Have These 6 Key Traits? Then Now Is The Time For You to Quit Your Job

Elon Musk is headed to Mars. Lady Gaga keeps going platinum. Whatever Richard Branson touches, seems to turn into gold (or red).

Why do some people become successful entrepreneurs while others never escape their 9-5?

It all boils down to 6 key traits that you must have to find success as an entrepreneur.

But do you really know what it takes to be an entrepreneur?

We have good news and bad news.

The good news: You can be an entrepreneur.

The bad news: Though it has never been easier to become an entrepreneur, not everyone should be one.

The current state of the startup

Entrepreneurship is on the rise and shows no signs of slowing. With the cost of setting up a business at record lows, and the abundance of venture capital soaring high, many savvy professionals are capitalizing on this by making their mark and starting their own businesses.

But the reality that not everyone wants to talk about is that while we all can be entrepreneurs, not everyone should be one.

The difference between “can” and “should” is seldom discussed, but it’s a conversation that we feel is crucial for anyone considering starting their own company.

There are 6 traits that are essential for any entrepreneur. If you have these six traits, quitting your job might be a good career move.

Let’s get started.

1. You have to be optimistic.

Every entrepreneur will be dealt blows that knock down their business one way or the other. But for successful founders, it’s not about how many times you’re knocked down, but how you feel about the next challenge that might knock you down again.

You must be able to look at a situation that appears bleak in the short-term and stay firm in your belief that, long-term, things will pan out. We call this being “long-term greedy,” and it’s exactly the attitude we had when we co-founded VEEV, a sustainable liquor startup in 2007.

We had to make several tough decisions on our journey, but we knew that we were following our purpose and not the route laid out in front of us. We were prepared to take some detours, even if it yielded losses in the short-term, for gains in the future.

When we ordered our first shipment of vodka, we were informed that all 50,000 bottles were stranded after the ship they were on crashed into an iceberg. A real iceberg!

Could you imagine our stress??

If we couldn’t get our shipment as planned, our vendors would back out of the deals we had in place and the investment we made into our products would sink to the bottom of the ocean, literally.

In times like this, it is easy to feel scared and start to panic, but we stayed optimistic. We stayed hopeful and communicated with our vendors, letting them know what delays were happening. This communication was not the easiest to deliver. But because we were optimistic, we had the courage to call our vendors and tell them the truth.

In order to succeed in the world of entrepreneurship, you must understand that things will go wrong. But if you are optimistic, it will help to carry you through the hard times.

Do you have the mindset to succeed?

Think back to the last tragic event that occurred in your life. How did it make you feel? If you can think of circumstances where you wanted to just run away and hide, entrepreneurship may not be the right path for you. However, if you have braved through most situations, then you may have the optimism you need to achieve success as an entrepreneur.

2. You have to be energetic

While a high level of optimism is necessary for success, you must have matching stamina levels to make things happen. Building a startup is like running a marathon. You have to pace yourself for the long term. But at times you must also push yourself and have the energy to sprint during the marathon. What some first-time entrepreneurs might not fully understand is how important good health and stamina are to maintaining the energy needed to start and scale a successful venture.

It’s no surprise that many founders are health-conscious — they regularly exercise, maintain a clean diet, and get good amounts of sleep. Why? It maximizes your energy, which you’ll need a lot of.

Having a high work rate isn’t just for your productivity. Every second you’re not building gives your competitors more seconds to catch up, or even take you out of business.

Let’s say you spend 30 slow days testing an idea that could’ve been done in a week. 30 years ago that might not have mattered for big businesses. But at today’s speed? Taking those 30 days instead of a week could cause your company to crumble.

As an entrepreneur, you need to make the most of your time by giving 110% every day. And that takes a lot of energy. Bringing high energy to your startup also acts as a virtuous circle. The more abundant your energy, the more it encourages teammates and employees to do the same.

If you have a hard time maintaining a healthy lifestyle and don’t have the energy to keep up with the demands of an entrepreneur in today’s world, you may want to think twice about the leap to starting your own company.

