Lessons Learnt From 5 Years On My Own

It has been 5 years since I left the employee status in a large corporation. I resigned in November 2011 and started my consultancy business on 1 Feb 2012. What an adventure with many ups and downs!

Jeremie5 years and 5 companies founded on 2 continents later, with quite moderate but sustainable success, here are some experiences I would like to share from this journey:

  1. Going on one’s own is not for the faint-hearted. It is tough, and requires a lot of dedication and effort. A lot of people I know do fail.
  2. Family support is essential, as is caring for the comfort of the family.
  3. Pay yourself fairly, while keeping enough in the company for growth. The money you own personally is your freedom.
  4. Commercial skills are essential. They are worth a lot. I am still learning as it is not really my background. In reality I cover most of my companies’ commercial development. Develop these skills early if you can.
  5. Do not start on your own. I made the mistake to start by myself alone. Now that I have experience having ventures with partners and working with teams of people I like and respect, I see how much more comfortable that is, even when it’s tough.
  6. Highs will be high and downs will be very low. Brace for uncertainty and change. Keep reserves and be conservative in accounting.
  7. Clients will not always be fair or follow previous agreements. Protect yourself with enough written stuff. Keep reserves for the unexpected (see 6.). And don’t follow the example of your clients: stay fair to your partners and contractors.
  8. Small is beautiful. In today’s world it is possible to bring substantial change from a small structure. I am perfectly happy to keep my companies small but very ambitious when it comes to their impact to the world.
  9. I am very proud of providing an opportunity to the people that work in the companies I am controlling, having been able to keep them as much as possible through the downs and this a great motive of satisfaction.
  10. Having the freedom to experiment is an essential motivation. We don’t have the means to do a lot, but we can still experiment at the limit of technology some new services for our clients. It is a great motivator.

As you can see the positives far exceed the negatives. If you consider such a move, plan it well in advance. But do it, it is worth it.

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How to Address the Paradox of Required Flawless Success

We are expecting from our leaders to be overachievers and at the same time to a flawless record of success. But wait! that’s not consistent.

overachievers-need-failureIf a leader has achieved something of significant in his past life, he or she will have been criticized, hated. He or she will have faced failure and disappointments. The project they were working on might only have achieved a small part of its original (grandiose) goals. Thus, an effective leader will not have had a consistent flawless record of success and approval.

When electing or choosing our leaders we need to face this paradox. And we fall into the trap so often! In large companies it is often the quiet achiever that gets promoted (to avoid controversy). In politics, any failure at any point will be duly raised up to demonstrate incapability. Dictators will re-engineer their history to appear flawless.

As a note though valid flaws should not include improper behavior and language, lack of respect etc. This shows a flaw in character, not the impact of having tried something worthwhile. These are not always easy to distinguish from valid failures but they finish by coming out in a long campaign (cf. US presidential campaign).

Inspired by Seth Godin’s post – a must read! ‘The paradox of the flawless record‘.

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How To Personally Network More Effectively

Our network is important for success and fulfillment. In her post ‘A Smarter Way to Network for Decision Makers‘, Valeria Maltoni reports “According to research conducted by Rob Cross and Robert Thomas, the executives who consistently rank in the top 20% of their companies in both performance and well-being have diverse but select networks —made up of high-quality relationships with people who come from several different spheres and from up and down the corporate hierarchy.”

networkThere is a way to network more deliberately so as to more effective. What I find particularly interesting is the need to have diverse networks. The quote above concentrates on a closed organization but of course networks need to transcend arbitrary boundaries and this principle is applicable to our personal network in general. It can be a particular network related to a religion, sport activity, children school, combined with one or several work-related networks.

I firmly believe that a lot of the value I personally bring to people comes from my exposure to very varied industries, countries and practices. Having a number of very different networks creates a lot of value and many opportunities.

I am learning to be more deliberate about this diversity. What about you?

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Why Social Media Presence is a Now a Must

Using social media today is not anymore an option. And this is the case as well in the professional world. If you don’t have any presence on Facebook or LinkedIn, or a minimum proficiency in social media, you look outdated and inadequate in the new world of work.

social_mediaLet’s thus face reality: you have to have an online presence in the world today to exist.

It is not any more adequate to take a position of ‘non interest’ or ‘privacy defense’ to justify not to use social media. Not having any social media account to relate to brands or interests will increasingly become a handicap in the world of work and beyond.

We are not obliged to share the most intimate details of our lives or the faces of our children. But a minimum online presence around our interests, and the maintenance of a minimum social network, is now a must.

Strong message for all of you that have not yet started using social media!

