Talking about a revolution – 3 leadership lessons from the Startup world

I have never fully bought into the whole 4th Industrial revolution hype – a massive evolution and incredible innovation in technology that’s changing the way we live and work – absolutely! But a revolution? “A sudden, radical, or complete change”? Mmmm not convinced. I can buy into an evolution…for sure. 

I have never fully bought into the whole 4th Industrial revolution hype – a massive evolution and incredible innovation in technology that’s changing the way we live and work – absolutely! But a revolution? “A sudden, radical, or complete change”? Mmmm not convinced. I can buy into an evolution…for sure. 

But this! This time! These days! The times we are living in right now in 2020…this my friends, is a revolution! A revolution the likes we have not seen in our lifetimes. A revolution that is poised to change our world in more ways than we can even imagine today.

So, as we sit, locked in our varying forms of isolation, trying to adjust and hold onto the last threads of our sanity; how can we think about adjusting the way we lead our teams and businesses so that we can adjust to this incredible change? Who do we look to figure out what post-revolutionary leadership will look like?

Interestingly, it’s to the very group of 4th Industrial revolution proponents I mention above – The Startup ecosystem.  This fascinating group of pioneers have found ways to work in challenging ecosystems, to create futures out of adversity, to lead in an uncertain future. So, what can we as leaders learn from the startup world as we navigate our own, most certainly, uncertain future

You cannot shrink yourself to greatness

This quote by one of the most inspirational women I know, Zelda Roscherr, is at the heart of the startup culture. (OK so it came from Tom Peters “You Can’t Shrink Your Way to Greatness” but let’s not digress). A relentless focus on costs isn’t going to change the world, nor is it going to inspire anyone. Don’t get me wrong, being financially responsible is essential, especially in these times, but it cannot consume our entire organizational awareness. 

Startups focus on meeting client needs in a whole new way.  A better way.  A more logical way that suits the client needs of today. They are laser-focused on delivery.

We need to be focusing our teams on this inspirational future.  We need them to be inspired into creating and inventing new products and ways of working.  We need them to be focusing on the needs of our clients and how to meet those in new and innovative ways.

What is innovation other than using the “tech” and means that we have today to meet our clients’ needs in a whole new way?  The only way we will survive the revolution is to keep our clients at the heart of our organization and to create new ways of meeting their needs.

Pick a great team and trust them

The art of picking a great team has been widely explored in leadership literature, and I truly believe that most organizations have got their recruitment process down to a fine art.  Most can find incredible people and inspire them to join the team.

And then it all goes wrong. 

Too many organizations find incredible humans and then do their very best to break them.  To squeeze them into the “this is how we do it here” mold.  “The way we do it here” simply will not get you anywhere in a world where everything has changed.

Startups do the complete opposite – they find incredible humans and let them be, well, incredible. They trust that the people they hire can do the work they were hired to do…and more. Mostly because they simply do not have the bandwidth or time to be watching over people, there is simply too much to do with very limited resources, but also because they get that they are not perfect, they get that they need other skills in their team to complement their own; and so they trust the team to do the work they simply cannot do as well.

In a post-revolutionary world where our workplaces may look completely different, we are going to need to be great at hiring great people, and even better at letting them keep being great! And being great the way they do it, not the “the way we do it here”.

We live in an ecosystem; no species survives on its own

Startups know that they are too small to go it alone, they understand collaboration and ecosystems, and they use the ecosystem around them to mutual benefit.  They understand that generosity has velocity, and that if we help and learn from one another, we can all move forward faster. Partnership plays a significant role in the business model.

Corporate thinking has grown more and more to owning the ecosystem or dominating rather than partnering.  We are very quickly seeing that as humans we need each other.  This applies to our communities and countries, but it applies as much to our economical ecosystems.  We need to help one another; we need to be kind to our partners and suppliers and clients and employees.  We need to recognize that if we work together differently, we will all get there faster. 

This concept flows all the way through our organization, from the way we sell and the way we create products and services, to the way source talent.  We are moving to world where people become part of an ecosystem rather than corporate assets and where the way those people partnerships work will be completely different.

So how we do we survive the revolution? Take this time as a gift.  A unique opportunity to pivot, to review where you are at in your organization and to play that forward; to play the scenarios out. This is the time to go back to basics and remember the magic that is at the heart of what you do, the thing that makes your organization incredible and to focus all of your energy on turning the volume right up on exactly that!  Remind yourself that your clients are why you exist; that your people are incredible, so find new ways to let them be just that; of course, collaborate and, dare I say, be kind to each other.

God bless you all, stay safe out there.

P.S. this article was not intended to spark a debate around what a revolution is or isn’t but, by way of interest, this image from a 2019 paper by Mario Coccia seems to validate my thinking (in my mind anyway).

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Leading with love

My best friends daughter died last week. She was 15.  And now she’s gone. And I am so incredibly sad.  

My best friends daughter died last week. She was 15.  And now she’s gone. And I am so incredibly sad.  

Sad because there will be no new Amy memories.  Sad because we will miss her in the biggest and the smallest of ways.  Sad because I can’t make it better, or heal her parents pain or find a single word to make sense of it all. Sad. Sad.

I guess that’s why death is such a crazy hard topic, why we avoid it all together.  But I simply have to talk about this death and about this life, about this Amy, about the Amy legacy.  Because this very special 15 year old lived a life where love came first – always – and I want us to learn from her. I want us to celebrate her life by remembering the love legacy that she created. We are, after all, not here to live forever, but to create something that does, and when you manage to achieve that in 15 beautiful years, there is a deep lesson for us all. 15 Years to leave an incredible legacy. A legacy that makes me want to talk about death in the context of how we live our lives.

