linking the organisation’s purpose to listeners’ goals, often, including the use of stories, about people who’ve succeeded, or about how the work has made a real difference to the lives of others.

Research from other fields offers additional insight into what gives the best pep talks their power. Military pep talks also use the three elements in varying proportions, even if the terminology is different.

Stanley McChrystal, a retired general who oversaw special operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, echoes this view. During the last 30 minutes or so before a mission, it was more about building the confidence and the commitment to each other. He says he tended to start with direction giving (Here’s what I’m asking you to do) but quickly shifted to meaning making (Here’s why it’s important) and empathy (Here’s why I know you can do it and Think about what you’ve done together before), and then ended with a recap (Now let’s go and do it).

So, how does Pep capture these three tenets, add in his own wit, intelligence and personality to create his ‘Pep’ talks, and provide a basis for your own pep talk to your startup team?? Here are my thoughts.

Be passionate in the way you communicate Communication an essential tool, Guardiola has to communicate to his City team in several languages but all his conversations are full of passion. Sometimes when oral communication isn’t enough he encourages his team with gestures, hugs and pats on the back. Pep tailors his approach to whatever is needed in the moment, but he demonstrates his passion through his animated communication style.

Question everything Pep never stops asking questions – directed not only at others but also at himself. I’m sure he can be indecisive like us all, and he can change his mind during a game as he analyses different options. We learn from this that success comes about much more from doubts, than it does from certainties.

Never feel satisfied Pep has won over twenty trophies since 2008 with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. He celebrates winning as much as anyone, and the result is important, but he is more interested in how it came about, understanding the process. He has always been a leader, but he is a rarity in the fact that he is a leader and a coach, because to be a great leader you need to know what leadership is yet in order to be a great coach you need to understand leadership.

You can be what you know but you can only teach what you understand, and Guardiola truly understands leadership which is why he has had so much success both as a player and more so as a coach. I would argue that his leadership career has only just started because despite all his success he is still only forty eight years old.

Define the essence of the team Organisations are aware of the need to identify and promote the fundamental reason for their existence – their ‘Why?’. This is the ‘core idea’ set down at La Masia that Guardiola carries as the fundamental underpinning to his philosophy. By establishing an objective greater than winning, no matter the victory on the pitch, Pep never lets the players forget that they are part of a legacy that is much greater than they are. This helps manage the ego of the individuals and further motivates the team because they realise that being the best is not enough, what matters is leaving a legacy.

It’s all about the culture When Guardiola was given the coaching role at Barcelona he had just finished a successful season with the Barcelona B team. His first decision as first team coach was that several first team players, including its two main stars Ronaldinho and Deco, had no future at the club. They moved on and several young players from the successful B team moved up.

Guardiola realises that in order for a team to be successful it needs to have a winning culture, a brotherhood of team members that are all winning to put the needs of the team ahead of the desires of the individual, and anyone not wanting to buy into the culture has no future with that team.

Understand the team as individuals Every effective leader knows that you have to have strong relationships with each and every member of the team, yet few understand how to establish relationships with very different people. Guardiola is known for understanding the ambitions, emotions and personality of each player and adapts his communication approach accordingly. You can clearly see the strong personal relationships – and mutual respect – he has with each team member.

Don’t criticise, add value. When things are not going well it’s difficult not to allow your emotions to overtake you and influence your decision-making. Successful leaders know that you can’t lose sight of the objective. When things go bad your focus needs to remain on want needs to happen to correct performance and the diagnosis of how and why the situation happened and what can happen later.

When asked about this kind of situation Guardiola replied We’d never start telling them off. If the game’s going badly you only earn credibility by correcting what they’re doing rather than shouting about it. Paradoxically, people feel psychologically safer when leaders are clear about what acts are blameworthy – and there must be consequences – but if someone is punished, tell those directly and indirectly affected what happened and why it warranted them taking responsibility.

Optimism is key As Friedrich Nietzsche said, That which does not kill us makes us stronger, after all, isn’t it the lack of fear of failure, a willingness to stumble during a quest, that gives the motivation to spur us onto success against all odds in the first place? As Pep found yesterday, whilst we want to be positive and optimistic, there are times when life doesn’t go according to plan and we get disappointed. The challenge is to ensure that the impacts of our disappointments are minimal whilst still acknowledging the let-down and not living in denial.

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. Rousing words from President Abraham Lincoln, taken from his 1862 annual address to Congress, great words that for me capture the essence of pep talks for any startup leader, and indeed, a Pep talk.

As he holds the team meeting this Monday morning, he’ll no doubt have prepared a Pep talk, filled with direction giving, expressions of empathy, and meaning making. By defining the essence of the team, creating an objective greater than victory, establishing a winning culture and understanding each member’s personal ambitions I am sure Pep will have the players out of the doldrums and their mindset refocused.

