In a March 2015 TED Talk Bill Gross spoke about what drove the failure of multiple startups he’d launched. The Startup King and founder of Idealab concluded that timing was a primary factor in startup failures. But, that was not the most valuable take-away from Gross’message. A more important nugget went unnoticed.

golden nugget 2 - leadershipBill said, “If you take a group of people with the right equity incentives and you organize them in a startup, you can unlock human potential in a way never before possible. You get them to achieve unbelievable things.”

That is not the golden nugget, but it very well hints at it. At the core of, and the power in, that statement relates to “unlocking human potential.” Yet, equity or financial incentive is not necessarily enough. Let’s look at another quote from this talk.

“I came to think that, maybe it’s the team, the execution, adaptability, that mattered even more than the idea. I never thought I’d be quoting boxer, Mike Tyson on the TED stage, but he once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

punched in the face45

Bill was a tad off in accuracy of the quotation, by not by much. We all get the picture. But, let’s tie that to the team. While team dynamics was not the top reason for failure, you can not argue the fact that no plan will ever survive non-execution and it takes a team to execute. This is never better stated than in this quote from the book, Sword-Bearers: Studies in Supreme Command in the First World War.

“No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

And who has to deal with this? The team. Unless and until you revise the strategy, it’s lights out! Failure to adapt is the dream-crushing, deal-disrupting reality that slaps you in the face. The front-line troops know and see it coming before the commander.

Tyson’s statement is a take on a Helmut von Molke quote.

“The tactical result of an engagement forms the base for new strategic decisions because victory or defeat in a battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle.”


Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be the end of the story. After a bit of wound-licking we must pull ourselves together, revisit the strategy, make appropriate adjustments and move forward. However, not without the troops. The bearers of the sword. Let’s look at one more of Gross’ quotes before we fully uncover the golden nugget in his Ted Talk.

Let’s look at one more of Gross’ quotes before we fully uncover the golden nugget in his Ted Talk.

“So much about a team’s execution is its ability to adapt to getting punched in the face by a customer.”

TRUTH! But, wait for it . . . He goes on to say this.

“The customer is the true reality.”

Boo-Yah! There it is. The true reality. What Gross is saying is that if you build the widget, they may not come. If they don’t come, it’s all over but the crying.



In the interest of Servant Leadership, let’s flip the script a bit here. Way too many leaders miss-identify the customer base. Your first and most important customers are your teams. If your teams are not happy or if they are distracted by a toxic culture, not being heard or valued, being micromanaged, and having no autonomy, you are sending your Sword-Bearers into beleaguered battle with no back up.

We have all been to training after training leadership. If any of what we learned survives the daily chaos, we replace it with the next branded training trend that comes along. But, servant leadership is not an armor you don on occasion.

It is a heart issue that goes beyond facade. There is a whole lot of morale building that comes before the battle. Do not ignore it. Make sure that effort goes beyond mere lip service.

Linda Round - 2018ALinda F. Williams is a Certified Executive coach who shows exhausted C-Suite executives how to Increase the bottom line with less stress, less conflict and plenty of time for personal and family life. She is a trained psychotherapist, nationally recognized behaviorist and Management Consultant. She is the founder of Whose Apple Dynamic Coaching & Consulting, and the Award-Winning author of the Best-Seller, Whose Apple is it, Anyway!


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