In the days and years leading up to her final moments and the days that have passed since; the overwhelming sense that we all had of Amy was of a beautiful angel that filled her world with love.  Not a bold and  loud and huggy kind of love, but rather a gentle, a patient, an accepting kind of love; a serving, giving, graceful kind, the kind that lingers with you, that touches you to the very soul, the kind of love that not a single one of us will forget.  


Did you? Are you? Were you kind today?  Did you remember? Or did the busyness and the competition and the rush and the tiredness and the striving take over? Did the overwhelming living that we seem to do in business and city life today make us forget? Did you love today? Did you love your family? Did you love the people that you work with? The people in the cars around you? The random stranger in the supermarket? Did you remember that they are human too, that we are all in one gigantic human tribe just trying to make our own way? All of us needing an Amy kind of love more than we want the world to know. All of us craving the community, the kindness of our shared humanity and often finding it lacking.  Lacking in the spaces we occupy but even worse – lacking in ourselves.

Her death brought me back home, back to the place I have spent the largest part of my life.  The city I have loved and grown in, a city of gold and of dreams, a city that’s heart still beats loudly within me.  Perhaps it was the sadness and the grieving or perhaps a heightened awareness, but Jozi … it felt to me that you are so very angry.

My emotionally exhausted response was to be angry right back, with everything…the dryness, the poverty, the aggression, the rage. Angry with the pace and desperation. Actually just angry. And then it hit me, as I walked through those dry and busy streets, a voice so loud in my head (thank you angel) the lesson of Amy!  I realised that my anger, my rage, my Joburg aggression is just an incredibly bad habit! A habit born from years of being in this busy place, a habit I didn’t realise was such a part of my world here. A habit I need desperately to quit!

I know that I can’t change it all, I can’t bring the rain and the jobs and the rainbow nation we crave, I can’t slow down the busyness of the city or calm the stress in her soul, I can’t fix Jozi, but I can bring an Amy kind of love. I can bring it when I am in Joburg or wherever I am in the world.

Reflecting on this lesson reminded me that my greatest leadership successes have been those born out of an intention of kindness; that my greatest business achievements have been those crafted from a place of love and caring; that the my proudest moments are those where I was kind. And so my beautiful Amy, I am going to try to quit my bad habit and instead try to remember your legacy, try to be kinder in the smallest of ways, try my very best to make you proud of the love I give in your memory.  Thank you for being here with us my precious, thank you for your life.  We will miss you forever.

I hope you will also try to #LOVELIKEAMY even just a little each day.


A (not so) fond goodbye to the “Trailing Spouse”

Dear Mr Author of the Urban Dictionary.

I’d like to bring to your urgent attention some inaccuracies of the description currently used to describe a person who accompanies his or her life partner to another city for work. You see Mr Author Sir, its simply not accurate to call us “the trailing spouse” – could there ever be a worse descriptor? (more…)


The Tribe has spoken

The people you spend time with matter. Your views, thoughts and habits naturally become tied to the people you spend the most time with.  Since many of us spend most of our time at work, it’s natural that our relationships are built around the people we do work with. It makes sense that you would work with people like you right? Folks that studied similar things, are interested in similar things, can do similar things would naturally find themselves working in similar place.  These people become your tribe, your peeps, your team. You’ve probably heard the Jim Rohn quote “You’re the average of the five people spend the most time with,” have you ever considered who these people are or the impact they are having on your life? (more…)


A Wandering Why

Ever wonder why? Not the every day why’s like: why is there a moon or why gravity or why do my pants feel so tight or why is that old person looking back at me in the mirror when I still feel 18…but why am I? Why am I in this place, in this life in this  career, in this existence? What is my job here? (more…)

How not to fail in corporate innovation…

This post was cowritten by the genius D’ave Meyer who also gets the point just right and makes work such a barrel of laughs.  At the FOUNDeRY, we’ve managed to celebrate a few successes in this morass we call corporate innovation (we’re lucky, we live within a brand that gets innovation), and we’re doing things that are actually shifting the business forward. But, it wasn’t easy… Continue reading “How not to fail in corporate innovation…”

Are women just bored of boards?

In June 2016, Oliver Wyman, the global management consultancy, released its second paper on women’s progress in the financial services sector. The report includes an analysis of 381 financial services organisations globally, including South Africa, and found that at the rate of current progress, executive committees in financial services industry globally will only reach 30% female representation in 2046.

Shocked yet? 2046! How is that possible?  Depending on which study you read, women in open economies make up between 47% and 51% of the workforce, so why would they only get to 30% of leadership positions in 30 years’ time? And why is it important that they do? Continue reading “Are women just bored of boards?”

Same, same but different

There’s something really special about family holidays, maybe it’s the sleep; or the time; or maybe it’s the sea… whatever it is, the soul is somehow enriched and we most often come away remembering who we really are. It’s the “who really are” part that seems to be my focus right now and then that nagging question: “how do I keep remembering to be me when the holiday is over?” And: “why do I need to anyway?” Continue reading “Same, same but different”

Our book is yet unwritten

2016 has been a year of discovery, of adventure, of breaking boundaries.  For many it’s been a year of unparalleled innovation – especially for those of us that live in experimental spaces. We’ve long known that innovation is for the brave – those souls who dare to speak out, the curious ones asking “but who says?”  Continue reading “Our book is yet unwritten”