Every so often I find myself caught up in a really hectic 3-4 week schedule where it seems like I float endlessly betweens meetings. Pitches. Intros. Board Meetings. Conferences.
And I get flooded with legal docs, end-of-quarter financial administration, recruiting, whatever.
I get sucked up in “Do” mode.
Startups Are for Doers
Now, I’m pretty on the record that being an entrepreneur is about being great at The Do. With an emphasis on the “D” in JFDI.
But getting caught up in the doing can often leave you directionless.
You need to take time out to Think.
I know it sounds obvious. And from experience I know that saying something so simple will bring the trolls out. And I have a penchant for feeding the trolls.
But trust me when I say that my observations across many startups (and other companies, frankly) is that not enough time goes into thinking.
Some of my biggest breakthroughs have come in what seems like lazy time. Every so often after a few weeks of go-go-go I work from home from a day. I walk down from my bedroom and stay at my computer un-showered and in a hat for 10 straight hours. Or I will get some good time in at a hotel just zoning out and thinking.
I have my best creative break-throughs this way. I like to think with blank pieces of paper and a pen. I’ve talked in the past about how I manage my own creative process. If you struggle to find moments of creativity you might read that post.
I also have huge creative spurts when I run. I zone out and think about how things could be different. And I often will get out a pen and paper afterward. Every now and again I like to drive from LA to San Francisco (6 hours) in stead of flying. It gives me tons of zone out time with visual stimulation to get the brain going.
If you’re not taking this zone-out down time I’ll bet you’re not having enough strategic reflection on your job, your company, your strategy.
Startups are filled with the stresses of the here and now and it’s hard to break out of this mold of focusing two feet in front of you. Frankly, I think venture capital is that way, too. How do VCs break out of group think when they are shuttling from one board meeting to the next, from one conference to the other and talking with all the same people?
I was at the Lobby Conference a few weeks ago in Mexico. My wife and I went down 3 days early and had some chill out time. I had one of the biggest mental breakthroughs about what I want to do differently at GRP Partners in 2013. I want to make sure that my sixth year as a VC doesn’t just become an automatic continuation of what I’ve done in my first 5 years. I don’t want to be on autopilot. I woke up super early one morning and wrote out my manifesto. I know, I’m weird.
I am inspired by the constant innovation in our industry by First Round Capital like the Dorm Room Fund, their expansion to Philadelphia (I hope they also have a secret plot to replace Andy Reid while there), the exchange fund and other initiatives. And I don’t want to be complacent.
How does this changing world affect me? My fund? How can I raise the bar? How does the world in Los Angeles intersect differently with venture capital? How can I play to my strengths?
I can’t make big leap forwards in Do mode.
Do you find yourself too much in email mode? I regularly shut down my email so that I don’t get pop-up alerts when I’m working. I turn off my phone so it won’t ring. I close my Twitter tab. These small dopamine-soaked distractions will cut into your Think time. Trust me.
Sometimes somebody in my office will ask if “they can just get 5 quick minutes” and they will see a zombie look on my face as I rush through my office. I can feel a spinning in my head when I know that I have something I need to get down on paper. I can feel the ideas needing to come out and I know if I get distracted I will lose them. I beeline for my office, give off my zombie vibe, shout out, “not now, maybe later” and I head for my desk. I need to think. Undistracted. No music. Concentrate. Think.
This is one of the positive signs of ADD that nobody ever talks about. I do get these extreme moments of clarity and the need to shut down all of the bullshit I’m working on (or usually it’s a meeting that I randomly need to leave because it’s driving me totally fucking nuts and I need to be alone) and I need to get something out. I learned about this behavior and how to channel it from my favorite book about ADD, Delivered from Distraction. Don’t let anybody tell you ADD is only a weakness.
And What About the Opposite?
And I know that it sounds almost silly to say that some people Think too much and don’t Do enough. But that’s exactly what happens to many people.
The number of times I’ve had people come to me and say they want to blog more. They think it would be good for them. Think not. Do. (go on, click it ;-))
Or people who think all sorts of ideas about how they want to quit their job and try a startup. Or quit their startup to do something different. Or they want to travel more. See the world. Visit China.
The world is filled with over-Thinkers. For sure.
And then there is the missing link. It’s what connects Thinking and Doing. And that’s Planning.
For me the best way to put Thinking into action is to creatively brainstorm a plan of action. I literally will sit down in a brainstorming session and draw up a list of actions that would have to take place in order to make my goals a reality. Since I think visually I often do this in the form group lists with inter-dependencies or in the form of a GANTT chart.
Without dedicating time to Planning you will never optimally turn your ideas into reality. You will never connect your Think and Do.
We each have strengths & weakness in these areas.
I have written about the need for entrepreneurs to take inventory in themselves before deciding whom to hire as the rest of the team.
The Three Buckets of People
There is a sort of rhythm to people’s personality types that often slot them into one of three buckets.
1. I think the best leaders are Thinkers. They often need teams of people to help them Plan how to turn their ideas into realities. They are “shapers” not “completer / finishers.” The best leaders know this about themselves and surround themselves with people who complement them. Without c/f’s I’d be hosed. Just ask my wife.
2. The best managers are Planners. They are really good at creating lists of actions and monitoring performance of those actions. Manager isn’t a bad word. They are the absolute lifeblood of any organization. If this is you, you know the drill. You’re very organized. You keep meticulous notes. You are very good about getting things done and make sure others do as well. You keep the trains running on time. You’re not quite as creative in “breaking out of the box” and doing daring new things. That’s ok. You know that about yourself. And you’re comfortable having that crazy CEO around you. Secretly, you love that you know she couldn’t do her job effective without you.
3. And the best individual contributors are Doers. This can be your star Chief Architect who loves to code but hates having to handle the admin like testing, documentation, recruiting, etc. It can also be your star salesperson who doesn’t want to have to manage a team because he simply wants to earn his paycheck and get on with his life. I’ve written about these sales mavericks before.
A great team needs all types. And you need to identify your own strengths and weaknesses as an entrepreneur and how to surround yourself with people who complement you.
Make sure you take some lazy time to zone out and Think. Don’t put pressure on yourself to fill out every last minute of the day. And do your best after a good Think session to put your ideas onto paper and see if you can’t turn it into a Plan. Even if you have to ask for help from others to turn the Think into Do.
What Do You Plan to Do About Thinking?
This week is Thanksgiving. The classic American week where you have downtime.
Three years ago during Thanksgiving I told Nivi I would write down what I look for in an entrepreneur for a series of posts for VentureHacks. and it forced me to spend some serious time thinking about what I really look for when I make investments. It culminated in a series of blog posts I wrote while on Thanksgiving break that were transformational in giving me a mental model for what was important to me in venture.
This year I promised myself I would write a series of posts on what I believe is changing in the venture capital model and what I plan to do about it. My mental model on this is very different than how it has been framed in the press to date so I’m excited to have some downtime to think.
What will you spend your Thanksgiving downtime thinking about?