From the book “One Hundred Years of Solitude”
One night, Army General Aureliano asked Colonel Gerineldo Marquez:
“Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?”
“What other reason could there be, old friend?” Colonel Gerineldo Marquez answered. “For the great Liberal Party.”
“You’re lucky you know,” he answered. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve only just realized that I am fighting out of pride.”
How many times has it happened with you that you took up a project or a challenge because you believed in a cause but ended up just fighting for your pride?
Be it a college election where you start out with a dream to improve faculty-student relations but you end up fighting with the focus that you don’t want to be a loser.
Or you may start a venture now because you believe that your idea can impact the world in a positive way but you end up dragging it along because you don’t want to accept defeat.
Or you may take up an assignment in your company because it will make your product better. But as you struggle with the inertia of other teams, you take it onto your pride to see the assignment through.
Examples are plenty, the net result is one. You start something because you believe in the cause and you just end up fighting out of your pride.
Why? Because as a leader, you struggle with several opposing forces. As an agent of change, you’ll face resistance, offense, and insult. People will come and praise you which will bloat your ego. People will also come and offend you which will hurt your ego. At times, you’ll try to move things and they’ll move, bloating your ego. And at other times, you’ll try to move things and they’ll notmove, leaving you frustrated.
When things oscillate between appeasing your ego to hurting your ego, you develop a sense of higher self-esteem as well as a strong urge to protect it at all costs. Well, there you go. You started with the goal of making the world a better place and ended up with a self-centered life.
But fighting for your pride will not take you far. People will not support you. People don’t support leaders. People support a cause, a belief, a dream.
People didn’t support Mahatama Gandhi, they supported movement for independence; they supported method of non-violence. Imagine Gandhi fasting for several days not because he believed atrocities on the poor must be stopped; but because he was up against the district magistrate and wanted to teach him a lesson. Would he have got the support from people the way he did? No. People wouldn’t have even noticed him. Or would’ve laughed at him.
What made the difference for Gandhi? The fact that he was just fighting for the cause and not for his pride.
So, as a leader, stay focused on the cause. If you stop believing in it, just quit and walk away. There is no point in fighting for the pride. You’ll fail anyways…
Finishing any sizable work always takes more time than expected, more than estimated, more than it should. Why?
Because for every work that you do, you have external dependencies. There are small bits of things that need to be done by others for you to complete your work. And those small bits of work are as important for the whole work as the big chunks are. Just as a small needle in a sewing machine is as important as the big motor driving the machine.
And those small bits of work need to be done by others. And even though these small things hold the highest priority for you, for others, it may be just a side thing; an errand to be run once in a while or when there is a mood.
And surprisingly, there are just too many of these small bits of work in any sizable amount of work. And unsurprisingly, because of their size (or rather lack of it), these bits are never visible when you make your grand plan. When you make the grand plan, you see big things and budget for them. But small things? Because they are invisible, they won’t be budgeted for. And they’ll take longer to finish because of external dependencies! After all, your highest priority item is just another errand for others
Anyway, there is no point in holding a magnifying glass and looking for small bits when estimating time. It’s too much of effort and you won’t be able to do it anyways (remember, these are too small to be seen when your mind is occupied with big items).
Just go by the rule of thumb – it takes twice the time, twice the money and will give you half the returns than what you expect.
While talking to Atul today afternoon over lunch, the issue of defendability of social apps came up. His comment was that in the web 2.0 paradigm, the biggest challenge is the defendability. Someone else can pick up your idea and execute and you can’t do anything about it. There are three main things here – a) Everything is pretty much open so there are mostly no trade secrets, b) There is no rocket science involved in the technology, so, it’s very easy to replicate it, c) Most of the stuff is built on top of open source code, so, anyone can mimic your functionality in no-time.
So, how do you defend the leadership of your social application? What barriers-to-entry can you create for others?
While thinking more about it, I realized that the real defendability of social applications is not to be found in technology but in something that’s at the core of social applications – i.e. social. Yes. What’s there in the name of technology for Wikipedia? In fact, most of the other wiki softwares are better than MediaWiki. Yet, can we have another Wikipedia? What’s there in Facebook? What’s there in LinkedIn? In any of the popular social applications on the web today, technology is neither a barrier, nor an advantage. It’s all social.
Earlier, if you were to build a product, you’ll build some fancy technology. Building that technology will be the real challenge and also the real asset later on. That technology will put the barrier to entry of other players.
However, in the social application world (or the web 2.0 world), the real challenge when building the application is social, and when that challenge is solved, the real asset is also social.
For Wikipedia, Facebook, MySpace and others like them, the challenge was not to develop any fancy technology. It was rather to develop a social system in which their users could do something useful and also mobilising those potential users around their concept. Once it was done, their success cannot be replicated by anyone else.
So, when we think social apps, we have to think really social. For challenges that we solve and for the competitive advantages that we build.