Making Your Own Breaks

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, was never much of a conformist. While athletically inclined, he did not participate in sports at a young age. While he lived in an affluent area, his family was on welfare, and he took odd jobs to make ends meet.

In high school he tried out for the basketball, baseball and football teams. But having not played youth sports, he did not make the cut. As he described in the Harvard Business Review last month, he petitioned his high school to start a lacrosse team, figuring it was the sport where there was an even playing field[i]. He prevailed, and ended up as the team captain. His early entry into sports shaped his life, where Stone made his own breaks, including the crazy idea of sharing content and news stories in 140 character increments.

This story is all too familiar to me. I was a child of divorce in an affluent area, and my broken family did not have all of the advantages of those around me. While I had successful corporate jobs, most of my life I invented my career roles, and ultimately created a consulting firm from scratch.

In our strategic consulting work, we find that most managers are not programmed to think in such terms. Often it is the entrepreneur that is entrepreneurial, but his or her lieutenants are more adverse to risk. The idea of inventing a category or a business model is foreign to them. In our business culture we penalize failure more than we celebrate success. Perhaps we need to celebrate failure more.

Thinking of something new puts more stress on the brain than managing details we have seen before[ii]. Our body produces dopamine, which is proven to regulate the chemistry of the brain in such a way as to create patterns in our thinking and minimize randomness. In other words we are predisposed to think of things in terms of recurring events, and it is alien for us to think of things that do not fit into a logical pattern[iii]. This is why we panic during disasters, not only because of the fear of the unknown, but because our mind cannot reconcile events we have not experienced before such as an earthquake or car accident.

There are great risks in not taking any risks. Not only do we miss opportunities, but we fail to identify threats. This is the only plausible explanation for the liquidity crisis and the giant sucking sound that followed. Contrary viewpoints about the stability of our markets were not considered.

So, to fully consider strategic options requires jumping out of our skin and thinking about making markets and considering opportunities that others will miss. This thinking applies to entrepreneurs, strategists and job seekers. Others may not put opportunities into a neat little box with a ribbon on top. You may need to reinvent something and jump into a box that doesn’t exist.



[i] How I Did It-Twitter’s Cofounder on Creating Opportunities by Biz Stone- Harvard Business Review June 2015

[ii] Intended Consequences: Design the Future you Wish to Create by Marc Emmer

[iii] The Black Swan by Nassim Nicolas Taleb