Yesterday Target Corporation announced that it was closing its 133 Canadian stores. This announcement comes less than two years after they launched their first Canadian stores in March 2013. According to Target CEO Brian Cornell the decision came down to the fact that it would take six more years before they would see a profit on their Target Canada subsidiary.
Most startups will fail. Everyone in the startup community knows that failure is a more common occurrence than success. Silicon Valley has become so enamored by the “value of failure” that rumors suggest they are considering handing out merit badges for failed entrepreneurs. Just how common is startup failure? Harvard researcher Shikhar Ghosh cites that 75% of VC funded startups fail to return a single dime to their investors. So why do we hear so little about failed startups in Minnesota? Are we too “Minnesota nice” to brag about our failures?
I work with companies large and small who are trying to develop a sustainable innovation practice. They don’t just want to launch an idea on a wing and a prayer. They want to find a repeatable process that can improve their chances of success. Admittedly they have tried the wing and prayer route before and they know it doesn’t work. The truth is that most of these disruptive or exponential innovation initiatives don’t succeed. They fail. The challenge that these companies face is that they are trying to build the tools and processes but they struggle to address the culture. They never address the necessity of failure.
Over the last few years I have frequently helped friends and colleagues in their search to find new work opportunities. Every time I start our conversation by asking how they are building their personal brand. I know that it sounds a bit ridiculous but in the age of an abundance of job candidates, how are they going to stand out? How are they building their exposure to their professional network to improve the odds that they are found?
Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Steve Blank‘s (@sgblank) work (I have linked to some of his recent articles below) and I did appreciate the distinction that he had drawn between teachers, mentors, and coaches in his article for LinkedIn. But as I read the article I found myself upset with his response to a question from an audience member. I felt that he had shown indifference to the audience member based on his response. The question was “How do I get you, or someone like you to become my mentor?” The individual was clearly asking for a suggestion on how to find a mentor. Steve’s response was “At least for me, becoming someone’s mentor means a two-way relationship. A mentorship is a back and forth dialog – it’s as much about giving as it is about getting. It’s a much higher-level conversation than just teaching. Think about what can we learn together? How much are you going to bring to the relationship?” Steve finished the article with this advice regarding mentorships “But never ask. Offer to give.” To me that advice sounds to close to, “I’m too busy, don’t bother me with your question.”
Mentors aren’t supposed to be Sherpas carrying your heavy pack for you up the mountain but they are meant to help guide you, provide context, and offer their advice. Too often I see organizations trying to shirk their responsibility in developing future leaders by suggesting that personal development is the responsibility of the employees. Certainly the employee is responsible for taking “ownership” of their own development but that is a far cry from organizations not having any responsibility. When this gap exists it will be at the organizations own peril – they will struggle to replace departing leaders with qualified candidates and eventually they will battle with the Peter Principle.
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