Defining Cleverness

I was trying to figure out how to define cleverness the other day.  I was coming up with all sorts of ideas and thoughts.

But, it was too difficult for me to define it in a succinct way so I asked my girlfriend how she would define cleverness.  She immediately said:

“It’s having knowledge and putting it to good use!”

I think she’s pretty clever….

How To Tell When You’re Speaking To A Manager

“I’ll Try”

“I can’t promise”

“I’m not sure what my boss will say about that”

“That’s not possible”

“We can’t do that”

“It’s against policy”

“I can’t make someone else do their job”

Managers avoid accountability and often believe they are powerless to make an impact in the world.

Leaders however, seek out to be made accountable as they realise they can have a large impact in the world by working with those around them.

What You’re Not Told

Businesses that were created five years ago faced a different set of challenges than the challenges they would have faced today.  They also would have dealt with a market place which looks very different than today.

That’s not to say it’s easier or harder today.  It’s just different.

I think most people would be surprised by how level the playing field is for everyone.  Entrepreneurs who have been successful in the past will face the same challenges in the market place as first time entrepreneurs.  Sure, they may be better financed and have better connections.  But connections can be made and finance won’t save you when you don’t have something that the market actually wants.

What does this mean?  This means that there is only one “now” in business.  And as a result most books on business are irrelevant as they’re not talking about what the world looks like today, but what the world looked like when (or before!) the book was written.

As a result, realise that there is no guide to executing your idea and business plan.  There is no book that will tell you what to do next, there is no list of ingredients telling you the recipe for a successful startup, there isn’t a video that will tell you who to call next.

There is only “now”, you, your idea and your strategy.

And that’s all you need.

“Hey….What Languages Is Your App Written In?! What Should My App Use???” Here’s The Definitive Answer!

Entrepreneurs often discuss this topic ad nauseam.  It’s often a tell that the entrepreneur in question has no idea about tech and is just trying to sound well-informed.

My advice is this: If you are not technical then don’t waste more than thirty minutes of your time worrying about what language your app should be written in.

Here’s the lowdown on what non technical people need to know.

The most common server-side languages are PHP, followed by Ruby and Python.  If you’re making an app for an Apple device then you’ll be using Objective-C.  Android uses mostly Java.

Your data gets stored on a database (this is the reason why when you refresh your page your Amazon account doesn’t disappear, as your data isn’t stored by the browser, but on a database somewhere).  The most common databases are MySQL and NoSQL.

Some people like to argue saying that one language is better, faster, easier to code than the other.  Some people say that Ruby is the quickest and therefore you should be using this for your app.

So what should you use to make your app?  Well I would say to decide, you first need to become aware of what you are actually trying to achieve.

As an entrepreneur all you should be worried about is getting your product out, scaling and then being in a position to hire more people.

Basically if you are making an app, every order of magnitude you hit will require a huge build to cope with demand.  The code used in your MVP won’t be able to keep up with 10,000 active users at the same time.  It will require another large build.  When you reach 100,000 people you’ll need another big build.  In essence, if you are aiming to go big, then you’ll need to hire people to scale (this is also one of the reasons why if you’re not a coding ninja already,  you shouldn’t learn how to code to build a business, as it’ll take you 10 years to gain mastery in this domain).

And this is the reason why you shouldn’t really care about what the actual languages being used in your app are, but how easy it is to hire people who can code in those languages/technologies.  

PHP is by far and away the most popular server-side language on the web.  As of today >82% of the web uses this technology.  Compare this with 0.5% using Ruby and 0.2% using Python.  (You can see the stats on this web page: Click me!)

In terms of databases MySQL is the most popular.  (Click here for a breakdown of database use: Click me!)

So this is my point.  If your app uses the most popular languages then you will be able hire anyone from anywhere in the world to build and iterate for you.  It also drives costs down.  If you choose much less popular languages such as Python and Ruby then you won’t be able to scale, you’ll have a much harder time to find someone to hire and it will cost you more.

Try to avoid fads.  A lot of startups are using things like MongoDB, for their databases, but there really is no point.  MySQL does everything you need.

And what about people who say that it’s much quicker to build in Ruby / Python?  Well if you’re making a MVP, the difference in time is minimal.  The outcome and what your app will be able to do will also be minimal.  So basically, it’s a non issue.  What will be an issue is that if you use languages which are much less popular, you will have a much more difficult time scaling and hiring.

I also believe that this reasoning should also guide you with regards to what languages you should pick if you want to learn to code.  I can’t believe the number of people who don’t know Javascript, PHP and MySQL.  They’re shooting themselves in the foot as they will inevitably have to return to these at some point if they’re serious about code.

Flattening The Bell Curve

2014-10-03-blogbellcurveThe Bell Curve

This is a bell curve and is what the world used to look like.  People used to watch the same movies and TV shows as one another, listen to the same songs on the radio as one another and even talk about the same topics as one another.

Then the Internet happened.

All of a sudden people are watching all sorts of stuff online and listening to music that no-one in their immediate vicinity has probably even heard of.  It turns out that we’re all freaks when it comes to our wants and needs.

