Scaling startups: shoot for the stars, but build your rocket first.

“We must obey the forces we wish to command”  (F.Bacon)

In 1620, Francis Bacon publishes his philosophical work
Novum Organum Scientiarum (‘new instrument of science’ ).

He details a new system of logic he believes to be superior
to the old ways – against the Aristotelian approach to science
through logic and deductive reasoning alone.

He argues a different approach is needed given the weakness
of the human mind and it’s natural biases
(he lists the Idols of the Mind in his work; today we’d call them cognitive biases ).

According to Bacon, inductive reasoning will allow humanity to uncover the essence of things.
His method relies on systematic observation of cases,
engagement of the senses, and artificial experimentation
to provide additional observance of a phenomenon and it’s causes.

 About induction

“The law of floatation was not discovered by contemplating
the sinking of things, but by contemplating the floating of things which floated 
naturally, and then intelligently asking why they did so.” 
(Thomas Troward) 

Until mid 19th century, most boats were made of natural material,
essentially wood – as men observed wood float in nature.
The naval engineering techniques have evolved with the understanding
and mastery of the laws of gravity, buoyancy, hydrostatics,
hydrodynamics, density, etc…

 

With new materials provided by industrial revolutions
(iron, steel, lately kevlar) and contemporary computer-aided design, it has been made possible to design more performant
naval structures.
Interestingly, until recently, naval architecture has been more of a craft
than a science: the “fair shape” of vessels was judged by looking
at half models or prototypes ie. through past knowledge and
experimentation rather than by logic and deduction alone.

Therefore, today it’s totally understandable to see the proliferation of Uber for X, Airbnb for X business ideas (see article here) ). It’s in human nature.

Nevertheless, just like there a difference between a floating piece of wood and a boat, there’s a difference between applying the concept of Airbnb and Uber to a different industry and understanding and mastering the underlying business forces at play that make Airbnb or Uber successful.

Bacon  argues man cannot subtract himself from the forces at play
in Nature (“we must obey the forces…”), nevertheless he has
the opportunity to harness them (“we want to command”) when he gains a deep understanding of their effects.

The same way aspiring entrepreneurs & startup leadership cannot subtract themselves from the Market forces at play (value creation, strategy, operations, unique capabilities, business model, scaling laws, ….), they need to understand and master them to harness sustainable growth.

 

“It is difficult to say what is impossible, for the dream of yesterday
is the hope of today and the reality of tomorrow.” (Robert. H.Goddard)

 

The first theoretical proposal of space travel was published
by William Leitch, astronomer and mathematician in 1861.
It became an engineering possibility with the work of Robert. H. Goddard
in 1919.

Two of his 214 patented inventions were instrumental to making spaceflight possible (multi-stage rocket and rocket fuel, 1914). He designed and elaborated an engine powerful enough to escape
Earth gravity, or a vessel that could perform in a vacuum such as that in space.

Astrodynamics, or orbital mechanics governs the motion of rockets and spacecrafts. These mechanics are calculated from Newton’s law of motion and
Newton’s Law of universal gravitation.
Therefore spaceflight was made possible by the thorough understanding  and mastery of existing and identified physical laws.

Similarly, for startups to scale successfully, they need to be able to design their multi-stage rocket to extract them from idea stage and propel them in business orbit: a 6 stage rocket to be precise.

Each of the stages could be summarised by the Greiner Curve – created decades ago by Larry Greiner, which illustrates how all businesses go through six distinct phases of growth and relative calm (evolution/growth) alternating with six distinct phases of chaos (revolution/crisis).

Scaling up is being able to design

  • an “ownable purpose”,
  • a scalable culture,
  • an effective decision-making and communication system,
  • along with relevant talent management
  • and processes to take the company along the different phases of growth without stalling or breaking.

It is possible to do that by understanding the forces at play, and reverse engineering the design of your company to avoid the negative dynamics your organisation will have to face:

  • the inadequacy of communication and decision-making processes will put the business at risk – errors, confusions, inconsistencies and excessive workload.
  • the inadequacy of organisation or pacing  will “burn” resources as efforts are misallocated to non-critical areas
  • the dilution ofcompany culture and purpose, conflicts will arise
    between internal stakeholders (employees, managers, leaders)

 

So my message to scaleups:

“It is not possible to run a course aright when the goal itself has not been rightly placed.” (F.Bacon)
So shoot for the stars, …but built your rocket first.

Photo Credit: Flick Creative Commons – NASA – Voyager

 

 

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