Hat tip to Paul Hermelin, Cap Gemini CEO, for inspiring this post from his remarks at a conference.

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How Algorithms Increasingly Rule our Lives

Another example of how algorithms rule our lives is related to employment. Algorithms sift through applications and personality tests that are increasingly common on job application sites. This is well detailed in this Guardian column: ‘How algorithms rule our working lives‘.

algorithmsWe had already written about how algorithms and Artificial Intelligence already influence our genes. In the essay on employment, the author shows how algorithms decide on the fate of applications taking into account a number of parameters which unfortunately appear sometimes to disadvantage the poor or sick. One other aspect is also highlighted: many companies tend to use the same algorithm/ subcontractor, therefore the lack of diversity creating exclusion.

Data crunching can surely detect certain aspects of our lives that are covered today by medical secret, by law. Anti-discrimination regulation will have to be upgraded to account for this issue.

And we will have to learn how to make our applications more machine-compliant, by adding the frequency of the right keywords too. All in all, our internet presence will become increasingly an important factor to master so as to project the right image to the algorithms that will take important decisions for our lives.

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How Large Companies are Actually Large Ego Boosters

I have lately had the opportunity to work at high level in a number of very large companies and I am struck how the social system of these companies is a machine to inflate egos.

egoIt may be due to the fact that in the selection process that presides over the choice of executives and senior managers, having a large ego (and its substantiation by a large company car, a corner office, a pretty secretary, a super tight calendar that can’t allow meeting for the next 3 months…) is  a discriminating factor that fosters promotion.

Anyway, this has two consequences

  • ego being tied to the job title and the associated deference within the organization, the transition will be very hard if moved out of the job or when retiring
  • as top managers will be significantly ego-driven, this may lead to derailment in decision-making with regard to the best interest of the company.

I certainly hope that over time, the organization of the Collaborative Age will be significantly less ego-driven and ego-fostering. Its less pyramidal shape, its openness should provide the necessary antidote.

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Is Having Many Different Projects At The Same Time Good or Bad?

I am struggling with the fact that I always have a number of parallel projects going on at the same time, and whether this is a good thing – as it is sometimes a struggle to deal with all of them at the same time. The problem is that I can be passionate about many ideas. Some well-known entrepreneurs like Elon Musk pursue many ventures at the same time while many others underline the need to have focus (Focus – as a driver of excellence as the title of a book by Daniel Coleman).

multitaskingLet’s analyse the situation. Having many projects at the same time:

  • provides interesting options and wider encounters,
  • Is a great way to manage the risk of failure of a project by having several others at various stages of development,
  • allows to identify and develop synergies between projects and related social groups.

On the other hand, limiting the number of projects:

  • allows focus and more chances of success through stubborn attention,
  • allows to manage workload more easily (less conflicting calendars!),
  • requires less resources.

It may be because of my nature but I think I like to keep having several projects. I realize however that for this to work, I need:

  • to be able to drop projects that become excessively time-consuming with poor results,
  • in general be mindful to limit time involvement to a certain limit,
  • find ways to make it work time-wise, for example by combining projects that are flexible (do not require a lot of interactions) with projects that bear significant time constraints,
  • seek the maximum of synergies, if possible.

Any other suggestion?

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How Men and Women Employment Will Be Shaped in the Collaborative Age

While the shifts in the employment market show an increase in women taking part to the economy, it is by no means putting in question completely the role of men (see our previous post ‘Would Manhood be Destroyed by the Collaborative Age?‘). But a shift will happen with women increasingly taking salaried employment and men developing ‘artisan’ self-employment.

The factory worker, retired early 21st century
The factory worker, retired early 21st century

This substantial change, is developed in an interesting article in Playboy (which does seem to include serious papers as well!) ‘Forum: A Path for Blue-Collar Workers in the 21st Century‘ which is also commented on Marginal Revolution ‘Is there economic hope for men?

In substance, this post states that “the ways men and women fit into the economy will come to complement each other. Their roles will change, in some ways becoming more traditional and in others less: Women may be likelier to spend their careers in nine-to-five corporate positions, enjoying the regular hours, benefits and predictable pay those jobs entail. Forty-nine percent of women already work in firms with more than 500 employees, compared with 43 percent of men, and their share of the corporate pie is growing. That certainty will empower men to take on less predictable but possibly higher-paying work in self-employment.”

This is a trend I observe in my small circle of entrepreneur-friends: often the man is the entrepreneur while the woman has a stable job that provides for the family until the venture creates value.

