Some VCs talk about startups needing to be paranoid, with an obsessive attention to what is going on in the environment around them. I know what they want to say. I don’t like either of these statements. It is click-bait-language. Paranoia reflects a profound fear and anxiety along with the loss of the ability to tell what’s real and what’s not real. That’s not helpful, especially when you pay obsessive attention to what is going on around you but can’t tell what’s real. And being obsessed with your surroundings makes you twitchy and react to every short-term trend or hype. That is not helpful either. You have to be grounded in your beliefs and your vision.
I like Jocko’s approach better. Default: Aggressive. Never aggressive against people, but aggressive to execute your mission within your rules of engagement (which, of course, includes your moral and ethical standards):
Overcome obstacles, capitalize on immediate opportunities, accomplish the mission, and win.
For startups, that means making decisions. Do not kid yourself and “make the decision not to make a decision”. Instead, “prioritize and execute”: Prioritize another objective and execute on that one. Do not become complacent just because one of your initiatives is working out well.
If it’s quiet, you can not let yourself getting lulled into a false sense of security. You have to assume that the enemy isn’t running away. You have to assume that the enemy is maneuvering and trying to set up on you. But let them do that. Go on the attack.
“Default: Aggressive” does not mean blind aggression. If you do not accomplish the mission, you do not win. If you violate your rules of engagement, you do not win. If you are taking taking catastrophic risks, you do not win. When your investors ask you to aggressively go after a market, we do not mean recklessly.
To implement “Default: Aggressive”, every startup leader has to be clear on:
- Your mission
- Your rules of engagement for accomplishing the mission
- All (competing) objectives to accomplish the mission
- Objective with the highest priority
- Immediate (tactical) obstacles to overcome to get closer to the objective that currently has the highest priority
- Risks of various options to overcome the immediate obstacle