The Man in the Arena permalink

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

  • Theodore Roosevelt; excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”; Sorbonne, in Paris, France; 23 April, 1910

I work at a “startup.” I have the utmost respect for those in a similar position. Startups are hard. There’s often little guarantee of getting paid. There’s often little direction on what or how to build something. There’s a lot, a LOT, of trial and error - and it sucks being wrong, especially where it counts. Startups are a gamble.

In order for a startup to be succesful, it needs three things: an idea, a team, and execution on that idea by that team. All three need to be present. Preferrably all three are also best in class. But let’s leave the definition of what makes an idea, team or execution “good” for another day.

Instead, let’s talk about strategy - or, more specifically, everyone’s desire to focus on strategy. I’m sure you’ve heard someone talk about how they’re looking to progress their career by “getting out of the weeds of the day-to-day and focus on strategic initiatives.” Or something of that sort.

Fuck. That.

Everyone wants to be “the idea guy.” But ideas are cheap. It takes nothing to come up with the idea to put a button on a user interface that does a thing. It’s harder to actually put a button on a UI. It’s even harder to make that button actually do what you want it to do. It’s a fuck-ton harder to make that button do it when you’re just the idea guy or the execution guy who has to decipher some loon’s next great idea for an Uber-for-${X}. So I value executors over “ideators.”

But the team members I’d charge into a literal war with are those that can come up with an idea AND go execute on it. Why? Because those people are actually in the arena participating, not spectating and critiquing. Their idea comes covered in dust and sweat and blood from the last idea they tried to execute. It’s forged in errs and stumbles and enthusiasm and devotion.

Those people are too few.


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