A revolution in the business world can come in many forms, such as: a commerce revolution, like Square trying to "architect a revolution, thoughtfully," a revolution in communication, like social media facilitating the Arab Spring, or a revolution in music, the way Apple changed our lives with the iPod.

All of these revolutions were led by a group of individuals united under a shared passion. So, what exactly is it that unites a team of people with a shared unique vision creating a revolution in the world through a new product or company?

Napoleon believed that "There are only two forces that unite men--fear and interest," because all great revolutions originate in fear, for the play of interests does not lead to accomplishment."

I think he was right, but in reverse order. Interest first, and then fear.

The dominant, unifying force for a successful team in a world full of innovative companies boils down to interest. Most people I've worked with were there because they all shared a single, prevailing interest with the company. They all have that common "end in mind" (to use one of Covey's 7 habits) and this motivates them to strive towards the same world-changing idea together because when you're passionate about something it suddenly becomes much more fun than work.

At my first company, Simplex (purchased by Cadence in 2002) our interest was in the electrical modeling that semiconductor companies needed to make faster, more reliable chip designs--basically, make more working processors at lower cost. Everyone in the team was interested in how to get the technology to work and somehow we all shared the excitement of solving a non-trivial series of math and computer science challenges. Chip modeling was a "big data" problem before we talked about big data. Deeply geeky, but we had a team of like-minded individuals who could all share this high level of passion for what we were doing.

The best leaders--usually the CEO or company founders--unite their employees with a vision for what's possible. They have a uniting concept that people can truly get behind and believe in--like salesforce.com with their "no software" platform to move CRM to the cloud, or Amazon with a vision that we'd all be buying books, and then everything else too, on line, or Netflix with a vision that we'd consume our TV and movies through streaming into our homes. These visions were compelling, interesting to work on, and ultimately right!

So Napoleon's "play of interest" can in fact lead to accomplishment when you are building a company. And I truly believe it's the only thing that lasts. You can't unite people solely around financial gain (not for long anyway) and you can't unite them with fear in a good economy when they can walk down the street and find another interesting job. You have to properly illustrate your own dream and find those who can share that dream and interest with you.

The great general Napoleon was right in that fear plays a role too, but it's only at the tactical level, in the moment, or in the sleepless times of the night. The fear of losing a deal, fear of failure, fear of missing a deadline, or even fear of being wrong in the path you took. Those who have been in a startup at the ground level have experienced each of these fears. They're lying if they say they haven't. Everyone experiences "The Struggle" (so eloquently captured by Ben Horowitz). But you can't unite people with fear for long because, in the end, this is a game. It's not life and death, it's not the control of empires or the defense of your homeland. It's a business, with a dream, but a business nonetheless.

Napoleon had to unite his men to fight through the mud and risk their own lives to (almost) bring continental Europe under his command--he used both fear and interest. But you? You need to take only half his lesson to heart. Unite them with something that challenges them, maintains their interest in the work and then, with passion, they will walk through walls for you.

 

Published on: Mar 25, 2015