Scott Fitzgerald said the sign of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time. That's also a pretty good description of a well-adjusted entrepreneur. For starters, you have to be numerate enough to run a business but also willfully blind to a 95 percent failure rate. You must be passionate about your vision but ready to pivot if the business needs it.
That paradox was a key theme in a recent live interview between me and Steve Blank, Stanford professor and co-founder of the Lean Startup movement, which holds that a business idea is not a blueprint but merely a hypothesis to be tested in the marketplace. Blank asked our audience of founders how many saw themselves as visionaries. Almost all did. "Most of you are hallucinating," replied Blank. "No founder's vision survives first contact with customers."
Or, he might have added, sustained contact with a growing work force. Year after year, our Inc. 5000 honorees tell us that attracting and retaining talent is the No. 1 restraint on their companies' growth. To help with that challenge, I'm proud to introduce our inaugural Best Workplaces list.
Like all serious business challenges, creating a workplace that people want to join (and never leave) is part art, part science. Our list, assembled in partnership with Quantum Workplace of Omaha, focused on the science part. The 50 great workplaces we recognized all share three quantifiable traits: a clear commitment to employees' financial security; transparent setting and tracking of workers' goals; and a sincere effort to elicit and reward innovation.
Deciding what to build atop that foundation is where the art comes in. For example, this month's cover subject, Jessica Rovello of 97-employee game developer Arkadium, deploys what she calls Joy Teams to unify and motivate a work force split between Russia and the U.S. Sunlit offices, company outings, and upbeat meetings are part of the formula, but so is commitment. Rovello takes joy seriously enough to have relocated 50 of her staffers from Crimea to Russia once that erstwhile Ukrainian territory became a geopolitical football.
Something other than joy inspires George Zimmer, the founder and former public face of Men's ?Wearhouse. Kicked out of the company in 2013, he is angling for a way to take back what he launched. Take a look at Tom Foster's fascinating profile of a founder who is most definitely not cool with another one of those entrepreneurial paradoxes--namely, to grow your company, you sometimes have to let go.