The Key to Success: Intellectual Honesty

By Cal Sloan

Some years ago I met with a board member of a startup software company where I was interviewing for an executive position. He taught a class on entrepreneurship at the Stanford Business School and we had a stimulating conversation about what was the key to success for startups. The short answer was “intellectual honesty”.

Success for a startup is like a moon shot. You cannot get there without making course corrections along the way. They need to be the right choices, and timely, or you are penalized by having to make larger and more painful course corrections later. The same is true for established enterprises.

We find examples of this everywhere. It is critical to have an honest rather than purely aspirational appraisal of:

  • Your company’s product and service offerings; including go-to-market readiness, value proposition, addressable market, pricing, and supportability
  • Customer satisfaction and realized value
  • Your company’s marketing, sales, and operations ability to execute
  • The capabilities of your competitors; including their product and service offerings and their ability to execute
  • Each person’s abilities, commitment, and performance

As an outside consultant, we are constantly challenging our clients to have an honest appraisal of what is really going on and engage in an open dialog to make the necessary course corrections. That allows the executive and extended management team to leverage their collective knowledge and experience to make optimal and timely decisions. The results of this transparency and intellectual honesty is alignment across the enterprise and a powerful force to drive and accelerate success.