Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When you slag my idea, you screw yours

Stop me if you know this one;

Catch a crab, put it in a bucket. That crab will easily escape. Catch two crabs, put them in a bucket. As one climbs out, the other will grab it, trying to escape itself, and pull the first crab back in.
Not being strong learners, they will repeat this behavior perpetually. It’s a great metaphor for the scarcity mentality, wherein someone else's success reduces your own.

I come from one of the many small cities transforming itself into a “burgeoning startup hub”. It’s a beatiful city, surrounded by stunning natural beauty. But it’s not Silicon Valley. One needs to fight harder just to find work here, let alone get a tech company off the ground.

This can lead to a scarcity mindset. In conversation at a recent startup gathering, someone said to me “I don’t get it, that companies idea is some kind of mash up of craigslist and reddit, it sounded pretty dumb to me”.

Really? You chatted with someone for 5 minutes and decided their idea is dumb?

This line of thinking makes sense for angels and VCs do. They have scarce resources, and they are looking to allocate those resources to maximum effect.

That line of thinking however, is not conducive to cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset. The entrepreneur trades in ideas, and gains from an openness to possibilities.

How you judge others, you judge yourself

If your first instinct is to pick apart my idea, what will you do to yourself, or your partners when a new idea arises? Will you expect others to be supportive, or will you assume that they, like you, will find the errors in your logic from the outset?

And this mindset can quickly spread across your local start up community. When the first questions you ask someone are “Isn’t that just like X competitor?” or “Why do we need another Y?”, those can quickly become the same questions they ask other people.
It’s such a common trope that ideas are worthless and execution is everything. So why do we judge them so heavily?

Give the idea a chance! It’s hard to explain an idea, and it’s hard to make others see your vision. This guy thought Pinterest and Vine were stupid ideas when their founders first showed them to him.

How to hear an idea

Have you never had trouble describing an idea to someone? It's not easy! What sounds brilliant in your mind, probably doesn’t sound so awesome when you first put it into words. Have some empathy, give them the benefit of the doubt.

Here you have an opportunity to help this person think through how they talk about the idea, and at the same time practice your own methods of inquiry.

Here, you can use these questions:

  • "What are some of your biggest obstacles"?
  • "What would be your ideal customer"?
  • "Why do you care about this idea"?
  • "What does the world look like with your company in it"?
  • "What are you looking for"?
  • "What's your next big milestone"?
  • "What's your next step"?
  • "How can I help"?
  • "Who do you need to talk to"?
See the pattern? All these questions are open-ended, but directed. They get to the specifics of the idea, without necessarily focusing on what you suspect are its weaknesses.

Help others, help yourself

Asking these questions trains your mind to be open to possibilities. Being curious and non-judgemental with others will teach you to treat yourself the same way.

This way of thinking will allow you to take an initially ridiculous seeming idea just a bit further, to investigate the possibilities it creates instead of immediately figuring out why it won't work.

Those as-yet undiscovered possibilities may be incredibly fruitful in the end.