3. You have to take smart risks

It’s no secret that compared to the relatively steady careers offered by the corporate world, startups are fraught with risk. As an entrepreneur, you need to be comfortable both taking risks, and evaluating the risk of every decision you take.

These might be more common than you’d first think. Are you hiring a new developer? Are you considering a round of funding? You’ll be encountering risks on a near-daily basis, and need to assess their impact on your business quickly.

We learned how true this was at VEEV. We left our well-paying, promising careers at Goldman Sachs to found a liquor startup. Naturally, taking this risk left some of our closest friends and family questioning our decision. But the risk paid off in the end, with VEEV making a positive impact towards the planet by becoming the world’s first carbon neutral spirits company. We like to say, “We were just young and stupid enough to become entrepreneurs.”

While at the time you could say it was risky leaving our jobs, it was ultimately the right decision for us.

When’s the last time you took a risk? What was it like? Were you scared?

There are reasons why some people are fine with risk and why others avoid it. The way we look at it, taking risk leads to success. Great opportunities, otherwise unforeseen, often come with taking risk.

To determine whether or not you’re a risk taker, you can do this one simple exercise. Do you think back on all the things you should’ve, could’ve, and would’ve done, or do you just go out there and do them?

If you’re always thinking about the things you should’ve and could’ve done, guess what? Entrepreneurship might not the right thing for you, because you’ll never be happy with it.

4. You have to be resilient

Along with having the optimism and energy to see setbacks in the context of your long-term success, entrepreneurs need to be resilient enough to bounce back from the regular obstacles that come with any startup.

VEEV was no exception. When we first started, our açaí-infused spirit had a slight yellow tint to it. What started as little more than a surprise got worse over the coming weeks, as the color eventually looked more like lemonade than vodka.

Having the resilience to accept that our product was far from perfect, was tough. But in the end, we fixed the issue and kept scaling.

Successful entrepreneurs are able to bounce back quickly from disappointment.

Not sure if you are resilient? here’s a test to find out.

Look back to the last time that you experienced what you would consider a failure. It could be a test that you didn’t pass. It could be a relationship that didn’t go right. It could be a fight that you had with your friends. Ask yourself how long it took you to rebound from that failure. If it took you more than two weeks, you might not have the resiliency needed to bounce back like a true entrepreneur will inevitably have to do many times over.

5. Successful entrepreneurs have to be visionary

Okay, here’s another test. Find a piece of paper and a pen or take out your phone and open up a blank note. Think about an entrepreneur role model. Now write down the top five words that come to mind when you think of that person.

If we were gambling men, which we are, we’d be willing to bet that the words “inspiration” and/or “visionary” are on your list.

That’s because the best founders see something that no one else sees, rally their troops around the vision, and take their teams on a journey that no one else would have imagined could or would be possible.

When it comes to beverages and consumer packaged goods, from KeVita to Krave Jerky, we try to spot opportunities coming and be in a position to capitalize on them. That is how we started VEEV, by seeing an opportunity in the vodka space that no one else saw and jumping on it.

The ability to recognize market trends and to vividly paint a picture of the future is what separates mediocre and/or lucky founders and investors from those who are consistently successful. We once heard Tony Robbins say something about this we liked. We don’t recall the exact words, but the gist is: See the world as it is, not as worse than it is. See the world as you see it; make the world as you see it.

Whether it was Martin Luther King Jr. having a dream of an equal United States, or Elon Musk making us an interplanetary species, every successful entrepreneur must have a vision of the future they want to build.

In many ways, what Tony Robbins said sums up the job and challenge of the entrepreneur: being visionary enough to see a better way of doing something, but grounding that vision in reality enough to make it happen.

This was how we made VEEV. We saw the liquor industry was stagnating as people grew tired of the same 8X distilled vodka. We wanted to give people an alternative with better ingredients, that made better cocktails, which ultimately gave them a better way to drink.

What does the future look like for you? Can you paint it out clearly? Do you know what you want it to look like?

If you do, maybe becoming an entrepreneur is the right path.