The author continues as an apt conclusion, “A world in which men strive to learn new skills and take on riskier, entrepreneurial household roles may even prove more fulfilling than office work—but this requires changing our definition of a “good job.” Expecting men to be better-educated, office-work-oriented breadwinners is an outmoded idea. The artisan of the future will still be skilled and possess just as much potential to provide for his family. The technological revolution is yet another turn in the cycle of economic progress, and workers of both genders must learn to adapt. The end of men is not nigh; the end of our dated notion of work, however, is.”

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Would Manhood be Destroyed by the Collaborative Age?

There appears to be a number of publications about the loss of power by men in the new society, and the fact it may be a major causes of the current crisis.

Traditional Industrial Age manhood
Traditional Industrial Age manhood

One of the major pieces is a 2010 essay in The Atlantic ‘The End of Men‘ that describes how woman are taking power since the 1970s (since the wide adoption of birth control, noted by us as a key contributor to the Fourth Revolution) and how men have now lost their traditional identity of bread winner for the family. The piece even describes how active discrimination is needed to get enough men into university as women would be much more successful academically.

But these statements can sometimes go a bit over the top like in that Marginal Revolution post ‘What the hell is going on?‘ where the loss of manhood is suggested to the at the root of many contemporary political woes (“The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males“).

There is definitely a rebalancing act between men and women happening, and it is true that a lot of the blue collar jobs lost to the Fourth Revolution transformation were traditionally held by men, which creates some identity crisis. We should however probably not go to the opposite statement. After all, Silicon Valley is still struggling to get a fair share of women in startups.

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What New Institutions Are Needed for The New World of Work

The new world of work – sometimes dismissively called ‘Uber-ized’ – will require new institutions. This post from Quartz ‘How to make an Uber-ized economy work in America‘ provides some interesting clues.

uber protestBecoming a contractor is an increasing trend: “[Independent contractors] share of total employment is rising, from 9% to almost 16% between 2005 and 2015. And it’s not just low-skill, uber-drivers turning to contract work out of desperation—the increase in alternative work spans all education levels. Americans with a college degree are most likely to be contract workers, and this group saw the biggest gains. Contingent work has also become more common across a variety of industries and occupations.”

One of the main issues with the fact that we will become increasingly contractors is to manage the risk of a sudden loss of revenue; and more generally, the ups and downs of income depending on how often we provide our services. This is a problem I am managing in my consulting company, voluntarily keeping a substantial share of earnings in the company to cope with periods with lower utilization. De facto, the company is being used as an income insurance buffer. It might not be the most efficient way, but it works.

The Quartz post proposes that the state could setup a ‘wage insurance’ against substantial drop of income to cover those extreme events that can really derail one’s life. This could be a very useful institution for the Collaborative Age, together with some sort of collective health and life insurance.

What other institutions could we think of for the Collaborative Age?

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How to Overcome The Link Between Job and Identity

In the Industrial Age, job title was very much one’s social identity, in particular related to the position in pyramidal organization charts. In many countries like France, the studies (university, degree) and grade achievements was also very much one’s identity. It is still the case at various levels.

job and identityHowever, this easy-to-relate identify definition will disappear in the Collaborative Age as the importance of conventional organizations will progressively disappear, and as we will be increasingly on our own without a fixed ‘job’, or at least only with temporary ones.

This situation creates a lot of stress on personal identity. It is thus a high barrier for those that hesitate to jump out of traditional organizations; or, those who get retrenched or lose their job and have to reinvent themselves. It is possibly one of the biggest stressors in society today.

One needs to realize how defining oneself in terms of job title and university degree is limiting. In particular after a few years’ experience, our personal identity is much more complex and full; and it involves both personal and professional elements. We need definitely to find other ways of expressing our complete identity. It could be through our own creations or on social media.

Transforming the way we express our identity is a mandatory skill for the Collaborative Age.

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How to Overcome The Problem of the Flawless Record

Our society seeks the Flawless Record. Our resumes have to be flawless and have no holes, and in general we are suspicious of people with any hint of controversy. However as Seth Godin reminds us, this is a paradox. Success only comes from creating things that are criticized.

flawless_resumeBeing criticized means that we try to move things forward. It means we have tried something new, something disruptive. As Seth Godin reminds us “If your goal is to be universally liked and respected and understood, then, it must mean your goal is to not do something that matters.

I would like to add that it is great to be criticized and controversial as long as there is no integrity issue related to the matter (although sometimes adversaries might appeal to put our integrity, so that it is sometimes difficult to discern).

Flawless is not an objective. Consistent and courageous is. We need to choose – and maybe not make it through the usual filtering criteria of the Industrial Age!

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