So reflect on Pep’s philosophy and communication style, you too can lead a successful team in your startup, no matter if you’ve just suffered a setback, and give pep talks with the same passion and purpose as Pep Guardiola.

Lessons for startups from the rugby world cup: set high expectations for yourself, like Siya Kolisi

England’s World Cup final defeat against South Africa made for a very flat Saturday. Expectations were high, but we were so far off winning the game. Yet if we fans feel washed out, imagine what the players feel! They are going to remember that game for the rest of their lives, but hopefully use it as a pivotal learning moment to ensure they come back as better players.

Head coach Eddie Jones has had a blinding tournament, but on this occasion South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus was awesome. Wherever England attacked, the Springboks had defence. They were very disciplined. They were tactically spot on. They played in the right areas.

They had the balance of their kicking game and when it was on to run the ball and throw the ball wide – they chose the right time and made good decisions. South Africa were fantastic in the set-piece, scrums and line-outs, and the breakdown. Faf de Klerk ran the game from scrum-half.

Only eight men have ever experienced what it is to lead their team to receive the William Webb Ellis trophy – less than the twelve men who have stood on the moon. Siya Kolisi is the eighth after he led South Africa to Saturday’s 32-12 victory. Kolisi follows fellow countryman Francois Pienaar and John Smit, David Kirk and Richie McCaw (New Zealand), Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales (Australia), and of course, Martin Johnson (England).

South Africa’s first world cup victory under Francois Pienaar in 1995 saw Nelson Mandela alongside him in his own green number six jersey, in what became an iconic sporting image. When Smit’s team beat England in the 2007 final, the 16-year-old Kolisi was watching it in a township tavern, because there was no television at home.

That Kolisi has made it this far is a story of stoicism and self-belief, setting high expectations for himself to change his circumstances. Born to teenage parents in the poor township of Zwide on the Eastern Cape, he was brought up by his grandmother. Bed was a pile of cushions on the living-room floor. Rugby was on dirt fields. When he went to his first provincial trials he played in boxer shorts, because he had no other kit.

Rugby is in his family, his father Fezakel was a centre, his grandfather a player of pace too. Kolisi began playing rugby at school aged seven, a small but mobile flanker, good with the ball in hand, learning to be smarter than the stronger kids around him. When a growth spurt kicked in and he got bigger, there was power to go with the finesse.

He signed up for his local club in the township, African Bombers. Five years later his talent was spotted by Andrew Hayidakis, a coach at one of South Africa’s most prestigious rugby schools, Grey High, and offered a bursary. He didn’t speak a word of English when he first arrived, but did a language exchange with one of his classmates, Nicholas Holton teaching him English and Kolisi teaching Holton Xhosa. The two are still firm friends – Kolisi’s son is named after him and Holton was best man at his wedding.

Kolisi progressed through the rugby ranks to Western Province and Super Rugby side the Stormers, before making his international debut against Scotland in 2013. He was named vice-captain for the Springboks in 2017 and in 2018, he became the Springboks’ first black captain in its 126-year history.

Saturday was his fiftieth cap, his twentieth as captain. But his impact is far greater than simply what he does on the pitch because of all that has come before. For all the iconography of 1995, the wider effect of the Pienaar-Mandela relationship quickly faded. When the Springboks triumphed in Johannesburg twenty-four years ago there was just one black player, Chester Williams, in the starting team. By the time of their second World Cup under John Smit in 2007, there were still only two.

In the starting XV that beat England, there were six black players: wingers Cheslin Kolbe and Makazole Mapimpi, centre Lukhanyo Am, prop Tendai Mtawarira, hooker Bongi Mbonambi, and Kolisi. Of Rassie Erasmus’s squad of thirty one, eleven are black.

Kolisi stands as a critical link between the past and future. He was born on 16 June 1991, one day before the repeal of the brutal apartheid laws that enforced discrimination against black people in every aspect of their lives. Separate land. Separate public transport. Separate schools.

And so Kolisi carries that weight on his shoulders. Dreams and messy pasts, old heroes and deep-rooted struggles. Only a game, but so much more too. Ghosts all around him, a new future ahead. Strength through unity was the motto the Springboks have adopted this tournament, both as a squad and as a varied group of South Africans.

Kolisi is acutely aware of how much his life has changed, saying: My first goal was to get a meal at the end of the day. Now I set much higher goals. I want to be one of the best players in the Springbok team and one of the best players in the world.

Kolisi not only makes you wish more sportsmen used their profile for greater things but also forces you to question your own life and achievements. How can you better yourself?  To achieve like Siya Kolisi, you need to raise the bar – not just a little, but a lot. You need to raise the bar on the time and effort you put in. You need to raise the bar on your goals. And most importantly, you need to raise the bar on what you expect from yourself.

The irony is, you’re probably trying too hard currently, making things way too complicated and yet setting your sights way too low. If you want big things out of life, as Kolisi has shown, you have to set your sights high, set big goals, and keep it simple. Here are six steps to accomplishing that.