6. You must be persuasive

You have probably heard, being an entrepreneur means you have a part-time job as a salesman or saleswoman. To be honest, it’s not really a part-time job–as a founder, you must constantly represent, talk about, and, most importantly, sell your company! You must become your own brand evangelist. Successful startup founders not only believe in their products and services, they become part of their life! At early stages of growth, you have to sell your story, your passion, and your vision every day!

Sales come down to one thing: persuasion. If you can persuade someone to see your point of view, and act on your offer, you’re well on the way to being an entrepreneur.

According to one of our favorite philosophers, Aristotle, there are three pillars of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos. Whether you are speaking with investors, employees, or distributors, you should constantly try to get as many people on board by using these pillars.

  • Ethos is an appeal to ethics, and it means convincing someone of your credibility.

  • Pathos involves appealing to the listener’s emotions–creating a feeling response.

  • Logos is persuasion by reason.

With VEEV, we used all three.

  • Ethos: We developed relationships with our vendors and earned trust from our customers.

  • Pathos: We demonstrated goodwill through product demos, and exuded passion and confidence when we shared our vodka.

  • Logos: We would never accept defeat, and kept pushing forward, building our business with sound financials, and sold others on our vision.

When you master these elements and combine them effectively, you will leverage your persuasive potential!

When you go to the movies with your friends, who decides what movie you’re going to see? When you’re at dinner, and the dessert menus are passed out, are you the person to take action and help make the decision, or do you stand by and wait to see what everybody else does?

If, in your life, you are known as the person that helps to make decisions, you may be one step closer to having the sixth and final component needed to be an entrepreneur.

After reading all of this, you’re probably thinking, this is tough. Maybe entrepreneurship isn’t for me?

That’s okay.

Or maybe you realized that you do have all these traits, and you are ready to tap into your inner entrepreneur.

Here’s the thing, take it or leave it entrepreneurship will always be around.

The question you need to think about is not if you can be an entrepreneur, it’s if you should be.

And if you feel like these traits listed above resonate with you, then congratulations, and welcome to the world of entrepreneurship.

But now what?

The challenge that you’re facing right now is what all entrepreneurs face — what to do next. Good thing for you, we’ve been there, done that, and we have a successful portfolio of companies that we help on a daily basis to accelerate their success.

If you want to learn from our journey and our path, we’ve taken the time to lay out every single step. Start with these 6 traits then follow the roadmap that we’ve put together, and shortcut years off of your next startup’s adventure.

Do you think we should add any other traits to this list? We would be interested to hear your ideas! Please share them as comments. 

Open Letter to Aspiring Entrepreneurs: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

The general public typically has a distorted view of entrepreneurship. They think of visionary leaders who created something no one had ever seen before and became household names in the process.

While it’s true that some figures have achieved this level of notoriety, the reality for 99 percent of entrepreneurs is very different. Their success is based not on creating an earth-shattering new product from scratch, but on learning what their customers want, making user-centric adjustments to existing products or services and providing it for them.

Visionaries redefining the market are few and far between.

It’s likely you can rattle off the names of several legendary entrepreneurs without even thinking about it: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Elon Musk.

You know these names because they created things their respective markets had never seen before: the first computer with a graphical UI; a versatile operating system for the masses; and a zero-emissions car that combines outstanding range and luxury features, and is the first successful new American car company since Ford.

It stands to reason that entrepreneurial successes like these are at least partially tied to the inventiveness of a product or service itself, right? It’s a tidy and compelling narrative, but it’s far from the everyday reality of most successful businesses. One of the primary reasons why you know these names so well is because they are the exceptions and not the rule.

These leaders built their companies and their reputations on the backs of unparalleled product innovation, but that is far from the only path to entrepreneurial success. Assuming otherwise ignores the millions of business owners and the vast majority of brands across the world that have delivered immense value to customers without getting their names in the history books.

There is almost an infinite amount of existing products and services out there today that the market has already proven it demands, in some form or fashion. However, many entrepreneurs ignore the chance to capitalize on ways to simply improve those offerings and deliver better service to customers. In other words, the opportunity to create and capture value is all around us. We are just often blinded by the more glamorous appeal of reinvention.

