In my timeline today, a tweet struck me. Jack Dorsey, famous serial entrepreneur (Twitter and Square), confidently gave his key advice to success:
“Be selfish: create and build things you want to see. The bet is others want the same.”
Hundreds of retweets later, I came back to it and realized I believe the exact opposite. Proclaiming selfishness as the key ingredient to build something for others did not seem obvious and even a bit contradictory to me.
I love when a product or a project fits naturally with his or her founder, no doubt about it. I do not believe in opportunism for entrepreneurship. The more interesting ideas are the genuine ones, that come from a real passion or desire to solve a problem you face. You instantly recognize a startup built on a vision: the story is easy to tell.
You can never cheat your users for very long. They recognize when a product or experience is created for the right reasons, because it is stronger than the founder itself. Like an artist in front of his/her painting, it’s a gift you have to offer to others saying “this is who I am and I want to share it with you”. A project is a desire to share.
The need to tell your vision, to see this idea emerge overwhelms any fear, doubt or rational thoughts that could prevent you from jumping into the roller coaster of being a CEO or your own boss. Passion burns. Pivots come and go. But this does not mean you have to be a selfish creator. Having a vision implies resonance, not self interest.
A good idea comes from your humanity, your intuition to know what you want to see and use will create meaning. Not for you, but for all of us.
An inspiring leader cannot be selfish. The more you connect with the world, listen to it, the more you will understand who you are. But knowing who you are is not selfishness. Even ego is not selfishness.
Others are a reflection of our human condition. Our individuality represents the specific role or impact we all claim to play with our personal skills and passions. I try to cultivate my individuality, to be sure I can contribute to the group as much as I can and differently from the others.
Your good ideas come from your humanity, and by consequence your individuality, as you can never separate one from the other.
I never found selfishness useful or rewarding. Being selfish is defined as the “ability to place concern with oneself or one’s own interests above the well-being or interests of others.” Does this sound appealing? Does it help me to innovate for the world I live in, thinking about what me, myself and I would love to see for…. me, myself and I? and more than anything else, does it make me a better person to design a better world?
I love what Elon Musk answered when he was asked at SxSW what was his biggest mistake:
“the biggest in general I’ve made and am trying to correct, is that [I] put too much weight on talent and not personality. It actually matters whether someone has a good heart.”
Talent is not enough. Empathy matters.
The minute you separate yourself from the community, you narrow the prism. Mirror, mirror, tell me who has the best idea?
Your microcosms not only become your world, but THE world: what you think it is, and should be. You talk to yourself, and bet people will be inspired enough to join the conversation, sorry, monologue. Having your self interest and needs in mind will never make you a better entrepreneur. Yes, I know about Steve Jobs and his dictatorial way of imposing what he believed in. But being a visionary does not mean your are selfish. A vision is your intuition to feel for others, even about what they do not yet know.
A vision is not a selfish need, it is a conviction that the world will benefit from it, that the life of others will change with it. A vision is empathy in action.
Empathy defines our ability to understand and share the feelings of others and should be the skill to nurture for any leader of the 21th century.
The digital age makes the connections to others multiple, frictionless and fulfilling. Our need to share is on fire, access to different communities is facilitated. If you still believe selfishness fits with this new digital era, you are cultivating the opposite values of the world you live in. If you are convinced that your ability to think about you first will inspire a community to join, you are forgetting that intuition and empathy are deeply connected.
If you make selfishness the central point of your ability to succeed, I feel for you.