1. Explore your not-enough story Low expectations stem from the inner belief that we are not able to go higher. When we live in this place, we are never truly living in the moment of our lives, we’re living in regret from what we are not, and fear that we may never be.

You can start chipping away at this false belief by realising that this is not what it needs to be. Who said you’re not able to achieve this? Whose story is this?

2. Have faith in yourself Having reframed your own starting point, you have to believe that what you’re doing is for a reason. Once you find that single purpose, it will give you faith in your ability to make the right choices and set your expectations.

Don’t sit there wondering ‘What if?’ or watching other people, get out there and do your stuff, go to places where you’ll meet other enterprising people and exposed to new opportunities. That’s where you’ll find that one thing you’re uniquely cut out to do.

3. No more low expectations Studies show that parents who have high expectations for their children raise children who are more likely to succeed. The same can be said of yourself: if we have high expectations for ourselves, we are more likely to rise to them.

Most of us have low expectations of ourselves. Maybe you’ve lowered yours to avoid disappointment or a sense of failure when you don’t meet your goals. Perhaps you feel you aren’t worthy of big aspirations, so you shrink them to a size you believe you deserve. Look back at Kolisi’s story, do you think he set low hurdles for himself?

4. Focus on being the best With momentum on your expectations, you need to focus on being better than anyone else. You may need to study and work at it for a few years, but stick with it, you’ll improve your craft, building better products, and delivering better service. If you’re smart and savvy, you’ll rise above the pack and beat the competition. Set a high success bar and expect to reach it. If you don’t, no one else will, and you’ll continue to achieve only mediocre results.

5. Rise to your own expectations, every time When you set expectations for yourself, you will rise to them, but ‘note to self’ helps, reminding yourself and reflecting on success to date, and work to be done. Because you believe in yourself, you’ll be strong. You’ll face your challenges that inevitably befall any great pursuit, but you’ll persevere. And if you do great work, you’ll reap the rewards.

6. Practise self-compassion and remember to rest Self-care can work wonders and motivating yourself with kindness rather than criticism will change your mindset. Learn from mistakes and make changes to move forward. It’s also important to factor in time to relax and recharge. Indeed, you may get more done, a rested body and mind will help you when approaching the next step.

So, what about you? What expectations will you have for yourself going forward? What do you think Kolisi said to himself, back when he was just starting out in his rugby career?

What you expect of yourself determines what you do with yourself. The only person that determines what you do with your life is you; you can make it count and you can make a difference. From experience, I can say that it takes time. However, in the long run when you look back at where you are right now things will be different. And they will be shaped by what you expect of yourself today.

As Leonardo da Vinci said Art is never finished, only abandoned. I know from experience the difficulty of saying, I need to let it go now, it’s good enough! The perfectionist in me shouts or whispers It can be a little bit better. However, keep setting expectations of yourself, and see where the journey takes you.

Our expectations for ourselves directly impact our future performance. I think that’s what made Siya Kolisi a world champion. He looked up to the horizon, then looked a little bit further, set his expectations, and put his heart and soul into getting there. He’s made it, but I expect there is more to come from him.

Lessons for startups from the rugby world cup: the resilience of Maro Itoje

Not since winning the 2003 World Cup has English rugby enjoyed a more stunning moment. Their 19-7 semi-final victory on Saturday left the All Blacks’ players strewn on the pitch, dreams of becoming the first team to win three consecutive Webb Ellis Cups dashed.

As well as inflicting New Zealand’s first defeat in 19 World Cup matches going back to 2007, this was the best England performance I’ve witnessed. The All Blacks had dominated the tournament, but could not cope with England’s relentless power, defensive strength and tactical acumen, after Manu Tuilagi’s second-minute try set the tone.

England’s forwards played the collective game of their lives – Maro Itoje, Tom Curry and Sam Underhill delivered stunning performances when it mattered most. George Ford kicked four vital penalties and when the inevitable All Black fight back came, England’s tackling, particularly from Underhill, was phenomenal.

From the moment England formed their deliberate V-shaped arrowhead to greet the haka, there was an edge, and the opening minutes saw England’s statement of intent, with a try after just 98 seconds. A stunning attacking sequence ended with Tuilagi plunging over, Farrell’s conversion made it 7-0, and it was seven minutes before New Zealand could get their breath.

It was the team in white who dominated the first half, a 10-0 half-time blank noteworthy as the All Blacks’ first at a World Cup since 1991. Savea 57th-minute try, converted by Richie Mo’unga woke us all up. With just nine defeats in their last 105 matches, would the All Blacks come back? The answer was no. Despite two disallowed tries, two more Ford penalties propelled the English chariot sweetly into next Saturday’s final.

If England have ever produced a better eighty minutes then no-one dancing or screaming around our front room on Saturday morning, refreshed with a copious supply of beer and bacon butties, could remember it. The tension of being ahead from the second minute, the relentless tackles making you grab your own ribs and wince, it was simply a truly great game of rugby.