Instead of viewing everything from a developer’s perspective, approach problems from the customer’s point of view.

Over the past decade, the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) industry has exploded. As a result, many new entrepreneurs have backgrounds as trained software developers. These founders often get themselves into trouble when they become overly concerned with creating a product that has “revolutionary” features instead of just responding to their customers’ needs and market realities. They become too consumed with “innovating” and forget to listen to what customers actually want.

Many of them have dreams of being the next Bill Gates, but the odds of that happening are low. However, if they can stop looking at entrepreneurial opportunities solely as inventors and instead focus their energies on solving customer problems, they will have the foundations of a company that can grow sustainably and delivers an outstanding experience to its users.

Over the years, we’ve realized that our customers, at Amerisleep, ultimately want a bed that’s designed and engineered to improve their sleep quality so they wake up feeling refreshed. To do that, we’ve applied research, science and innovative technology to craft a mattress that directly addresses their needs by providing superior support and targeted pressure relief which facilitate a deeper and more restorative sleep.

We’ve also made eco-friendly manufacturing and delivery a core tenet of our business, which allows us to create more sustainable consumption habits and is something our customers highly value. Rather than reinvent the mattress, we made a range of beds that are well-suited for our customers and the environment.

When in doubt, ask.

So, how do you know what it is your customers are looking for?

It turns out that asking them, without a predetermined answer in mind, is a good place to start. This technique is part of a process known as “effectual reasoning,” and it has been the basis of many successful businesses throughout history.

Many serial entrepreneurs get ideas for companies simply by interviewing other business owners or managers. To apply this to your business, ask your peers questions about their processes, needs and struggles. From this exercise, hopefully, you can arrive at some truths about your customers’ pain points you can solve.

If it is feasible, all you have to do is ask the customer if they would be willing to buy a product that eases this pain and what it would be worth to them. If the answer is yes, then your nascent company has made its first informal sale.

4 Key Practices of Digitally Mature Companies

If you are like most people, you think that increasing your digital edge comes down to adding more technology to your business. In reality, digitalization goes far beyond the various technologies that companies use.

Deloitte Digital and MIT Sloan Management Review surveyed global executives and managers to get a better idea of the practices that go into making a company digitally mature. The researchers discovered key practices that digitally mature companies follow. These practices do not involve adding more technology, proving that technology is just one piece of the puzzle. If you’re going to create a digital edge, you need to add these practices to your own business strategy.

Put a Digital Strategy in Place

This might seem like a no-brainer, but in reality, lots of businesses don’t have digital strategies in place. In fact, 50 percent of businesses surveyed by Smart Insights admitted they don’t have a defined digital strategy in place.

These businesses do engage in digital marketing, though. They just don’t have a clear strategy to guide them. That means they can’t get the best results possible.

Your digital strategy needs to be a major component of your overall business strategy. It should be a part of almost everything you do. That will help you reach digital maturity at a much faster pace. If your digital strategy isn’t a part of your company’s DNA, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make it happen. Then, you will have the foundation you need to create a digital edge.

Get the Best Team

One has to wonder which came first, the talent or the digital edge? In reality, the two go together. The best talent helps companies build a digital edge, and having a digital edge makes it easier to recruit the best talent. Recruit people who are serious about helping your company succeed in the digital world, and have them get to work. Creators and innovators will help you build your digital presence quickly. Then, use your digital edge to recruit more top-notch people. Before long, you will have a company filled with the best talent in the industry.

Think About the Future

Think about how much technology has changed over the years. It seems to change every few months, and digitally mature companies understand that and do their best to predict changes.

You need to have both short-term and long-term strategies in place. Your short-term strategy will focus on the next six months or a year and will include all of the technologies that are readily available. Then, you need to think about the next several years and consider the changes that might occur. The best companies even go beyond that and think 10 or 20 years out.

Some of your predictions might be wrong, but by understanding the changing landscape, you are more likely to make huge strides in your business.

