Still sharpening those instincts – Key Decision Analysis Part 2

by Ivan Mazour on January 1, 2014

20131231_132143Christmas is my favourite time of the year, but for slightly unusual reasons. I love the fact that I get to spend time with family, but even more than that I love the absolute sense of calm that settles on London during this period. The streets are empty, few people are at work, no one replies to e-mails, and that rushed feeling subsides, leaving time for reflection and creativity.

I use this quiet time to catch up on some of the slightly longer projects that I’ve had to put off over the course of the year, such as the Ometria Culture Deck which I’ll post about soon, and also to complete my annual Key Decision Analysis process which I wrote about this time last year. The details are described in last year’s post, but the general gist is that goal and success-oriented people have to make more decisions than they have time to logically analyse, and so it becomes important to be able to make decisions based on instinct.

However to make sure that those instincts are actually taking you in the right direction, and to improve the accuracy of your judgement, a feedback process needs to be put in place, and this is what I call Key Decision Analysis. I have an actual notebook (pink, yes, I know, not sure how that happened..) in which I record every vital decision that I make. I then come back to it a year later, and write down the outcome and my learnings from it, and at the end of a full year, I summarise all of the learnings that I’ve written down. So in December 2013, I analysed the decisions that I made in December 2012, and today I went through all of those 2013 learnings and created the list of 10 takeaways below, based on the outcomes of all the instinctive decisions which I made over the course of 2012.

1. If you’re an entrepreneur, then stop making backup plans.

I am an entrepreneur. This is what make me excited to get up in the morning, to work for 16 hours, to be social and to get things done. There is no doubt about this, and any other path in life will just lead to unhappiness, so I should not be making any secondary backup plans, or considering other alternatives – doing this is a waste of time. Instead I should be optimising for success as a life-long entrepreneur.

2. Take large-scale, high-return calculated risks.

I’ve now spent time on both low-risk and high-risk strategies, and have had enough failures and successes to be able to make a rational judgement here. Investing £100k and making £110k back after a year does absolutely nothing to achieve the kind of life I want to have. If instead of buying the first iPod you bought Apple shares, you’d have $26k dollars right now. Opportunities like that exist all the time, and we just need to find them. Not all of them succeed, so you just choose the best one at each time, and keep going. Ometria is that opportunity for me right now.

3. Labels and awards are fake. Ignore them and focus on real success.

I’ve learned that I should be ignoring the various awards and labels that one can get – winning competitions, getting certificates or qualifications. Each of these can potentially be relevant to genuine success, but we are often trapped into a process of going through the motions just for the sake of getting them. If winning the competition gets you something you need to succeed, then great, but if it’s just an ego-boost, then down the line it ends up being just a waste of time.

4. Formal education is largely irrelevant in today’s world.

I can safely say that I acquired much more knowledge in the year since Cambridge than I did in the year I spent at Cambridge from 2011 to 2012. Even though I worked just as hard during both years, and the year at Cambridge was solely focused on acquiring knowledge. Until formal education can catch up and start actually teaching the skills required for success in today’s world, independent learning and actually going out there and doing things is a much better option.

5. A network and a purpose is more important than skills.

I had the option of spending time acquiring proficiency in a skill, say data science, or acquiring a large network. I’ve seen a number of people be “networkers” – where their role is simply knowing lots of people and putting them together – and never wanted to be one of these. The key, I’ve realised, is to be a networker with a purpose. If you are building something of value, then you have a purpose behind building the network, as well as an ability to truly leverage it. This combination is much more powerful than simply having a skill, and hence gaining it is a better use of time.

6. Your close personal circle must contain people who are going to change the world.

My approach to investment is very specific – I use it as a method of identifying the best founders here in London so that together we can build many businesses over the coming decades and turn London into a technology ecosystem that can directly rival Silicon Valley. I’ve had the chance to meet many founders over my years doing this, and have seen a number of them turn into genuine world-class leaders. These specific individuals are the people I want to be surrounded by, and from now on my investment decisions are based entirely on this.

7. Cut out people who lack character or integrity immediately.

This appeared on last year’s list, and I consider this my largest single failing and weakness. I have continued to give people too many chances to improve, or to change. People do not change. They may get better temporarily, but this just creates a false sense of security, which is always followed by an even bigger problem. This must not be allowed to happen again. If they demonstrate any kind of lack of character or integrity, they are out of my life or my organisation immediately.

8. Only hire people who are independent thinkers.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of hiring people who are good at the job they are supposed to do. In the initial period this seems great, because your time is freed up. However to build a genuinely scalable organisation, these people must be able to do more than just do their job – they must be able to improve it, to adapt it. They must be able to think about these things themselves, and not rely on you to come up with the suggestions for them. No more “doers” – in 2014 it’s “thinkers and doers”.