Maro Itoje had the game of his life, making twelve tackles, winning seven lineouts, and three turnovers. But that does not tell you the half of it. He was a one-man highlights reel. You kept catching glimpses of him, forcing his way through the maul to reach over and wrap his hands around the ball to stop Aaron Smith snapping it out, soaring into the air at the lineout to grab the ball from Sam Whitelock, charging into half a gap, bent double over a tackled man, rooting around with his hands till he pulled up the ball, like some frenzied prospector digging around for the gold nugget he had spotted in the river mud.

Itoje was named player of the match as England’s pack dominated their All Black counterparts. England won sixteen turnovers. No team has won more at this World Cup. Breakdown won, set-piece won, discipline won. England conceded just six penalties to the All Blacks’ eleven. They were faster and they were more precise. They kicked from hand better, and they tackled like their lives depended on it.

Around twenty minutes into the second half, the camera zoomed in on Itoje, getting his breath back at a lineout, chest was heaving, lungs gulping, but the eyes… well, the eyes were something else. They were wide open and staring, bearing an expression that simultaneously implied total aggression and total stillness. He did not blink. Itoje was in the zone of complete focus, the moment of concentration and clarity.

This was his greatest performance in an English shirt, in attack and defence, in open play and at the set piece, in its bravery, discipline, ingenuity and skill. To get a measure of his impact, look at his opposite numbers – Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick were a fraction of their imposing best. These are greats of the game, World Cup winners with 200 international caps between them. Itoje made them look like statues. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man, Itoje said last week.

The menace and verve of New Zealand’s potent team was nullified. He gave a technical and tactical masterclass, his performance forged through continuous breakthroughs, small steps and iterations, each possible because he had his eyes and ears wide open in the moment, with the resilience and mindset to keep going.

Putting to one side his rugby skills, it was the resilience shown by Itoje to simply keep going that stood out for me. It is the virtue that enables entrepreneurs to move through their own battles and achieve success. If we have the virtue of resilience, then we can move forward, whatever the challenge.

Many misunderstand what’s at work in resilience. For me, it’s not about ‘bouncing back’, rather its about the ability to integrate harsh experiences into your thinking, learn and apply the lessons, and then be motivated to go again, expecting to go one better, as Thomas Edison said, I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.

Like Itoje, entrepreneurs consciously choose a life of challenge, yearning success whilst also inevitably encountering times marked by sheer graft, chaos and disappointment. Entrepreneurial endeavour is a series of higher highs and lower lows, in which the peaks and troughs are more vivid, but as Sir Edmund Hilary said, People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things, and he should know.

Ryan Holiday, in his book The Obstacle Is The Way, draws lessons from philosophy and history and says if you want to achieve anything in life, you have to do the work, be prepared for knockbacks – but most of all, be resilient. It’s a great book, inspiring us to be bolder and mentally able to handle the pressure of running a startup.

Here are some quotes from Holiday, which I think say a lot about building your resilient mindset, and could have been written about Itoje on Saturday.

No one is asking you to look at the world through rose-coloured glasses.

See the world for what it is. Not what you want it to be or what it should be. Hey, we’re back to being realistic – but it’s also about optimism, the mindset to expect the best outcome from every situation – and that’s resilience to make it happen. This gives entrepreneurs the capacity to pivot from a failing tactic, and implement actions to increase success.

Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective. When something happens, you decide what it means. Is it the end? Or the time for a new start? Is it the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Or is it just a setback? You have the decision to choose how you perceive every situation in life.

No thank you, I can’t afford to panic. Some things make us emotional, but you have to keep your emotions in check and balanced. In every situation, no matter how bad it is, keep calm and try to find a solution. Sometimes the best solution is walking away. Entrepreneurs find it hard to say no, but that can be the best option.

If you want momentum, you’ll have to create it yourself, right now, by getting up and getting started. If you want anything from life, you have to start moving towards it. Only action will bring you closer. Start now, not tomorrow. Maintain active optimism, observing how others were successful in similar situations, and believing you can do the same. It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.

It’s okay to be discouraged. It’s not okay to quit. Entrepreneurial life is competitive. When you think life is hard know that it’s supposed to be hard. If you get discouraged, try another angle until you succeed. Every attempt brings you one step closer. Don’t have a victim’s mindset, have courage to take decisive action. Great entrepreneurs become tenaciously defiant when told they cannot succeed. Then they get it done.

We must be willing to roll the dice and lose. Prepare, at the end of the day, for none of it to work. We get disappointed too quickly. The main cause? We often expect things will turn out fine, we have too high expectations. No one can guarantee your success so why not expect to lose? You try with all your effort, it doesn’t work out, you accept it, and move on.

The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher. Don’t shy away from difficulty. Don’t do things just because they’re easy. How do you expect to grow? Nurture yourself: gain strength from the unrealistic achievements of others. We can’t choose what happens to us, but we decide how to respond. Successful, resilient entrepreneurs don’t just accept what happens to them. It’s all fuel that you can use to move forward. It defines you.

