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Oct 15th, 2021 Share: Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn

Ten Things I Learned: No 4 — Focused

Lesson No 4 of “things I have learned over the years” is, in many ways, a continuation of and build on what we talked about in lessons 1 to 3: From building things which are better, to being faster, and the necessity to be louder — all of which doesn’t happen if you are not singularly focused.


Tia Claire Toomey, one of the most decorated strength athletes in the world with an undefeated winning streak since 2017 in the CrossFit Games, exemplifies focus. You don’t get to be that successful without relentless, and singular focus — yes, talent and genes matter, but your genetic makeup is nothing without single-minded focus.


Nearly 15 years ago, Reshma Sohoni, founder and CEO of the European startup accelerator Seedcamp, continuously reminded me (and her founders) to “make the main thing the main thing”. It is incredibly easy to be busy — to do work which feels good and maybe even important (who could argue with the importance of getting your logo right, or spending time figuring out the best name for your product?), but isn’t actually important at all. Your shiny new logo means nothing without a great product behind it. You can have the coolest, cleverest name for your service, if the service sucks it won’t matter at all.

Figuring out what the main thing is — the thing which drives your business, project, idea forward — and then singularly focussing on executing this one thing, is the key to unlocking your success.

Take Google: The main thing Sergey and Larry needed to do was to build PageRank (the algorithm behind the Google search engine) and make it the best at serving you relevant search results out of the biggest index possible. The company name didn’t matter — ask any brand expert, and they will tell you that they would have never chosen “Google” as the name. The logo didn’t matter — look up the early Google logo, and you’ll see it looks like a ten-year old discovered Microsoft Paint (on Windows 95). The office space didn’t matter — a garage worked just fine. Sergey and Larry made the main thing the main thing, relentlessly focussed on this and… well… the rest is history.


Guy Kawasaki, Apple’s first evangelist, wrote a lovely little book on “The Art of the Start” — it is still one of my favorite books on entrepreneurship.

Oct 11th, 2021

Ten Things I Learned: No 3 — Louder

After talking about the necessity to be better and faster, let’s talk about the third element for being successful as a founder/project leader: Your ability to be louder.


Megan Rapinoe isn’t just one of the best soccer players in the world, she is also massively outspoken. For years, she is a main driver in the equal pay discussion, and has been an activist for numerous causes and issues.

Her stance illustrates perfectly an important point:


After building something which is better, making sure you do so faster than your...

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Oct 7th, 2021

Ten Things I Learned: No 2 — Faster

Welcome to the second post in our “celebrating 1,200 Heretic posts” series. After talking about “being better”, let us dig into better’s big sister: Speed!

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Allyson Felix, the most decorated woman in Olympic track and field history, epitomizes the concept of simply being faster than anyone else.

Particularly for startups, speed quickly becomes your main advantage.

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When I worked at Google, I regularly found myself in conversations with young founders, who kept fretting over Google’s (or any other big company’s) ability to copy their idea and...

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Oct 4th, 2021

Ten Things I Learned: No 1 — Better

This dispatch marks the 1,200th Heretic post. Little did I know nine years ago, when I wrote “So let’s get this party started…”, that we will be a community tens of thousands of Heretics strong, there would be a podcast, I would have compiled the top posts from my first 500 posts into a book, and gone on to write 1,199 more posts. To mark the occasion (and reminisce), we are deviating a little from our normal order of business here and, for the next ten or so posts, make our way through a talk I used...

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Sep 27th, 2021

The Doner Kebab Test

Let me ask you a question: What does your organization do? Why does it exist? Which problem are you solving? In essence: What’s your mission?

All profound questions — and questions which all too often get answered by something like this:

“Our mission is to provide leading yadi, yadi, yada…

The problem is — that’s not even a problem. Let alone something people rally behind, or even understand.

Google “mission statements” and you will find idiotic, meaningless dribble again and again. The best companies I know can clearly articulate what it is they are doing, how they are doing it,...

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Sep 23rd, 2021

Be Careful What You Wish For

In one of my conversations for our Disrupt Disruption podcast Maurice Conti posed a heretical question to ask when embarking on an innovation initiative in a large/r company:

What will happen when you are successful?

Sounds innocent and positive enough, right? But when you really start thinking about it, many companies and their people actually don’t want the new, innovative, or even disruptive thing be successful — as it would upend the existing order, pivot the company from its current trajectory into a whole new orbit, and require people to unlearn a whole bunch of old habits and...

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Sep 20th, 2021

Doing A Job

For all you people managers out there — here is a great article from the late Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. It summarizes Rickover’s leadership principles and starts with a somewhat trite but nonetheless incredibly important observation:

“Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done.”

It sounds so trivial and obvious — but the number of times I have observed leaders act as if it’s all about “the system” is staggering. Normally, it starts out well-intended enough: A leader spots room for improvements, processes which are out of whack, have grown either stale or mutated...

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Sep 16th, 2021

Common Sense

Years ago, at a session with the leadership team at Pearson, one of the participants showed a slide which read:

“It is not complicated. It is just hard.”

It is a good reminder that in many situations, common sense really ought to prevail. But as the saying goes, “common-sense ain’t common practice”, we often have a tendency to go for the complicated and/or complex. This might be due to our educational upbringing (“it can’t be right if it’s easy”), a sense of importance and value we get from devising something elaborate, or an insecurity around standing one’s ground based on...

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Sep 13th, 2021

The One Thing

I finally got around reading “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller — and yes, the irony is not lost on me that it took me quite a while to make the book “the one thing”… 😆

That being said, it is a quick and good read. I don’t think you will learn much new here, but the opening question is a good one to ponder over — especially as it is Monday morning when I write these lines:

“What’s the one thing you can do this week such that by doing it, everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

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Sep 9th, 2021

Disruption is a State Change

As part of our work at be radical, and specifically the research we are doing on “disruption” (whatever that term actually means — but that’s a story for another post), we have come to believe that most disruptions tend to be “state changes”: A different (better/cheaper/faster/more convenient) way to fulfill a customer need — with the underlying need not changing all that much over time.

Take the (in)famous Blockbuster example: The former leader in home entertainment, decimated by Netflix. Alas, all that changed was the medium: From VHS videotapes to DVDs, and now streaming — the underlying...

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