9. Push everyone around you to achieve greatness.

Not everyone has a relentless stream of energy and motivation to keep improving themselves. But if you do, then the best thing you can do is push people around you, whether friends or employees, to do better. Give them more responsibility, more pressure, and higher expectations. The right people will flourish in this environment. They will become happier and they will thank you for it. And if they don’t, then see point 7.

10. Don’t be too cheap.

Being cheap is a false economy. A major lesson of the year has been a positive ROI on expensive advisors – solicitors, accountants, etc. Hiring cheap ones would have led to far worse outcomes, and is simply not worth it. The same applies for employees, and just about anything else in life. Pay the maximum you can afford and get the best people that you can. It always works out better than the alternative.

So here we are again – another Christmas, another New Year’s Eve, another brand new year, and another list of Key Decision learnings to take into it. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thanks for reading! On the 1st of January 2015, I will be doing this again, this time analysing the outcome of 2013’s most important decisions. It will be a good one – since it will include, as I’ve written it in the book, “the most important decision of my entire life“.

May 2014 be the year in which you achieve all of your goals, except for one – so you always have something to strive for!

Read my full story on the About Ivan Mazour page.

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Dilanka Wettewa January 1, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Ivan —

Interesting insights. Thanks for the post. I’d love to know more about how you arrived at your approach to investment(s). Any influence from Benjamin Graham or Buffet?

Best,
Dilanka

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Ivan Mazour January 2, 2014 at 9:31 am

Hi Dilanka. Happy new year! I’d say I have almost the exact opposite approach to both of these. Buffet’s Biography “The Snowball” is an inspiration, and “Intelligent Investor” is on my reading list for this year, but my actual approach to investment is completely the opposite. These guys are both professional investors, which is something that I have no aspiration to become. So my approach to investment is optimised around building success as an entrepreneur, in my own ventures, rather than successfully building up capital as a professional investor. I haven’t actually come across anyone else, or read anything which is similar, but I assume a lot of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who do some angel investment follow this same approach.

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Fabio Quaradeghini January 14, 2014 at 9:23 pm

So I come on this site to check up on you and end up coming away with wise words and food for thought. I should have done one of these analyses every year….

Greetings again from the Arctic.

Fabio

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Ivan Mazour January 14, 2014 at 9:27 pm

I was just remembering you today Fabio, while speaking with some people who are launching a tech-focused fund. Nice to hear from you, and hope that 2014 is already proving a promising and exciting year!

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Deepak Pathak February 14, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Wow, how have I not been here in a while, this is simply an awesome idea.

I am so with you when talking about awards/recognition. It does nothing for your business and I’d rather work on the business. I’m also learning fast that some people simply do not change and as much I would like to help people, I can only help those who show they are helping themselves.

I do want to know more about how your push those around you. I always thought it was a fine line between being too demanding and not being demanding enough. Your thoughts would be awesome.

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Ivan Mazour February 15, 2014 at 7:31 am

Hope all is well Dee. I guess the way I now look at pushing those around me is to set expectations in the right way from the start. If you make it clear, during all stages of the interview process and the early days, that the expectation is going to be very high and that they have to earn the right to be part of the team, then they see it as a challenge, and not as you being demanding. I’ve made mistakes in the past where I have gone easy on people who I thought would be good, but now independent of how much I think someone is great, they will still have to work hard to get into the team, and then work hard to stay there. It is, however, very difficult, to suddenly start pushing those who you haven’t pushed in years. This still works, but it needs to be done by example – by pushing yourself hard, and by pointing out those others around you, and trying to motivate them to do the same. Otherwise they start feeling persecuted. What do you think – do you agree?

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Deepak Pathak February 23, 2014 at 1:25 am

I think you make a very simple but meaningful point here. You have to start the intention to work hard right from the interview… perhaps I’ve not been doing that much at all.

It makes so much sense to impart the hard working culture at this stage and make it clear that they need to consistently perform to stay there. I’ve been doing it the opposite way round… kicking myself a little!

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Ivan Mazour February 23, 2014 at 7:41 am

Exactly. It’s like when you have someone amazing come to interview, and your immediate reaction is to tell them the job is yours, but in reality that goes completely against any long-term benefit to the company. However great they are, they have to prove themselves, they have to show commitment, and they have to perform right from the beginning. It’s hard to do, because sometimes you worry that if they are that good they won’t jump through all of the interview hoops. However if the cultural fit is right, and they are the right kind of person – then they will..

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Ciara Maccarthy February 20, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Hi Ivan,
Enjoyed reading this. Currently running for SU president at my university so much of it applies with my general way of thinking! Just hope I carry the passion for my sleepless nights and networking until election day! Hope you are well.

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Ivan Mazour February 20, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Thanks Ciara – and good luck!

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