Be Transparent

The digital landscape comes with successes and failures. If you celebrate the successes and hide the failures, you will not be successful. You need to let everyone know when you fail so everyone can work toward a solution together. Then, when you succeed, move quickly to get the most out it. Scale up as needed so you can take that success to the next level.

If you are going to be a major player in the business world, you must create a digital edge. These steps will position your company to dominate in the digital arena. Then, you will be able to reach customers and operate in a more efficient manner. That means you can increase your revenue, as well.

3 Tips for Marketers in a Post-Net Neutrality World

By now, everyone who doesn’t live under several rocks has heard about the Federal Communications Commission’s 3-2 vote in December to repeal net neutrality. The consequences of this decision will affect everyone in America — and marketers are no exception.

In a nutshell, net neutrality required internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon to treat all internet access equally. The rule classified internet service as a Title II utility, which forced ISPs to abide by a few rules regarding access and usage. The repeal of net neutrality frees these companies to treat internet traffic differently.

Proponents, such as the ISPs, argue that decreased regulation will fuel growth. Critics, including tech companies like Google, say internet providers will use their newfound power to pad their bottom lines at the expense of users.

The FCC’s decision isn’t exactly the last step in the process, however. Some members of Congress plan to force a vote, and several states have already announced plans to sue the FCC. While all this goes on, marketers who use the internet (so, all of us) are left to wonder: “What does this mean for us and our audiences?”

Post-Net Neutrality Marketing

Marketers on both ends of the political spectrum will feel the same effects of this repeal. When ISPs are free to favor some content and block the rest, you’ll need to do things differently to continue to speak to your audiences at the right times and in the right places.

Internet “fast lanes” allow ISPs to give some content priority over others. A popular example is streaming services: Customers who pay a streaming fee could enjoy Netflix at the levels they do today, while others who don’t pay the fee might deal with buffering, lags, or blocked access altogether.

Now, most ISPs likely won’t risk angering their customers with such a blatant cash grab, but small examples like this could complicate several other areas of audience reach and engagement, such as online advertising, native content, and content distribution and promotion tactics.

Marketing on the Deregulated Internet

The repeal of net neutrality will cause dramatic shifts in the ways marketers use content to reach their audiences. To stay competitive online in 2018 (and potentially beyond), you should prepare for the changes by taking these three steps:

1. Increase channel and media flexibility.

Without net neutrality, marketers will no longer be able to rely on their tried-and-true tactics to reach their audiences. Everything from ad purchases to onsite content to guest posts will look different in the deregulated future.

To avoid losing ground, revisit your content strategy. Start working with a wider variety of publications to contribute guest content, and diversify your PR efforts. If your usual sites get blocked or slowed by an ISP, your audiences may not see your content, which kind of defeats the purpose of content marketing and PR.

Produce new content in a variety of media. Video content could cost more to publish or host in 2018, and if you rely a lot on video, your overhead could rise next year. Keep this in mind on social media, too — sites like Twitter and Facebook could be limited by these changes, but even if they’re not, some content on those sites might be.

2. Prepare to spend more money.

Major brands with massive budgets might be safe, if they land on the right side of the ISPs. Smaller brands, on the other hand, could struggle to grow (or even maintain) their online presences without shelling out more money in the process.

Even nurturing an audience and hosting a website could cost more. Third-party service providers, such as certain influencer marketing platforms or CMSs/CRMs, might encounter steeper charges to host their services, and those costs could very likely be passed on to you, their customer.

Where will this increased budget come from? Plan for potentially higher internet service charges and lower rates of client engagement from people who don’t pay extra to their ISPs. Identify which areas to cut if new growth can’t cover the expected budget requirements.

3. Design content experiences that can handle disruption.

Slow connections or higher prices for existing content could disrupt — or completely eliminate — parts of your content strategy. Video and interactive content that depends on high-speed internet will be especially at risk.

When that happens, audience interactions with your brand online will likely change. What happens if your audiences can’t see your videos anymore, or if your content takes too long to load? Will those changes affect the strength of your relationship and how your audiences feel about your brand? Diversify your content offerings to limit potential losses of audience attention from existing channels.

The effects of the repeal of net neutrality could take many forms. It’s up to legislators, the courts, citizens, and ISPs to shape that future. Regardless of what happens, marketers should prepare for all possibilities.

In an Amazing Move, McDonald’s Just Launched a New Burger That May Totally Change How You Think About McDonald’s

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Things are happening at McDonald’s.

Some deem them good things.

The latest is the Dollar Menu, which is likely to cost you far more than a dollar.

Yet amid all this excitement is the launch of a new burger that could even change your view of McDonald’s.

In certain quiet crevices of Oklahoma and Texas, the burger chain is testing the Archburger.

Those of you who have hair in all the right and wrong places might remember this name.

It was launched in 1996, with an enormous advertising budget, when it was known as the Arch Deluxe. 

The idea at the time was to offer something a little more high-falutin’. Sadly, it didn’t get a lot of high-salutin’. 

Its demise was relatively swift. 

Still, some may remember the potato-flour bun, peppered bacon, cherry tomatoes, romaine lettuce and a mustard-mayo juice called Arch Sauce that went into the creation of this wild, wild thing.

Now, it’s back in an updated form.

And when I say “updated,” I mean revolutionary.

Yes, there’s still the potato-flour bun. There’s still cheese, onion, pickle, the Arch Sauce and other fine McDonald’sy ingredients.

But there’s also fresh beef.

Yes, real fresh beef from a real four-legged (probably) cow. 

Who could have imagined such a thing? Who would have ever thought that McDonald’s would go fresh?

Well, it has been experimenting with fresh beef in Quarter Pounders

But here is a blast from the past that could serve as a suture for the future.

Unlike the Arch Deluxe, which suffered from regal pricing, the new Archburger is a mere $2.19, says Business Insider

It’s painful for many in America that the burger chain so often tests its more exciting fare in areas with arrogant college quarterbacks and frightfully humid weather.

But if this burger raises the temptation to consider McDonald’s as a repository of fresh thinking, then America can truly be made great again.

Starbucks Just Announced It’s Going To Charge For Paper Cups

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

You go to Starbucks every morning.

You buy your life-saving bean-based potion.

And what do you do with the cup? 

Many people just throw them away. They don’t recycle them. 

Worse, many of the cups aren’t easily recyclable. They not just made of paper. There’s a thin layer of plastic on them to keep your drink warm.

Starbucks, for example, knows the problem

It already offers a 25-cent discount to those who bring their own cups.

Now, it’s decided to take more drastic measures. 

It’s going to start charging 5 British pennies for every cup. 

This effort will begin in February and is limited to around 20-25 stores in London.

Who can doubt, though, that this will spread far and wide?

As the BBC reports, this initiative is a reaction to British Members of Parliament recommending a 25-pence so-called “latte levy” on disposable cups.

In the UK, we’re talking about 2.5 billion cups being tossed away.

In the U.S., Starbucks alone is said to enjoy 4 billion cups cast aside to rest where they may.

So who would be surprised if this initiative came to America? 

After all, many cities already impose charges on plastic bags. Would it really be such a stretch to see customers pay for their disposable cups?

I wonder, though, how much of a difference the charge might make. 

5 pence — or, say, 5 cents in the U.S. — seems such a small price. 

I fear many people may shrug and not count that this might accumulate to a dollar or two a month.

Still, the U.K. insists that it’s 5 pence charge for plastic bags has made a significant difference.

In the U.S. too, cities report that plastic bag charges have an enormous effect.

Starbucks says its initiative will last three months, within which time the company should be able to discern some of the results.

Dear Londoners, let me guilt you into caring.

Please compare this tiny charge with the 60 cents extra it costs just to have soy milk in your Starbucks every day.

Your Messy Office May Be Helping You Get More Done

In 1993, advertising legend Jay Chiat announced his radical plans for the office of the future. His agency, Chiat/Day, was already a paragon of creativity — its legendary campaigns included Apple’s “1984” and “Think Different” campaigns — and its new LA office, designed by Frank Gehry was to be its monument.

