reidhoffmanI am tempted to quote from the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Value”, oh what the hell I will quote it:

“You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.”
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The same goes for being a great founder, how do you become a great founder, it is easy. Make yourself great and then start a company. So, what does it mean to become great especially about founding companies? I am not that smart to answer that question but Reid Hoffman, the Founder of LinkedIn and Partner at Greylock Ventures, can do that very well. The 13th lecture in the How to Start a Startup series was held yesterday and here is the lecture.

yinyangReid Hofmann really distilled what it takes to be a great founder, be passionate about your conviction and listen to feedback. Be data driven and have an instinct to make decisions. Take risks and be cautious. If you notice the pattern there is a lot of “AND”. That is what it takes to be  a great leader as well or building great visionary companies. One of the classic books, Build to Last by Jim Collins also alludes to this pattern through the Yin and Yang of building great companies:

No “Tyranny of the OR” (Embrace the “Genius of the AND”)

…a key aspect of highly visionary companies: They do not oppress themselves with what we call the “Tyranny of the OR” – the rational view that cannot easily accept paradox, that cannot live with two seemingly contradictory forces or ideas at the same time. The “Tyranny of the OR” pushes people to believe that things must be either A OR B, but not both. It makes such proclamations as:

  • “You can have change OR stability.”
  • “You can be conservative OR bold.”
  • “You can have low cost OR high quality.”
  • “You can have creative autonomy OR consistency and control.”
  • “You can invest for the future OR do well in the short-term.”
  • “You can make progress by methodical planning OR by opportunistic grouping.”
  • “You can create wealth for your shareholders OR do good for the world.”
  • “You can be idealistic (value-driven) OR pragmatic (profit-driven).”

Instead of being oppressed by the “Tyranny of the OR,” highly visionary companies liberate themselves with the “Genius of the AND”-the ability to embrace both extremes of a number of dimensions at the same time. Instead of choosing between A OR B, they figure out a way to have both A AND B.

On the one hand: AND Yet, on the other hand
purpose beyond profit AND pragmatic pursuit of profit
a relatively fixed core ideology AND vigorous change and movement
conservatism around the core AND bold, committing, risky moves
clear vision and sense of direction AND opportunistic grouping and experimentation
Big Hairy Audacious Goals AND incremental evolutionary progress
selection of managers steeped in the core AND selection of managers that induce change
ideological control AND operational autonomy
extremely tight culture (almost cult-like) AND ability to change, move, and adapt
investment for the long-term AND demands for short-term performance
philosophical, visionary, futuristic AND superb daily execution, “nuts and bolts”
organization aligned with a core ideology AND organization adapted to its environment

We’re not talking about mere balance here. “Balance” implies going to the midpoint, fifty-fifty, half and half. A visionary company doesn’t seek balance between short-term and long-term, for example. It seeks to do very well in the short-term and very well in the long-term. A visionary company doesn’t simply balance between idealism and profitability; it seeks to be highly idealistic and highly profitable. A visionary company doesn’t simply balance between preserving a tightly held core ideology and stimulating vigorous change and movement; it does both to an extreme. In short, a highly visionary company doesn’t want to blend yin and yang into a gray, indistinguishable circle that is neither highly yin nor highly yang; it aims to be distinctly yin and yang –both at the same time, all the time.

Irrational? Perhaps. Rare? Yes. Difficult? Absolutely. But a F. Scott Fitzgerald pointed out, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” This is exactly what the visionary companies are able to do.

Visionary companies referred above are built by people and teams and leaders coming together aligned on a mission. As a startup founder, the burden is on bringing this thinking to the whole team or building a complementary team that can encapsulate all these things. This is one of the reasons why successful venture capital investors look for founding teams rather than a founder. It takes a team to build a world class company. Each person in the team needs to breath, live and evangelize the above ideals. Visionary founders that we so cherish bring that quality into teams and their company. Are they all perfect, no, but are they focused on their mission absolutely, there is no other way! Look at yourself and see where you need help, fill that with a team member whom you trust. This is the only way to build great companies.