Be Humble Going Forward and Smart Looking Backwards!



Story: I’m enjoying sharing the learnings accumulated in how to build a great culture. I outline 10 necessary elements to really make a culture move forward. Truth be told, the only way I could really map out this framework was having the time to look backwards. When we were creating and building the culture at the last organization I was at, it felt more like a drunken hermit crab heading north on a wide, sandy beach. We staggered, always pivoted, reversed occasionally, yet ultimately passed key milestones. Often it was more luck than brains, and we also made very conscious choices that were instrumental. Along the way, while tactics changed daily, we never wavered off going “north.”

Frankly, we humans are not very good at predicting, but we’re quite skilled at “retrospectively rationalizing” to explain why a business, project, or product succeeded or failed. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs stated during his 2008 Stanford commencement address: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, only looking backward.”

Key Point: I’m all for planning and recognize the importance of forward looking detail. However, often the very best plans have to change before the ink is dry. Our most important attribute then becomes the ability to adapt and pivot. The same principle applies to starting new organizations. “It’s almost always the case that the greatest firms are discovered and not planned,” says William P. Barnett, a Professor of Business Leadership, Strategy, and Organizations at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. That’s one conclusion from a study Barnett co-authored with colleague Elizabeth G. Pontikes of the University of Chicago. They studied entrepreneurial success rates by researching 4,566 organizations in 456 different market categories over 12 years, and found that entrepreneurs who were willing to adapt their vision and products to find the right market often did the best.

Actions you can take:

  1. Be fearless about pivoting. Stay true to your core purpose and values. However, be prepared to constantly adapt along the way.
  2. Be a great listener and humbly prepared to change tactics and strategy constantly. This is courageous rather than wishy washy leadership. Leave looking smart to when you’re connecting the dots in retrospect.

The wandering path in Leadership,


One Millennial View: I guess there’s a reason why a book called “How to Build a Perfect Successful Company in One Try” doesn’t exist. Name an organization or product that has stayed completely the same since you started following them. I can’t think of one. Heck, by the time I finish editing this blog, there will likely be an update for the WordPress used to publish it.

– Garrett

Blog 960

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis