Unleash the Wimpy Kid!

illustration managing the wimpy way-1

Why I consider ‘Lost and Founder’ by Rand Fishkin to be a must read

At the beginning of my career, I managed a high profile ERP project. A couple of weeks before the go-live deadline, the customer introduced completely new requirements but did not want to shift the deadline. Needless to say, this significantly compromised the amount of time available for testing, something every available textbook warns one about. However, due to a combination of intimidating behavior of the customer, my own unwarranted optimism and lack of experience, I agreed to implement these new requirements and limit the amount of time available for testing. A decision which resulted in a rather ‘volatile’ go-live scenario which was highly visible for everyone in the company…

It is common wisdom that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. If anything, success has a tendency to make us complacent, whereas mistakes force us to take a step back, reflect on why our actions and behaviors did not work out as planned, and stimulate us to make changes in the way we approach opportunities and challenges.

Unfortunately, in the business world, no one seems to be willing to talk about their mistakes. LinkedIn posts, HBR ‘How I did it’ sections and the vast majority of autobiographies written by business leaders: they all highlight successes and downplay errors and mistakes.

Among the most beloved books of my kids is Jeff Kinney’s ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series. Greg Heffley, the main character, is a young teenager in middle school who reflects in an honest and humorous way on the mistakes he and others in his environment make. This honesty makes it very easy for readers to identify with him because they recognize the way he behaves.

Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz.com (a company specialized in Search Engine Optimization, SEO), recently published ‘Lost and Founder’, an autobiography in much the same vein as a Wimpy Kid book. In this book, Rand Fishkin describes his experiences as an entrepreneur in a very honest, open and often humorous way.

He is very open about his mistakes: for instance, letting his company take on too much debt, not selling the company when the time was right, going live too early with an immature ‘Minimum Viable product’, diversifying the product portfolio instead of focusing, and seeking a non-constructive confrontation with his board members. He also describes why he stepped down as CEO first and later left the company altogether.

What makes this book so valuable is that, for each event, he does not only describe his reasons for these decisions, but also his emotions during the time he took them. In doing so, he enables his readers to take the words of Eleanor Roosevelt to heart:  “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

This was exactly the advice a business leader in the same company where I implemented the ERP system took to heart when he decided to hire me. Not despite, but thanks to my experience in the dramatic go-live phase of this implementation…

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