A tandem is much better

What’s Better in Life and Business: Unicycle or Tandem

Do you ever feel like being an entrepreneur is like riding on a unicycle or tandem? Whoa! There was a bump! Man, I almost fell off!

I started my own business in 2005. I felt like my entrepreneurial blood was boiling over. For eight years, I had worked at a high-tech company as a senior scientist, principal investigator, and group leader. My team and I were doing cutting-edge research and development. We were developing novel detectors using Nuclear Quadrupole Resonance (NQR). Say that three times fast. LOL.

We even went to Bosnia in 1999, when DARPA asked us to demonstrate our novel landmine detector there. There were still snipers in the area – and never mind the landmines and the steep, slippery mountain road we tackled with our “VIP bus” (why they didn’t put us in humvees will forever remain a mystery to me)! What a trip of a lifetime!

Years before, I had left academia partly because I didn’t want to “just” publish my research results. I wanted to see them get applied and make a difference – sooner than later. Don’t get me wrong. Primary and applied research are equally important. We need both. I just discovered my preference for my career.

While working at the high-tech company I just mentioned, I became increasingly interested in the business side of innovation. I learned about the chasm between innovation and commercial success. I pulled up my sleeves to learn how to cross that chasm. 

Then, in 2005 I made the big leap. I wrote a bit about that in another Brilliance Nugget. 

All of a sudden, I was on my own. Really on my own. Soon, the feeling of freedom got company by a mix of determination, fear, some anxiety, more determination, … It is hard to describe this mix of emotions to someone who has not taken the step from a secure, well-paying job to entrepreneurship.

Fast-forwarding almost 17 years, it occurred to me that, in my early days of entrepreneurshipI was growing my business like a unicycle rider. It was precarious. It took guts and skills. Some of those skills I had to learn (and I keep learning more). It was probably slower than it needed to be. Ok, cross out the “probably.” It WAS slower than it needed to be.

Over time I figured out what could have been obvious. It is much better to operate with a “tandem.” No, I don’t have an official partner in my business. But I found people who coached me and worked with me. Focusing on building relationships became part of who I am. I got input and advice. I also learned about the difference between advice (given by someone who has done it) and opinion (that could come from anyone). I started to collaborate. 

There were (and are) people who see something in me before I saw it in myself. Many thanks go to Caroleen Williams, Tyler Orion, Patrick Carney, June Davidson, Irene and Robert Donnell, Margaret and Ravi Bhola, my friends from Rotary and Toastmasters, and YOU, the readers of these Brilliance Nuggets. I cannot mention everyone here who deserves my heartfelt thanks. Hopefully, I have said “Thank you!” to you in person.

My Conclusion

No longer do I ever want to ride on a unicycle. It is lonely at the top. It’s wobbly and slower than it needs to be. A tandem is a great metaphor for building business in a collaborative, synergistic, fun-filled manner.

Will we still have challenges? Of course? Will we have a more significant impact and get rewarded for that impact? Absolutely!

The longer I live, the more firm I am about this conclusion: Do your business and life with people you like. Preferably, pick people you like a lot. Do it with people who are in the position to add value to you – and you to them. Do it with people who want the best for you. 

I’m Curious

  • Are you closer to riding a unicycle or a tandem in your business or organization?
  • Who is with you on your tandem? (even though I’m using the metaphor of a tandem, it could be several people)

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