I had an initial conversation with a founder recently that stuck with me.

The founder told me in detail about the company they were creating.

They reeled off several different initiatives and features they'd implemented, proudly highlighting the provenance of these achievements.

Old favourites like dedicated time for innovation ("we've got Google's 20% time") and a multi-disciplinary team structure for product delivery ("we've used Spotify's squad model") both featured.

As a brief aside, this is a great post about why "The Spotify model" isn't quite what most founders think it is.

Back to my founder chat. As I reflected on a sense of unease I felt after the conversation, I began to realise why.

The founder was convinced that by grabbing at well-publicised initiatives and features and putting them together, they'd end up with an effective company.

That's just not going to work. It's superficial thinking.

It's the equivalent of hitting the ready meal aisle in Tesco and buying one of every pre-packaged dish you can lay your hands on.

You'll end up with what looks on paper like a delicious and varied menu to enjoy over a couple of weeks. But what you've really got is a pretty unhealthy mix of ultra-processed, high salt, high fat dishes that doesn't add up to a holistically balanced diet.

The founder hadn't taken the time to think about what their start-up really needed and then devise ways of meeting those needs.

They had assumed that because if it worked for Google/Spotify/Amazon/whoever, it'll be right for their business.

It won't.

At best those solutions worked for those businesses, at that time.

They won't work for your business, right now. Every company is unique and so needs unique solutions to their growth challenges.

I'm a big fan of learning from other companies and founders.

Every story you hear about something that's really worked or an initiative that's failed is a source of learning.

But use that learning critically.

Think about what's behind the choices that company made then:

  • What's similar to your context and what's fundamentally different?
  • What does this mean for how to solve the problem you have in your business?
  • How might you solve your problem with original thinking, not pastiche?
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