The space was engineered to be playful; with decorations that included pieces from fairground rides and a four-story sized set of binoculars. It eschewed the traditional office cubicles and desks in favor of public spaces where executives could meet in impromptu places and brainstorm ideas.

It was a disaster. As Tim Harford explains in his book Messy our desire for engineered spaces — even creative ones — can kill productivity and innovation. At the same time, disorder and disruption can help us to do our very best work. While this defies conventional wisdom, decades of research clearly shows that your messy desk may very well be a mark of genius.

The Tidiness Temptation

Kyocera, the Japanese technology giant, strictly adheres to the 5S workplace philosophy (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain). Employees are discouraged from cluttering up their desks or hanging personal items on the walls. Inspectors routinely patrol to enforce compliance.

This type of uniformity may be great for the factory floor — some believe 5S was originally derived from Henry Ford’s CANDO system (Cleaning up, Arranging, Neatness, Discipline and Ongoing improvement) — where efficiency is the primary goal, but there is ample evidence that it may seriously harm productivity when creativity and problem solving are required.

In 2010, Alexander Haslam and Craig Knight, both researchers at the University of Exeter, set out to understand how office environments affect productivity. They set up four office layouts and asked subjects to perform simple tasks. They found that when workers were able to clutter up the space with personal knickknacks they got 30% more done than in the 5S environment.

Yet the issue goes far beyond a bit of clutter. Harford points to a number of examples, from musicians to software engineers to daily commuters — that suggest that we often produce our best work amidst some kind of disruption. As it turns out, being thrown off our game can actually bring it to a whole new level.

Why Messy Works

To illustrate why disorder can lead to better outcomes Harford offers a simple hill climbing analogy. Imagine if you had to design an algorithm to find the highest point on earth. The simplest way to do it would be to pick a point at random and simply move to the next highest point. With each move, you would go higher and high until you reached a peak.

Your performance on the task, however, would be highly dependent on where you started. You might do better selecting a number of different points, but here again, you would basically be relying on luck. You’d be just as likely to end up in the lowlands of Holland as you would to land in the Himalayas or the Andes.

The best approach would be to combine the two strategies by picking a limited set of random points and then hill climbing. That would allow you to avoid getting stuck in lowlands and still benefit from steady improvement. It wouldn’t guarantee that you would end up on the top of Mount Everest, but it would outperform either strategy alone.

There is evidence that the hybrId strategy produces better results in the real world. In fact,  a team of researchers analyzing 17.9 million scientific papers found that the most highly cited work is far more likely to come from a team of experts in one field that borrowed a small piece of insight from another. Injecting a little bit of randomness can work wonders.

The Two Sides Of Diversity

Steve Jobs is renowned for his attention to order and detail. A micromanager of the highest order, he even insisted that the insides of his computers look elegant and streamlined. It was, in part, this meticulous approach that allowed him to make some of the most successful products ever.

Yet when designing workspaces, he did just the opposite. Both Pixar’s office and Apple’s new “spaceship” building feature central atriums where people are bound to run into people they ordinarily wouldn’t. The legendary Bell Labs was set up with the same idea in mind, almost forcing researchers with widely divergent expertise to cross in the halls.

Once again, there is ample empirical evidence that backs up the this idea. A variety of studies going back decades suggest the diverse teams perform better, even when compared with ones that objectively have more ability. Giving yourself more hills to climb increases the chances that you’ll land on a high peak.

However, research also shows that being exposed to diverse perspectives is challenging and often uncomfortable, giving rice to tension and uncertainty. That’s why the best teams often function as part of a larger small world network, with tight-knit groups connected to and interacting with other tight-knit groups, combining stability with diversity.

Sharing Purpose

Clearly, the most effective work environments have a healthy mix of order and disorder. The strict conformity of 5S workplaces can feel oppressive, but so can the imposed craziness of the Chiat/Day offices. In both cases, our own personal sense of autonomy is violated. More subtle prodding, such as the run-ins catalyzed by Pixar’s atrium seem to get better results.