Itoje will tell you, you get tackled, you’re hurt, you’re down and the play is now twenty-five metres away. Resilience means getting right back in the game, remaining optimistic in the face of adversity. Resilience is accepting your new reality, but being able to take a step forward when others sit there watching.

Itoje is the essence of persistence, resilience and mental toughness, so take a leaf out of his book. Give it everything, every day, be the last man standing when something needs to be done. Never be outworked, remember that true failure only comes when you give up. Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself. The human capacity for burden is like bamboo, far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.

England played an absolutely incredible game, the stamina, the resilience, they just never let up. Never have I seen an All Blacks team defeated quite like this, they were outplayed, outsmarted, outmuscled. Perhaps it’s time to accept that nothing lasts forever, no one can outrun the sands of time. With the iconic Kieran Read stepping down from All Blacks duty next month, and others including Sonny Bill Williams, Aaron Smith, Joe Moody and Sam Whitelock unlikely to feature in the next World Cup in France 2023, maybe this current pantheon of All Blacks greats has reached the end of the road.

Greatness is a hard thing to sustain in any walk of life, but for nearly a decade this All Blacks team has done that. Success can take the edge off soaring ambition, the passing of time perhaps dampens hunger and with it the mindset for repeated challenge. New Zealand have been the epitome of resilience, but now a brighter, younger team, one bristling with unwavering belief, and players like Itoje showing their own immense resilience, has landed a killer blow when it matterred most. Make sure you take a lesson from Itoje for your own entrepreneurial endeavours.

Amelia Earhart – a role model for C21st female entrepreneurs

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure, the process is its own reward.

The words of Amelia Earhart. Spoken like a true entrepreneur, this quote captures her drive and focus. Her flying achievements are extraordinary, and demonstrate her strength and spirit as a female pioneer.

Yet despite Earhart’s achievements and those of other iconic female role models, female entrepreneurs with the ability, influence and passion to transform a generation are often ignored, with just one in five startups that receive investment being founded by a woman. Why?

One reason could be that female entrepreneurs seeking investment for their new idea are likely to be almost entirely male faces. Just 13% of senior investment teams are women, and almost half of investment teams have no women at all. This surely contributes to a stark gender imbalance in the businesses that investors fund.

The gender bias female entrepreneurs face undoubtedly deters many. Add to this the reality that women still take on a far larger share of family related responsibilities than men, and it is no surprise that so few female innovators take the plunge. While this is fundamentally unfair in a diverse, democratic and open-minded society, it is also economically short-sighted – research shows that the UK is losing out on £250bn of economic value each year because of the daunting barriers facing women entrepreneurs.

However, there are signs of some positive change, with the Government’s commissioning of Alison Rose (Deputy CEO NatWest) to lead an independent review of female entrepreneurship earlier this year. The review shed renewed light on the barriers faced by women starting and growing their own businesses, and identified ways of removing them.

In response, the Government has announced an ambition to increase the number of female entrepreneurs by 50% by 2030, equivalent to nearly 600,000 additional female entrepreneurs. The Rose report and Government response is hopefully the catalyst needed for society undergoing a shift in outlook. While the UK is in many ways the startup capital of Europe, it lags well behind the Netherlands, Spain, Australia, the US and Sweden in terms of the proportion of female founders.

For investors, putting money into female founded startups makes financial sense, as there is substantial evidence that gender diversity fosters creativity and results in better decision making by encouraging new perspectives which men frequently lack or disregard. Yet women-owned enterprises represent less than 25% of UK business.

Alison’s report thus identified three fundamental changes needed to overcome the barriers faced by women entrepreneurs:

Increase funding directed towards female entrepreneurs. Access to and awareness of funding was highlighted as the number one issue for female entrepreneurs across the entire entrepreneurial journey, from intention to scale-up. Female-led businesses receive 53% less funding on average than those headed by men at every stage of their journey.

To combat this the Alison recommended making more start-up funding available to women. The rewards for the wider economy and society could be huge, even if Britain does not achieve full gender parity in levels of entrepreneurship, but catches up with its best-performing peers.

Provide greater family care support for female entrepreneurs. Disproportionate primary/family care responsibilities affect female entrepreneurs throughout the entrepreneurial journey.

Making entrepreneurship more accessible for women Increasing support through accessible mentors and networks is key to boost female entrepreneurship. Alison found three reinforcing cultural barriers affect women at all stages of the entrepreneurial journey:

– Women typically have higher risk-awareness than men and are more cautious, limiting their willingness to risk their livelihood on an uncertain venture.

– Women are less likely to believe they possess entrepreneurial skills: only 39% of women are confident in their capabilities to start a business compared to 55% of men. This is a perceived gap in ability, rather than an actual gap in skill sets.

