Between playing in the snow like a kid and dressing a pit bull in a startup tee, I saw this Sam Altman tweet:
February 2, 2016
Hazeltine: Chasing a Worthy Why
Snow days meant time for introspection for The Startup Factory venture associate, along with a recommitment to purpose over task completion.
The words clicked with my ongoing process of assessing Why I do what I do. The few days of physical and mental space from the startup community gave me room to chew on that question in a deeper way than I had during the hectic beginning of 2016.
When I say assessing, I’m talking about the underlying purpose that drives my investment of energy and self, not the New Year’s resolutions that focus on How I do what I do, or the Twitter bios that mince the “What I do” into 140 characters. The purpose, The Why, to borrow author Simon Sinek’s terminology, is the “thing worth winning” that Altman’s referencing. He’s saying professionals need to clarify whether the thing they’re chasing is worthy before charging forward with all the single-mindedness that we celebrate in the startup world.
Happily, I can report that I have exactly the kind of Why that can motivate me onto my bike on an icy morning, one that’s reinvigorated after a few days of close examination.
What’s my Why? I believe that North Carolina already matters in the startup world, and it’s on the verge of even greater importance. Mattermark and Richard Florida have already weighed in with conclusive data to that end. Healthy startup communities will push the state over the edge. Further, I believe that people with the skills and experience to identify, convene, coach and invest in growing, scalable companies hold the power to accelerate these communities toward their future success. Working with Dave and Chris at The Startup Factory puts me at the intersection of purpose and opportunity.
And there it is, the potential that filters the noise. It keeps me on track when the work needs doing. Shiny Object Syndrome, that wickedly distracting combination of product-orientation and short attention span, can set up a nasty spiral away from the hard, essential stuff if I let it. The How, the strategy, the plans, the whiteboard jam sessions amount to an outline, but they can’t do anything without a motivating force. The What is the build-first mentality that tanks so many of us—the features suck you in. I know I’ve mistaken a checked-off list with the activities that bring the Why into being. With a Why that I share aloud, I’m helping commit myself to that broader goal rather than the things vying for attention in the moment.
But beyond the clarity that purpose brings, I’ll take us back to the beginning and the implicit questions Altman’s asking.
How do our Whys stack up to the things that need accomplishing? Are we seeing the opportunity to chase something worthwhile, or are we sidling up to What we know How to do already? Are we taking Altman’s advice, or are we competing for things that aren’t worth the effort?