Why Successful Startup Leaders Are Out-of-Step With Others

What is the prerequisite for a successful startup leader?

Is there one particular characteristic or attribute a person has that makes them more likely to succeed in the startup world than other individuals who also have a new idea they want to take to market?

Is it based on education? Is it based on how many degrees they have? Not at all. The fact is there are many individuals who have impressive academic credentials who fail at launching new businesses.

They walk away from university with an MBA, for example, with a chest full of case studies that they have mastered and land on an idea they think will change the world and bring them untold wealth. They get some funding and launch their startup. They apply everything they’ve learned at school. And they fail.

Why is that?

My experience has taught me that successful entrepreneurs are not made on the back of an academic pedigree; they need much more than a good education to take a brave idea that they have and turn it into an overwhelming market success.

Education helps but it doesn’t determine success.

An education should be looked upon as a required entry to the entrepreneur profession; without it, it’s a tough journey to succeed but with it there are no guarantees; you can still fail.

The secret, in my view, to at least having a decent shot at startup success is leaning away from the habits we learn from school.

We enter the unpredictable, uncertain and chaotic post-educational environment with our bags full of rote tools:

  • predictive models.
  • business principles.
  • economic theories.
  • case studies.
  • best practice methodologies.
  • risk analysis techniques.

We are taught to believe that these tools will make the difference between a successful new idea and one that must be abandoned at some point.

The problem with the rote bag is that it’s contents aren’t particularly useful in a pandemic-like world where survival and success depends on a set of skills, competencies and knowledge that is different than what’s in our bag.
In addition, if everyone is practicing rote, it’s practically impossible for any single person to stand out and be noticed in the rote-practicing crowd.

The rote bag tools make you in-step with everyone else; what you need is to be out-of-step.

The best practice tool as I’ve said in my view is particularly egregious in terms of how it constrains one’s ability to be creative and separate themselves from those around them.

I’ve seen it happen before. The new CEO is faced with many launch challenges and turns to Google for suggestions on what to do.
The search results on their query returns a litany of approaches used by others around the world; the CEO picks one to copy because they believe it will work in their particular circumstances.

Copying best practices is a popular tactic used by not just startup leaders; most everyone uses it because it’s easy. But it does nothing to promote the innovation and creativity required for startups to succeed.

Copying forces the startup to be in-step with the crowd and is a formula to define it as common when it needs to be exceptional to succeed.

The startup leader needs to be out-of-step with the crowd.

I have seen success follow out-of-step people; those who reject crowd thinking and find best practices repugnant.

People who are constantly asking themselves ‘How can I do this differently than everyone else?’ People who look for weird, off-the-wall methods and outcomes as an expression of their individuality.

Out-of-step people make the world an interesting place to be and they make excellent startup leaders. And they are rewarded by achieving the recognition and reward they deserve.

My message to each of you intending to lead a startup: everyday when you get out of bed; decide that you will do something — some little thing — that is different than the in-step crowd.

If you make ’different thinking’ part of your daily routine eventually it will become part of your persona and will begin to govern the outcomes you deliver.

And success will follow. I guarantee it.

Related: 6 Simple and Proven Ways To Be Seen and Have a Successful Career