Startups need more than a team of visionaries to succeed.
The definition of visionary is something along the lines of “a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like” (complements of Google and Oxford Dictionary). In the startup world, this is oftentimes one of the founders or someone who can lay the groundwork today for the future of the product, as it might exist 3 to 5 years out. While it’s true that every person on a startup team needs to have a little imagination if they are buying into the chaotic life of an entrepreneur, it is important to note that only one person should be the lead “visionary”.
The catch is that most people see themselves as The Visionary. I don’t know why this is true. Maybe there is some kind of panache or implied status that goes with being The Visionary. Maybe people just want to be able to take credit for that break-thru idea. Or maybe people just want to sit around pontificating because it’s easier than trying to accomplish things — after all, there is no real way to quantify success if you’re simply generating ideas.
Regardless, startup teams need to consist of a variety of people, with differing skillsets, who are able to get the job done that will build a successful enterprise. There is a reason VCs and incubators ask the question: who is on your team and what role does each member have. Not everyone can be the visionary and not everyone is cut out to be one.
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts and discovered Michael Potts who has done a lot of research on thinking styles. He used his findings to define and describe a framework for how different entrepreneurs think.
His research lead to the identification of 4 categories of thinking. I like his framework because it’s simple to understand and describes the intrinsic value in each way of thinking.
According to Potts, true visionaries tend to have perpetual ideas. They are very creative and wake up thinking that today’s ideas are going to be better than yesterday’s. They will have great conversations for the rest of their lives but nothing will ever get done if there is not balance on the team. While the visionary may have the ah-ha moment, that initial product spark needs to be nurtured if it is to grow into a successful business.
The visionary on your team will tend to focus on the big picture and is usually very creative. Your visionary should also have some secondary skills beyond sitting around dreaming up big ideas.
Potts says that the builder is the opposite of the visionary. This person tends to provide practical balance to the visionary and will be both organized and structured. Builders are focused on continuous improvement and efficiency; how can things get done better, how can things get done faster, and most importantly, how can an initial product spark be brought to life.
Builders are methodic and hyper-aware of the environment around them.
The architect is intellectually driven around finding ways to untangle complicated or novel challenges. According to Potts, the architect will take a problem, methodically evaluate it and will come back with an elegant solution that someone else would likely not have considered.
Architects are problem solvers who generally like to work on their own and can handle important jobs and complex problems. They will be able to consider the initial product spark and construct a roadmap toward commercialization.
The architect is structured, organized and creative.
And finally, Potts’ last thinking style is the cultivator or, the people person.
He likens the cultivator to a conductor of an orchestra — they are not necessarily advanced musicians but they do know how to get the group to work together, sound good and produce exceptional results.
Cultivators are good communicators, they are driven by the need to help other people, they want to work with other people and are focused on harmony and balance.
Cultivators are also big picture people and very aware of the environment around them.
Foster The Team
Your team needs all of these thinking styles to turn your initial product idea (or vision) into a successful business venture.
By correctly identifying each team member’s style of thinking and then ensuring they are operating in that space, the team will find the greatest success. There are certainly team members who will have cross-over skills but each person on your team has to lead with one of the characteristics.
As the leader of your startup venture, you need to identify any holes on your team and be on the lookout for people who can fill those gaps. The right team may pivot, completely scrap the product idea or pursue the mission but with the right balance, it will be successful.