A Good Idea is No Match for a Bad Habit

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Quotes, Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

Frank Hayes, a columnist for Computerworld, jotted down some “conventional IT wisdom” in 2000 in his “Frankly Speaking” column that they re-ran this month. Here were the best three nuggets:

Data isn’t information.
Information isn’t knowledge.
Knowledge isn’t manageable.

For me the first one concerns “tacit knowledge” (Michael Polyani‘s shorthand phrase for the fact that we can know more than we can tell, and not all know how is available to introspection), the knowledge that individuals or teams possess that can’t be separated from the person or group. As your startup grows your team is going to become individually and collectively more knowledgeable about the problems you are solving for your customers–at least, paraphrasing Edison, you will learn a lot of things that don’t work. It’s probably useful to focus as much on developing the people and teamwork by developing checklists and simple score keeping mechanisms as asking them to document everything.

Functionality is not the same as usefulness.

There are many many things that can be developed that won’t get adopted, some may be purchased that are not adopted but that’s not a sustainable business model. Much of the risk in our startups has to do with your prospects perception of the usefulness of what you’ve developed (do they want to become paying customers), this can get ignored in the very early days when the team is more obsessed about being able to get a new technology or application working. It’s a very good idea to develop the demo before you finish the product (even if its’ just a one page illustration or prop) so you can assess if there is interest, does someone believe it will be useful.

A good idea is no match for a bad habit.

Large companies have recipes for a business that work and many roles you can fill as part of a successful team. As long as you are good at something they can balance your weaknesses with others who have complementary strengths. Startup founders have to periodically evaluate what they may be doing or failing to do that is holding the business back. They have to get rid of their bad habits because their business cannot afford them, and the strength of their ideas cannot overcome poor execution.

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