Monday, May 9, 2011

The Smell of Success

Over the past year I’ve been helping one of my clients build their engineering team and executive staff. One of their projects for a new market and new customers required a new engineering team, new software tools, new manufacturing technology, new technology partners, etc…….often a recipe for “Fail Fast” lessons. We went from zero to sampling a revolutionary new product in 15 months and I attribute this success to the new team’s leader, the great engineers he was fortunate to hire and the company’s culture.

Venture capital and entrepreneurial communities all sing the familiar song that says that failure is OK….it’s a learning experience…..that which does not kill you will make you stronger…etc. I completely agree that mistakes and failures are powerful learning opportunities if your ego allows you to be introspective, but don't not lose sight of the fact that you shouldn’t be rewarded for failure. You may collect a salary (and severance) and be able to raise future capital, but you haven’t done your job.

I have written previously about “What do I look for when building a team?” and would like to add one more quality:

“Knows what success smells like.”

You must build leadership teams with people who have known great technical and/or business success. There is an intangible element of decision-making, risk analysis and leadership that comes from knowing what success smells like and how to find it.  I’ve likely reviewed 10,000 resumes in my career and hired about 250 engineers and executives. If you have been the industry for 10 years and haven’t contributed a major technical or business success, you’re not in the running for my organization. If you think your failures can be blamed on a succession of companies collapsing around you, maybe you chose the wrong companies in which to build your career.

Fail Fast is a very valuable concept because it allows you to move quickly onto your next Success.

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