In a lot of respects the Bell Curve has flattened as technology has allowed people to become exposed to so many different ideologies, art and knowledge.

What has also flattened is The Market.  All of a sudden entrepreneurs have access to all sorts of clients from all over the world who like what they’re doing.

It used to be that large companies would make a product or service aimed solely at the middle of the bell curve as a strategy to please everyone.  Now this strength has become their weakness.  Small startups are continually eating away at the fringes and coming after more and more of the large incumbents profit margins.

Nowadays, something for everyone is actually nothing for no one.

Should You Start A Business?

In my experience most people start a business to become rich.  However, during the course of starting a business most founders realise a deeper meaning and purpose in themselves.  Most of the time people who start a business realise that they actually started a business not just for money, but because they had a yearning for something more.

But, just because people want a deeper meaning in their life or want to have an impact in the world doesn’t mean that they should start a business.  The two are mutually exclusive a lot of the time.

There is only one reason that you should start a business:

If you are unable to create a product or service through any other means than by using commerce.

In other words, you start a business when you have no option but to do it yourself, because no one else can or will.  You do it because you want to see a change and the only option left is to do it via commercial means.

If you can do it by other means then it’s a good indication that you shouldn’t start a business as it would be more time efficient, less costly to get to your outcome.

I have seen too many entrepreneurs start a business because they wanted to get rich and therefore they come up with a business idea that actually sounds plausible.  However when examining the idea and their motives further, it becomes clear that the best way forward would not be via commercial means.

In enterprise software a good question to ask is:  “Would partnering with incumbent company X mean that my startup will do better?”.

If the answer is yes, then you have a bad idea for a startup or the incorrect intentions.

Because if partnering would be so beneficial, then it’s likely you aren’t working on something which is trying to change things.  It probably would have been cheaper and less time-consuming to just partner up from the get-go or become an employee for incumbent company X.

Every successful company has a similar story of having to resort commerce to create change. 

Steve Wozniak wanted to stay at HP, but left because they didn’t have the resources to help him create his products.  Richard Branson created Virgin Airlines because he thought that airline service sucked and didn’t have the flights he wanted.  Elon Musk made SpaceX because NASA weren’t making any more advances in space travel.  The list is endless.

In all of these cases choosing commerce to make progress and change things was the only option.

This is why starting a startup is so inherently hard.  The good startups are trying to change things.  And changing things means stepping on other people’s toes and causing a ruckus.

It’s counter-intuitive but it’s a sign that you’re on the right tracks.

This Is Why We Can Change The NHS

The people at the top of the NHS, it is widely thought, have it so easy.  If they just had the sense to engage with the public and front line staff then they could make things better, cheaper and more efficient.

The people on the front lines of the NHS such as junior doctors, nurses and physiotherapists also have a widely held belief – that they can’t make change happen.  Patients are mostly the same as well.  “What can I do?”  they say.

If only patients and staff could yell at the people at the top and tell them how hard they have got it, the thinking goes, then maybe change would happen.

How can staff and patients possibly create change when no one listens to them?  When they don’t have any money?  When they’re just a tiny cog in the system?  When speak of innovation and creativity is often met with fear and disdain?

If this is the case then only the people at the top must be able to create change, they say.

The fact is that the people at the top realise that they have a budget where they have a whopping 1% devoted for software and 0% for innovation and creating change.  If the people at the top decide to innovate and blow some of their budget on something new, then it better have a big impact, it better be nationally scalable from the get-go and it better deliver on all the outcomes promised.  If they don’t deliver on this impossible promise then it’s their head on a pike!

You see, the people at the top are paralysed.  They can’t do anything because they know too much about the wrong kind of things and they are risking their livelihood if they put their name on something that doesn’t work.

The patients and front line staff, the ones that pick themselves to make meaningful work are the people who will create change.  The problems and barriers we face are not nearly as big as what the people at the top face.  This is a lie that front line staff and patients tell themselves, as taking responsibility for something much bigger than their role is a tough pill to swallow.

When I was a Junior Doctor at St James’ Hospital in Leeds, I had the great pleasure of working with the late Dr Kate Granger.  She started the “Hello My Name Is….” campaign.  The reason she started the campaign was because she had terrible experiences of doctors not introducing themselves during her illness.  On one occasion the doctor that told her that her cancer had spread left her “psychologically scarred”.

She went on to say at a speech:

“I had been moaning to Chris (Kate’s husband) about the lack of introductions from the healthcare staff looking after me. Being the practical optimist that Chris is, he simply told me to ‘stop whinging darling and if it is that important to you do something about it.’ So we did.”

It wasn’t Kate’s responsibility to do the campaign.  No one gave her authority to start a campaign.  She simply didn’t have to do it.  But at that moment, she picked herself and decided to make change happen.

She didn’t know that her campaign would end up being endorsed by the then Prime Minister, celebrities, about half a million NHS employees and result in her being awarded a MBE.

The reason why the NHS is so broken is because there aren’t enough people like Kate who pick themselves.  But anyone can pick themselves.  And it’s as simple as saying “I am going to make change happen”.