Which professional failure have you learned the most from? and What are the most valuable lessons you've learned about entrepreneurship? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Early in your career as a manager you often get the advice that your job is to "be a servant leader to your team members," and find out what barriers keep them from doing their best work, and clear out those barriers. And there is a lot of truth in that advice. But it can also be a trap. I learned that to my chagrin.
At Travelocity, I became CMO in 2004 after my startup, site59, was acquired, and our marketing team had a lot of success revitalizing the brand, launching the Roaming Gnome and the industry's first Customer Guarantee and service promise. All of that brought personality and humanity to the technology, and we grew during my seven years as CMO from $3.5B to $11B in sales.
But the industry was being commoditized on price, and we believed at Travelocity, that the best travel should be a great experience, something memorable and out-of-the-ordinary. So when my VP of Design came to me with a startling idea called Experience Finder, I was captivated. It was gorgeous. You didn't start a trip based on the cheapest flight. You started by saying "I want a rock-star style weekend in Vegas" or a "Music weekend in Austin," and it suggested the activities and hotels that fit the theme.
The trouble was that this immersive experience was built in Adobe Flash, which my design team loved. It was 2007. The first iPhone was just about to launch, and Android did not exist. Almost all our sales were on the desktop web. And our Engineering team hated Experience Finder. Flash was a proprietary technology, not open source. Flash was not mobile or SEO-friendly. Huge debates ensued.
As CMO I thought my job was to barrel through opposition to innovation and barriers to my team's creativity. So I did, and personally funded ExperienceFinder and blocked attempts to kill it or merge it into the global commerce platform the company was rebuilding. Well, needless to say, ExperienceFinder never worked, and SEO and mobile became huge arenas, and Adobe has moved on from Flash.
So now I advise other new executives to remember that their job is actually to figure out what will make the company successful, and inspire their teams in that direction, not just to remove barriers from whatever their direct reports want to do. Sometimes another team is right, and your team is not. You have to be willing to look them in the eye, and say that. At a startup or a growth company alike, I always advise leaders that their "first team" is the Exec Team. The Exec Team members should not see their job as to represent the Eng team, or Marketing, or Sales, or Finance, but their first team: the Exec Team.
I'll share the most valuable lesson I've learned in my career.
In a lot of the technology companies I've founded, worked at or ran, we set out to solve one particular problem and built technology to do it... but then later realized that the solution has much wider applicability. It happened at site59, Travelocity, Skyfire and Foursquare. It's been a consistent pattern because when you try to do something no one's done before, you end up creating a solution that can be used in more ways than one.
At Foursquare, we built our core technology, Pilgrim, to be able to detect when people are at a new location and to be able to serve them better tips and content that is perfectly relevant to where they are. Once we got that technology to work, we started to realize that there are all kinds of applications for it that go far beyond the ambition to simply build the best City Guide, as cool as it is.
We were generating data that enabled us to build advertising and analytics solutions that are used by the world's biggest advertisers and the world's greatest hedge funds. Further, we realized that Pilgrim technology itself could also be used by other apps, so we built Pilgrim SDK, which puts our location intelligence into other apps. This can power a future of what we call "context-aware computing" that we think can power better experiences or smarter solutions in areas such as AI chatbots, finance, retail, real estate, travel, location-based gaming, dating, Augmented Reality, and more.
It's a lesson that's important to be mindful of as an entrepreneur. You may find that wherever you are, you may end up solving even bigger and broader problems than you started with, and if you keep yourself open to that opportunity, you can have an even bigger impact on the world.
These questions originally appeared on Quora. - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: