Embracing your limits

As part of my ongoing search for a new role or some additional consulting projects, I’ve been networking quite a bit. Recently, I was introduced to an entrepreneur in Minneapolis who one of my friends thought I could help out. He and I got on a call, and started to talk about the company he launched this past October.

This man had spent three years of his life planning for this launch. He didn’t know how to write a business plan, so he found someone to coach him in how to do it. He didn’t quite understand how to articulate the barriers to entry into the space that limited his competition, so he joined a mentor group and started having discussions. He bootstrapped his way into getting the equipment he needed, and finally was able to launch. He has poured his heart and soul into this company.

We get on the phone, and he’s telling me about the company. I asked him what his goals were, and where he wanted to go from here. His response, considering everything I knew, floored me.

“I’ve taken this as far as I can. I belong on the truck, doing business. I’ve told my Board of Advisors that I’m going to start finding people who can take it further, and give them equity.”

He’s not looking to sell. He’s not looking for investment money. He wants someone who can take his idea and run with it to come help him for a piece of the action.

I was stunned by the extraordinary humility that this man displayed. He knows where he belongs. He knows what he’s good at, and how it relates to his business. He could very easily have fallen into the founder’s trap, and never let go. But he’s looking to give away substantive chunks of his company to people who can help him make it a success.

Laurence Peters posited the Peter Principle in 1969 – the idea that people rise to their level of incompetence. In part it’s because of how hiring in corporations is performed, but the other part of it is hubris. There’s a value in recognizing your skills, in knowing what you’re good at – and what you’re not. Just because you have a great idea doesn’t mean you’re necessarily the person to execute on that idea.

That doesn’t diminish the value of the idea. It frees the idea to be the best idea it can be, because it’s not held back by the creator.

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