Guest AuthorPavan Soni

Don’t plunge!

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist

One of the most common advices tossed around in the startup community is – just do it. I think there is no other notion than that of ‘taking a plunge’ that has done more harm than good to the talent and ambitions of many. Analogies include- ‘there is never a good time’, ‘follow your passion’, ‘it’s now or never’, and my favourite, ‘one life, one chance’! These misplaced sparks further get fuelled by the host of carefully manicured stories of the rags-to-the-riches, the school dropouts who made the killing, and the teenage millionaires.

However, what we conveniently gloss over amidst these stories are the ones who didn’t make it, and these outnumber the ones who made it by at least a few thousands. We fall for the exceptions at the cost of learning from the norms (I am not suggesting one to ‘follow’ the norms). I believe that preparation, timing and, moreover, competence, play a greater role than sheer passion. Passion without competence can be a dead-end. Let me explain how.

Can a person with utmost self-confidence, but without adequate skills, climb Mount Everest? I don’t think so. Self- confidence, belief in oneself, passion, perseverance, et al, may be necessary conditions but certainly aren’t the sufficient ones to climb any summit. There isn’t any substitute for knowledge and skills in the domain, in this case, climbing, without which one is destined to fall, quite literally.

We see scores of youngsters pursuing their dreams of starting off without building sufficient capabilities. Worst still, there are VCs and angel investors who don’t shy away from making people believe that there is money at the end of the funnel (read tunnel and the incoming train!). The media does the rest by selectively picking and pruning the lucky ones. Most conversations on competence development, or that of real skills, happen post math, once the person has resigned from a job, or dropped out from the higher studies, or has over-invested on an idea.

Real competencies are significant and enduring, and take time to build.  I reckon that between building competencies and seeking opportunities, the former must be impressed upon and, that too, rather urgently. Just to iterate, passion without competence is a dead-end.

Let me offer three insights culled from my research and practice on how to develop enduring competencies before one follows the passion.

Picking up hobby projects while on the job

I had this hunch for a long time that if an employee has a business idea, she should work on the ideas well before leaving the organization. Adam Grant, in his book, Originals, offered confidence to my gut feel. A firm provides you with the necessary resources, in terms of infrastructure, connects, legitimacy, talent, and, most importantly, psychological safety, to experiment and even fail while working on an idea. Most employees underestimate the support that their employers offer and overestimate their own capabilities. Nothing better than putting a few assumptions to test before one kicks the bucket.

In our offices, a lot of time and energy is wasted on small talks and navigating the political toxicity. I haven’t seen anyone who is meaningfully busy for eight hours a day, day after day. That way, your work leaves you with enough time to try new things. Companies like Google, and 3M, make it a point that employees pick up hobby projects and use organization’s resources to shape their ideas. If not entrepreneurs, such policies certainly help create intrapreneurs.

So, take a long hard look at your employment before you call it off. It’s more valuable than you think, and there is no assurance that you will do wonders in the open market with your idea which is barely been put to a test. 

Honing and expressing a point of view

I believe that having a point of view is like having a backbone. If you don’t have one you can’t stand, but is you have it rigid, you can’t function. You need to have a certain disposition, of course, backed by experience and/or hard facts. In a collectivist society as that of ours, it’s a practice to blend in, and have an ambivert view towards things, or, better still, align with the power centre.

However, if you must be on your own someday, you need to have a clear thought and a conviction such that people buy into your arguments. And that doesn’t come unless you have gone through the grind yourself. Further, having a point of view is of no consequence unless you put it to test and that happens by selectively expressing it. You need to be careful about the medium, the tone and the ways of communicating, and with whom. Think of the so many technologists working in large tech firms who regularly contribute blogs and codes to open platforms. That’s not for money, but to express and validate their point of view.

Remember, your ideas should reach your audience before your product does. That calls for having an audience before you have your customers.

Building a community of practice transcending geographies

Finally, it’s the power of network. I can’t impress more on the notion that – your network is your net worth. In this connected economy, while there is a lot of noise, but quality content still has value. That’s why perhaps for close to a decade Harvard Business Review has maintained its position and The Economist still has fewer parallels. Can you do the same to yourself, perhaps not at that scale? With a research and practice backed point of view which is well articulated and selectively expressed, you need a community which can appreciate what you are saying and occasionally critique your ideas.

It’s not all that difficult to create and maintain, for access to information is getting democratized and people are yearning for good quality content. Further, won’t it be wonderful if you could not only test the assumptions but also test your own mettle, and build a network before you take a plunge.

That’s what I call as a competence- skills, point of view, and captive audience. With these in place, opportunities will be galore. So, don’t just plunge. Take a stock of your capabilities, invest in building those, and, then and only then, kick the bucket. 

Read more at YourStory.

Republished with permission and originally published at Dr. Pavan Soni’s LinkedIn

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