Why Entrepreneurs and Tech-Ops Professionals Make a Powerful Team
The linearity and pragmatism of technology and operations professionals seem diametrically opposed to the abstract thinking and future-focus of entrepreneurs. But the opposition makes them uniquely suited to high-achieving collaboration.
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In the diversity of the modern office, there are probably no two groups as opposite as technology and operations professionals and entrepreneurial founders. While technologists and operations folks live in a linear, repeatable process-focused world constrained by resources including personnel, talent and that most favorite of resources — time — the entrepreneurs who found and run many companies today often view process and constraints as synthetic barriers created by those who fear change. You might think that these groups would never find common ground, but in my work as a COO, I know that's not the case. In fact, pairing them can be one of the smartest things you do to up the odds of success.
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The role of tech ops
These days, just about everything businesses do has some type of technology working directly underneath it or behind the scenes. As a COO, it's my job to look at what an entrepreneur wants to do and make sure the systems support that. That's a two-fold endeavor: I have to look at and understand the entire business process, but I also have to manage the technology itself and do lots of analysis to keep it working and improve it. So the work involves plenty of linear thinking. I'm always considering edge cases, failure and how to recover, and like most tech-ops professionals, I tend to have a generally conservative outlook on most things.
The role of entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs are natural creatives. Some, like the Wright brothers, are engineers at heart and do a great job of designing and building. But even though they might see great patterns in chaos, they're not structured, limited by constraints or burdened by the reality of their environment. They are able to take a leap of faith to try new things, and they lean on that faith when they might otherwise give up. Their mindset is more abstract, and they typically think more in terms of "what" than "how."
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Looking at both sides, when I partner with an entrepreneur, there's some natural friction. Where he or she sees opportunity, I see trade-offs and a high probability of failure. Where I live in the detailed minutiae, identifying the "how," he or she is always looking for the next solution and enthusiastically trying to get things out into the world quickly. With the steady drumbeat from the creative entrepreneur of "fail fast" and "fail early," I'm searching for a way to make sure the so-called "pilot" is a true test of the idea — or at the very least, provides enough feedback to update and revise the idea to meet market needs and production realities.
Because I understand that entrepreneurs are all about the possible (or perhaps even the impossible), I avoid being a naysayer; if I just stood there and recited the litany of reasons things wouldn't work, I'd lose partnerships fast and then never be invited back again to the creative process, thereby losing my ability to help shape or at least understand the idea. But in everyday work, I take their concepts and anchor them. I acknowledge the barriers between concept and implementation, and I figure out how to overcome those challenges in practical, realistic ways. It's all about creating a plan for making the idea happen.
As I put plans together and analyze, though, entrepreneurs make me very aware of how valuable it is to have a passion for something. They encourage me to get out of my tidy box and look at what could be, what the future might be, what may, in fact, be possible. Not only that, but I also take their speed to heart and watch how they rapidly learn. They teach me that it's okay to experiment quickly and adjust quickly, which helps me refine and improve the approach I take to be ever more agile. I've learned that small pieces and iteration can be both economical and competitive. More importantly, I see that process isn't much without vision, and leadership without passion is ultimately hollow.
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An unlikely partnership, but one of incredible strength
Ultimately, it's to the benefit of tech-ops professionals to mold their thinking toward the entrepreneurial side of things because loading entrepreneurs down with details and real-world realities will squash their creativity and prevent them from freely innovating. But no matter how you slice it, entrepreneurs and those of us on the tech and ops side can learn from each other. The partnership might seem unlikely on the surface, but they fill in each other's weaker gaps to create a powerhouse team. Focus on this complementary balance within the relationship and you can overcome your differences and work together with incredible strength.