– Women are less likely than men to know other entrepreneurs or to have access to sponsors, mentors or support networks.

Alison’s report recommended eight initiatives.

Initiative 1: Promote greater transparency in funding allocation through a new ‘Investing in Female Entrepreneurs Code’, which commits all financial institutions to the principles of gender equality for investment.

Initiative 2: Launch new investment vehicles to increase funding going to female entrepreneurs, who can thus access new, potentially profitable market opportunities whilst helping women-led enterprises to grow.

Initiative 3: Encourage investors to support and invest with a specific focus on gender diversity by launching funding rounds for businesses in female-dominated sectors such as healthcare and services.

Initiative 4: Focus banking products aimed at entrepreneurs with family care responsibilities, to help parent entrepreneurs manage their businesses and the challenges of raising a family.

Initiative 5: Improve access to expertise by expanding and encourage private sector actors to offer their time to business hubs.

Initiative 6: Expand mentorship and networking opportunities, with public and private sector organisations coming together to share best practices and support a centralised networking platform to create greater connections.

Initiative 7: Accelerate development and roll-out of entrepreneurship-related courses to schools and colleges by commercial organisations to collaborate on education focused on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and self-belief.

Initiative 8: Create an entrepreneur digital first-stop shop, encouraging private sector actors in partnership with public bodies to collaborate to create a comprehensive nationwide digital first-stop information shop for female entrepreneurs.

There is no silver bullet that will transform the landscape for female entrepreneurs overnight. Many barriers are cultural and societal, and will take many years to overcome. However, the eight initiatives provide a starting platform for the significant and sustained action required to release the unrealised potential of women as entrepreneurs.

In the modern world, female role models are plentiful, to transform a generation. For example: Sylvia Plath, Malala Yousifazi, Margaret Cavendish, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Garret Anderson, and Anita Roddick to name a few – but Amelia Earhart – the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and back to her quote at the top of this blog – is the stand out to me for today’s female entrepreneurs.

It was when Amelia attended a stunt-flying exhibition that she became seriously interested in aviation. On December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave her a ride that would forever change her life. Earhart took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921 and, in six months bought her first plane, a two-seater biplane painted bright yellow – The Canary – and set her first women’s record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 ft.

Then in April 1928, she took a phone call: How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic? After an interview in New York, she was asked to join the flight. She left Trepassey Harbour, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F7, Friendship, on June 17, 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales 21 hours later. On her return, she was greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a White House reception with President Calvin Coolidge.

George Putnam entered her life, too. The two developed a friendship during preparation for the Atlantic crossing and were married February 7, 1931. Intent on retaining her independence, she referred to the marriage as a partnership with dual controls.

Together, they worked on plans for Earhart to become the first woman and the second person to fly solo the Atlantic. On May 20, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh, she took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris. Strong north winds, icy conditions, and mechanical problems plagued the flight and forced her to land in a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland.

President Herbert Hoover presented Earhart with a gold medal, Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross – the first ever given to a woman. Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.

In the years that followed, Earhart continued to reach new heights. On January 11, 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to California.

In 1937, approaching her 40th birthday, she was ready for her biggest challenge: to be the first woman to fly around the world. Despite a botched attempt in March that damaged her plane, a determined Earhart had the twin engine Lockheed Electra rebuilt. I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it, she said.

On June 1, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey. On June 29 they landed in Lae, New Guinea with just 7,000 miles remaining. Frequently, inaccurate maps had made navigation difficult, and their next hop to Howland Island was by far the most challenging.

Howland Island, in the Pacific, is a mile and a half long and half-mile wide. Every unessential item was removed from the plane to make room for extra fuel. The US Coastguard was stationed off Howland Island and two other US ships, burning every light on board, were positioned along the flight route as markers.

On July 2, 10am local time, the pair took off. Despite ideal weather reports they flew into overcast skies and intermittent rain showers. This made celestial navigation difficult. As dawn neared, Earhart called the US Coastguard reporting cloudy weather, cloudy. At 7.42am, the Coastguard picked up the message Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet. The ship replied, but the plane seemed not to hear.

At 8.45am, Earhart reported We are running north and south. Nothing further was heard from her. A rescue commenced and became the most extensive air and sea search in naval history. On July 19, after spending $4m and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean, the search was called off.

In 1938, a lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in her memory. On 5 January 1939, Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead. Neither the plane nor bodies were recovered.

There is no doubt that the world will always remember Amelia Earhart for her courage, vision, and groundbreaking achievements for women. In a letter to her husband, written in case a flight proved to be her last, her brave spirit was clear: Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.

Amelia Earhart is a model of the modern independent woman, and an icon of the spirit of adventure, her myth made all the more alluring by her mysterious disappearance and failure at her final challenge. Like all entrepreneurs, her success was down to passion, sheer effort, thinking big and bold, and having a clear focus.