Still, every workplace has its own tribes and cliques. Marketing teams clash with engineering and sales teams, while everyone chafes under the watchful gaze of finance and admin. We all have an instinctive need to form our own cohesive groups and to protect them from the incursions of outsiders.

However, those tensions can be overcome if diverse and competing tribes share a greater purpose. In a classic study done back in the 1950s with boys at a summer camp, it was shown that intense conflict would break out when teams were given competing goals, but that tension gave way to cooperation when they were given a common objective.

Many managers today go to great efforts to design innovative workplaces and they take a variety of different approaches. Yet what seems most important isn’t the actual specifics of the architecture, but whether it’s designed to empower or to dictate. If we feel we have power over our environment, we tend to be much more productive.

Of course, when everyone gets to make their own decisions things can get a little messy, but that’s what often produces better results.

A Culture of Relentless Improvement

One of the greatest feelings an entrepreneur can experience is when his or her product or service finally gains traction and begins to gain product market fit. It takes an immense amount of effort and time to get to this stage, and you may be tempted to pause, reflect, and enjoy the moment.

Don’t.

This is the time when you should be putting your foot on the gas and trying to relentlessly improve. This is one of the things we learned running our company and something we talk a lot about in Shortcut Your Startup.

While the marginal improvements may seem smaller at this stage compared to the ones you faced when you were initially starting your company, the magnitude of their effects will now be greater.

To make this more palatable, consider the analogy on the power of compound interest, or what Albert Einstein (may or may not have) called “the eighth wonder of the world.” It’s well known that incrementally adding to your retirement account when you’re just entering the workforce in your 20s has huge ramifications on your savings when you retire 40-50 years later.

This same logic applies to the incremental decisions you make at your company–seemingly small improvements (and mistakes, too!) have huge effects down the road.

From our perspective as both the founders of VEEV and investors in companies like Pinterest, Lyft, Bonobos, and Warby Parker, we realize how crucial the small, 1 percent improvements can be to a company’s success.

We realize that these changes can be difficult to identify, so we have outlined 3 key areas to keep your eyes on:

  • Your Team

  • Your Product

  • Yourself

Your team is your company’s most important asset. Always think how it can be improved.

It’s worth reiterating that your team is something that should always be focused on building a culture of improvement. Specifically, we cannot overstate the importance of hiring team members possessing an ownership-building mindset, which means that they have a vested interest in the company’s success and don’t solely focus on performing their daily tasks.

Next, consistently test your product. Adopt the mind of a customer: what could be improved to make your life easier?

Testing your product, your landing page, or your cart checkout page is often easier said than done. We recommend dividing the responsibilities into three parts. Assign somebody to own and oversee the test, another party to design the test, and a third one to analyze the results of the test.

Why? Clearly dividing responsibilities engages more of your team and sets the stage for your company to review its product more objectively and critically. Iterations are a necessary part of any business, and your team must have a systematic decision to implement and make sense of these tests. While these processes will help keep track of your business, we also must stress the importance of keeping track of yourself.

Finally, continuously focus on improving yourself.

If two of your goals are to improve your business and your team, it’s only natural that you pay attention to improving yourself. This is something that is always ongoing but is extremely worthwhile to pay attention to.

Know your strengths and weaknesses. Beyond that, realize how your strengths and weaknesses can affect your company. Part of your hiring strategy should revolve around hiring team members that complement your skillset. In addition to your strengths and weaknesses, seek to expand your network. While connections in your industry are important, consider how you can learn from others in a completely unrelated field, as invaluable lessons aren’t solely constrained to your industry.

In the end, launching your product, receiving favorable press, or reaching a financial milestone is no reason to let up on the gas–in fact, it is the time to keep pushing. This desire to constantly improve is a shared trait of successful companies.

If you focus on your product, your team, and yourself, your odds of success will increase dramatically! We talk more about this in our book, Shortcut Your Startup. Join the conversation!