I never worry about action, but only inaction. – Winston Churchill
It's cheating to start a blog post with a quote from Winston Churchill. He was that good. But sometimes you need to cheat and I'm doing it today.
People ask me all the time about the traits I look for in entrepreneurs and action orientation is at the top of the list. I'd much rather back someone who makes 100 decisions a day and gets 51 of them right than someone who makes one decision a day and gets it right.
I believe that in startups, like venture investing, the cost of making a bad decision is not nearly as great as the benefit of making a good one. So I like action oriented leaders.
When you make a bad decision, you can always realize it was bad and change it. By being action oriented, you put a lot of things in motion and can evaluate what is working and what is not.
I am not advocating a "throw it up on the wall and see what sticks" approach. I believe entrepreneurs need to me more insightful and strategic than that. You need to have a game plan for sure. But within that game plan, I believe it is better to try more things than less things. And I believe that perfect is the enemy of the good.
Dick Costolo, co-founder of FeedBurner and now COO of Twitter, describes a
startup as the process of going down lots of dark alleys only to find
that they are dead ends. Dick describes the art of a successful startup as
figuring out they are dead ends quickly and trying another and another
until you find the one paved with gold.
It's another form of the classic direct marketing technique of test, measure, test, measure, test, measure. You can think and debate about stuff all day long or you can try stuff out and see what works. From my experience, the latter approach is a much better one.
There is a cost to action orientation. You need to be able to hit the quit button. You need to be able to deal with the broken glass that results from doing that. It's a messier way of doing business and some people have a hard time with mess.
A good example of that is hiring. If you are "action oriented" in your hiring, you'll make more hires and more of them will not work out. Which means you'll be firing more people and dealing with the inevitable headache and heartache that results from showing someone the door.
But as I've asserted earlier about startups, the benefits of making a strong hire vastly outweigh the costs of making a bad hire. Strong hires can lift an entire organization almost single handedly, especially when you are a small company. Bad hires can be toxic, but not if you recognize them quickly and move them out.
Great entrepreneurs are hard to work for. They jerk you around, change things up, and are always pulling the rug out from under you. And often a company outgrows that leadership style and needs a calmer more organized leader.
But if you want to create something great and do it faster than the competition, you need to be action oriented. You need to be decisive. And you should not worry too much about making bad decisions as long as you are prepared to recognize them quickly and unwind them.