The unprecedented energy and attention around gender equality for entrepreneurship makes this a moment when extraordinary progress is possible. We short-change women if we set our sights too low. In the earliest days of American democracy, Abigail Adams (wife of John Adams, and mother of John Quincy Adams) urged the architects of the Constitution to ‘remember the ladies’. Now is the time.

So on the back of the eight initiatives of Alison Rose’s report, and the memory of Amelia Earhart, I believe our goal should be to expand women’s power and influence in entrepreneurship. I think of power and influence as the ability to make decisions, control resources, and shape perspectives. It is something women exercise in their homes, in their workplaces, and in their communities, and they can have the same impact on business.

 

The rock ‘n roll entrepreneurial spirit of Dave Grohl

I have a wish-I-did-what-you-do-for-a-living man crush on Dave Grohl, founder and lead singer of the Foo Fighters. I have cycled through many musical heroes, from Ian Curtis, Johnny Rotten, Joe Strummer to Tim Booth. Whenever I hear Grohl perform or talk, I marvel at his intelligence and zest for his craft. Of course, everyone’s on a mission to be themselves at the deepest level, but I sometimes wish my job was doing what this guy does.

Music gives Grohl his spiritual conviction to ferociously animate himself. He founded The Foo Fighters as a one-man project following the dissolution of Nirvana after the suicide of Kurt Cobain. The band took its name from the UFOs and various aerial phenomena reported by aircraft pilots in WWII – which were known as ‘foo fighters’.

I know an embarrassing amount about Grohl. I could talk your ears off. For example, did you know Dave was the fifth drummer in Nirvana? I always think of that when I’m playing air drums in the car to Everlong – I’ll get my breakthrough I tell myself, I can be patient.

Following the release of Foo Fighters’ 1995 debut album, featuring Grohl as the only musician – so he consequently played every instrument – Grohl recruited bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, as well as Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear to complete the line-up.

The band made its live public debut on February 23, 1995, at the Jambalaya Club in Arcata, California. Goldsmith quit during the recording of the group’s second album, The Colour and the Shape (1997), when most of the drum parts were re-recorded by Grohl himself. Smear’s departure followed soon afterward, though he appeared with the band on live shows, and rejoined as a full-time member in 2011.

The Colour and the Shape is an amazing record, including top tunes such as Monkey Wrench, Everlong, My Hero, and Walking After You. Before its release, Taylor Hawkins joined as drummer, followed by Chris Shiflett as lead guitarist. Fast forward to September 2017, and session and touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee joined as a full member, to complete the lineup.

At their loudest and most animated, Foo Fighters are noisemakers and musicians. Their grinding sheds a spark, which leads to an explosion, which leads to a crescendo. Grohl’s music combines the beauty of minimalism, the importance of music that’s stripped down, and a wall of noise. Foo Fighters tunes are marked by the technique of shifting between quiet verses and loud, sing-along choruses, huge guitars, powerful hooks.

They have the lure of punk with the energy and immediacy, the need to thrash stuff around, but at the same time, we’re all suckers for a beautiful melody. Often it’s a punishing industrial noise, a clattering din, but Grohl is an idiosyncratic figure in a world that tends towards the cookie-cutter.

Grohl is a whirling dervish on stage, and they frequently play concerts for over three hours. He’s a story of sheer passion. For example, on June 12, 2015, Grohl fell from the concert stage in Gothenburg, during the second song of the Foo Fighters’ set, and broke his leg. The band played without Grohl while he received medical attention; Grohl then returned to the stage, sitting in a chair to perform the last two hours of the band’s set while a medic tended to his leg.

The band are deep into their musicianship, and at gigs, each member tips their hat to their heroes – from Queen to The Stones to John Lennon – but the best I’ve seen was Pat Smear leading the band into a quick dash through the Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop. When they play, it’s blood and guts. I love their dissonance and the chaos.

Startup founders – as any band founders like Grohl – who want to follow any kind of memorable, meaningful path for their venture or for culture writ large, can’t settle for cheap radio-play solutions, or settle for a ‘one-hit wonder’ mentality.

To create real cultural touchstones, we have to understand that there is no such thing as an overnight success. There is no cheat. No corners to cut. No app store elevation to a speedy triumph. Because let’s face it, the majority of chart-toppers fail to occupy a place in the collective memory as we someday record it. However, Nirvana were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on April 10, 2014, twenty years after the death of Cobain, so Grohl already has a legacy.

In business terms, you don’t need another ‘hit’, you need to define your vision and ‘what does success look like?’ aligned around specific outcomes. To build companies that create real customer loyalty, credibility, or a following like a band – measured either by word of mouth or clear metrics – you have to build experiences.

Not just products. Not pixel-perfect screens, it’s the human experience that matters most. How people think and feel when they use the thing you’ve built, hyper-memorable encounters, real human experience. It’s like those memorable concerts you’ll never forget. It’s only these kinds of experiences that any of us are likely to enjoy with relish or gusto in a year or two to ensure repeat purchases.

