What is a startup mentality?
Probably the first thing to come to mind is something new, jazzy, fun, innovative, high tech, and youthful. The old business model of a three piece suit and office suites fades into history, and a communal warehouse space with skateboards and crispy snacks in fun Lucite bowls takes its place.
Growth is the signature trait of a startup, but old timey business, obviously, had to see growth as well.
The new company is diverse, cool, casual and painted in primary colors that suggest more creativity than somber brass tacks.
A startup mentality suggests “thinking outside the box.” And, often, that box which so many businesses are clamoring to get outside of is an old, grey, concrete tower with worker ants (except mostly male) filing in and out of work on a rigid schedule, in a boring routine.
But what if your business model is more like those of bygone eras? What if you like the idea of job security, well defined roles, and good, old-fashioned durability? What if gee whiz is something you like in your three basic network offerings of nightly entertainment, but you feel that it is just too risky to implement at work.
These days, the gig economy is booming for many, and startups are poised to take advantage of that, but it is not the only way.
Take the best of both worlds
One does not have to return to the bad old sexist days of Mad Men of the 1960’s. Nor does one have to ignore the need for inclusion with respect to race, religion, routines and roles. A business can innovate even while holding on to basic strategies that are tried and true.
Prior to the current startup mentality that permeates trends today, there were some awful business practices. But there were good things, too.
There are some wonderful things that previous generations pioneered, and those are worth considering for any business today. Before the gig economy there was such a thing as job security. Company policy was usually to put a mission, (even before mission statement became a thing), employees, and even community before profits. Today, also, even as there is much talk about the idealism of tech dying away — making billionaires where they once made virtuous promises — there is just as much talk against such models.
More likely than not, you don’t have to worry about being the next Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, but in most cases, you do have to stick to a mission if you want loyalty, purpose, fulfillment, and success.
In the bad (good) old days, being a breadwinner was a job that typically went to a man, but that does that mean having breadwinners — or more accurately breadwinning partners — can’t be respected today?
If we are to only view the past through a lens of grey flannel suits and boring meetings as portrayed in dramas and sitcoms, we lose a lot of the picture.
Today, it’s true that there is more flexibility in roles, especially when contract workers are driving cars in one shift, and putting together Ikea furniture in another, but having set roles has advantages too.
Set roles, not entrenched in rigid hierarchy, allows people to become highly skilled and highly valued.
Also helpful are those companies that attract and keep loyal workers because they offer working conditions that are fun, fair, respected, and protected.
No one likes to feel like a cog in a wheel, and a cog in a wheel is something that used to be a thing before digital technology ran the world. In time, silicon too, will be a thing of the past.
Ok, Boomer, but what about innovation?
Hard to believe, but in the old days people did innovate. They didn’t just sit around waiting for the perky stenographer to bring them bad coffee. Office machines may have been the size of bank vaults, but they did their job.
Retail may not have dropped hot meals on busy households by drone, but they offered a sense of location and even belonging, that social psychologists recognize is being missed today.
In the old days, human interaction was always valued more than high tech “message leaving” and what was lost in time was more than made up for in creating connection.
Innovation was slower, but incubating ideas slowly often makes them better. Products made in the mid twentieth century are more durable and prized. Now, who says, “My phone is never lost.” or “Oh, I’m so glad the plastic crap on my device just snapped off, and I love having to replace the whole thing?”
Moore’s law tells us that everything is doubling in both speed and ability, even while costs fall. This is a pace that human beings can’t keep up with, and expecting artificial intelligence to take up the slack does nothing for worker morale in the long run.
Efforts in a green economy are crucially important and innovation will be greatly needed to produce clean fuel, realize bio-engineering wonders in food, healthcare, and civil engineering, but bringing old ideas of durability, and especially efficiency, to the table will fuel the next century.
Being innovative will always be of great value. But so will coming together with the best of old and new. You don’t have to be a millenial or a gen Z worker to benefit from combining old and new.
In short, having a startup mentality can mean using all the resources at your disposal to create, and continue to innovate, a brave new business world.