It’s tempting to categorize people by the generation they were born into. It certainly doesn’t help when the media so readily reinforces that kind of nonsense, especially when it comes to Generation Y.
Don’t even get me started on all the self-proclaimed gurus that claim to have insights into the Millennial workforce and how businesses should handle and motivate them. What a crock.
Sure, things change from generation to generation, but labeling employees by their age or generation and treating them differently is, to put it bluntly, idiotic. If you look at an employee and see anything other than what that individual can bring to the organization, you don’t deserve to be a manager. Period.
That’s always been my outspoken opinion, but every so often, there’s actually some evidence to support it. Last week, 29 year-old WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg dropped by reddit for an AMA or Ask Me Anything session.
In case you didn’t know, WordPress is a free and open source content management system that powers most of the blogosphere and is used by over 60 million websites, but who’s counting? So Mullenweg has some serious entrepreneurial chops.
Somewhere in the middle of all the Q&A you probably have to be a code developer to understand, was a question that millions of Americans ask themselves every day: “I was wondering what advice you have for people looking to start a profitable business …”
Although I’m nearly twice his age, I found Mullenweg’s advice to smart, insightful, invaluable, and strangely enough, not inconsistent with what I tell up-and-comers. Go figure.
His five-part answer is in quotes. The rest is my commentary.
“It's really hard not to be distracted by the things you think you should be doing, or that you see other businesses doing, and focus in on what actually matters to your chosen business day in and day out.”
Ironically, the blogosphere is a double-edged sword in this regard. There’s so much content on entrepreneurship and leadership, some of it from experienced executives and business leaders, it’s easy to get tugged in different directions. You’ve really got to think your strategy through and stick to it.
Sure, flexibility is important these days, but so is focus and stickwithitness. Trust your unique vision for the business.
“It's easy to be very busy but not get anything done that you'll look back a year from now and say was worthwhile.”
This is something we all wrestle with. It helps to be clear on your goals for the business or product and stay focused on achieving them. It’s also a good thing to love or be inspired by what you’re doing. That way at least you’ll feel good about what you’ve accomplished.
“It's good to work someplace before starting something on your own.”
Amen. There’s nothing like learning the ropes – how the real business world works – from those who’ve actually done it before, not to mention getting some solid experience under your belt while you’ve got a safety net. It’s all good.
“If you can bootstrap without investment you'll have more control. But make sure you'll drive yourself to higher and higher performance and growth the same way someone external would.”
Not only that, but the act of going out and seeking outside capital investment forces you to think through everything about your business. And the process will provide incredibly valuable feedback, perspective, and perhaps even validation.
Just remember one thing. Be prepared for most people to tell you your idea is dumb. It happens all the time, especially to some of the most disruptive startups. You only need a few investors to believe in you.
“You'll get a lot of contradictory advice, and often neither side is wrong.”
When you’re faced with a tough problem, listen to those you trust, those who will challenge you and give it to you straight, no matter what. Take all those viewpoints in, then go off and make your own decision. Trust your gut. Instincts in decision-making are a big part of entrepreneurial success. That, to me, is the big takeaway here.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.