At this stage in the feverish, casino-like startup game, it’s a lottery at best. It’s not about memes, it’s about moments. Not ‘friends’, or ‘followers’ or ‘connections’, but faces. Physical, real-world experiences that complement our lives online, extending it emotionally and naturally, in way that we now need and crave more than ever before. Remember, in this rock-star era of startups, the ‘concert’ is monumentally more rewarding than the record. For customers. For audiences. For people.

After the death of Cobain, Grohl did not wallow in grief. He refocused and put himself back into the music. I was supposed to just join another band and be a drummer the rest of my life. I thought that I would rather do what no one expected me to do. I enjoy writing music and I enjoy trying to sing, and there’s nothing anyone can really do to discourage me.

Which means maybe it’s time to find that loud, noisy and energised version of the Dave Grohl in you, in the here and now. And if you can’t, start banging out some version of it in your garage as a start. So, let me count you in to some startup lessons from Dave Grohl. Ready? 1-2-3-4…

Be punk, not perfect Dave started out as the drummer in the punk band Scream. He began drumming on the pillows on his bed as a kid, and then took the rhythm that flowed through him on the road by the time he was seventeen. He never took drum lessons or guitar lessons. Actually he took one drum lesson and the teacher tried to get him to change the way he held the sticks. That was the end of drum lessons.

He’s a self-taught guitarist, too. Grohl recorded the first Foo Fighters album by himself, playing every instrument, in five days. The music he writes and performs is far from perfect, but it’s perfectly him. Passion and emotion are great, ugly, beautiful channels to push your creativity out into the world. No lessons required.

Be a doer Grohl knew what he wanted to do from a young age. However, his family couldn’t afford a drum kit so he would arrange his pillows on his bed and hit them hard enough to make the sounds he wanted. There will always be barriers, but it’s how we overcome them that matter.

Sometimes we feel like going it alone is the hardest thing, but it often results in the most rewarding work. Grohl’s got deep roots in the punk scene, which has a strong tether to the do-it-yourself mentality. Grohl talks about his realisation that he could make it happen with his own hands:

At 13 years old, I realised that I could write my own song, I could record my own record, I could start my own label, I could release my own record, I could book my own shows, I could write and publish my own fanzine, I could silkscreen my own T-shirts. I could do all of this myself. There was no right or wrong, because it was all mine.

Grohl isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves, show off his feather-tattooed arms, and get to work. So what about you?

Find your passion The idea is just to make music and make good records. There’s not so much career ambition as there is personal ambition… …When you go in to make an album, you want it to be better than the last, you want it to be the best thing you’ve ever done, and you want to stretch yourself musically.

Molly’s Lips was his first Nirvana recording, a session for John Peel’s BBC Radio show. He’d made a start. Grohl is confident in his own shoes. He knows who he is: It’s YOUR voice. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it’s gone. Because everyone is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last.

Keep your family close To be an effective leader, it can’t be all about the work. A balanced life is a full life, and Grohl obviously enjoys having those closest to him, close to him.

Family commitments are important, keep a balance. It’s often the reason many can’t chase their dreams. Grohl’s a devoted and dedicated father, so he built a studio at home so that he could walk his three daughters to school whilst he wasn’t on tour before getting to work. Now, you often see one of his daughters get up on stage with him at most gigs.

Get stuff done From his early work from Scream, as the drummer for Nirvana and the last twenty-five years as the enigmatic frontman of the Foo Fighters, the output of music and songs that have Grohl’s fingerprints on is stunning.

By his own admission, he can literally not sit still. Whilst band mates enjoy a much needed rest, he often fills that time with side projects and collaborations. Volume can speak volumes, and whilst it’s important to maintain quality, sometimes we need to just get stuff done. So avoid procrastination. Either crack on and finish it, or scrap it and move on.

Care … genuinely In May 2006, Grohl sent a note of support to the two trapped miners in the Beaconsfield mine collapse, in Australia. In the initial days following the collapse one of the men requested an iPod with the Foo Fighters album In Your Honour to be sent down to them through a small hole.

Grohl’s note read, in part, Though I’m halfway around the world right now, my heart is with you both, and I want you to know that when you come home, there’s two tickets to any Foos show, anywhere, and two cold beers waiting for you. Deal?

One of the miners took up his offer, joining Grohl for a drink after a Foo Fighters acoustic concert in Sydney. Grohl wrote a tribute instrumental piece for the next album. The song, Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners, appears on Foo Fighters’ 2007 release Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.

Music is one of the things in our humanity that really matters, and for Dave Grohl, on the final day before all the lights go out for one last time, you can be certain that the cockroaches will be banging out a decent rendition of Everlong.

So you’ve got the itch to do something. Go ahead and make something really special, something amazing, and sing in your own voice like Dave Grohl. That’s what every entrepreneur must do too, use their own creativity to shape their own innovation agenda and make their mark.