Our work in fintech is challenging and meaningful – it has the grueling and riveting ups and downs of startup work, along with transformative potential for the lives of our customers – all set against a backdrop of regulatory changes, ethical decisions about products and pricing, and a host of other issues unique to our industry.
Thankfully, setting powerful and effective New Year’s resolutions for fintech startup teams doesn’t have to be a challenge. In my experience, it’s as simple as three steps that take just a few minutes.
Step 1: Get Inspired
As a fintech startup leader, you need to be inspired and inspire others, but it’s a trap to wait to feel inspired. Instead, we need to rapidly get ourselves inspired, and then take action.
We have an important responsibility to create products that can improve human life – from access to affordable emergency loans to keep people out of poverty, to insurance products that make the difference in a family’s stability after an unexpected death.
All goals aren’t equal: our mental and physiological state at the time of setting a goal directly impacts the quality of that goal.
If you roll out of bed, sleep-deprived, grumpy and operating from a place of negativity, you’re going to set very different goals than those developed from a state of openness, hope, joy, purpose and possibility.
We can approach our goals – and our larger lives – by listening to that small, often critical voice in our heads reminding us of why something might not work and the risks involved, or step back and connect with that deeper, prescient voice that believes in possibility and promise, free of fear, doubt and critique. Trust that deeper voice.
It’s tempting to wait for the perfect day to get started, when the perfect mood hits you, but you might find yourself waiting a long time. Instead, take a few simple actions to get yourself there fast.
Some things that work for me are walking in nature, running, listening to great music, meditating or jotting down a short gratitude list.
However you get there, it’s important to start by stepping back from your day to day worries and tasks, and get yourself plugged into a state of deeper possibility and hope – and then begin setting goals.
One last tip – to set truly transformative goals for your fintech team, develop goals with the lives of your customers in mind (and as an added benefit, research shows you’re likely to be happier because of it).
Step 2: Extreme Focus
Mark Twain is quoted as saying “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one.”
It’s often easy to write a list of 5, 10 or even 20 resolutions. Choosing fewer requires prioritizing between competing (often excellent) goals, and most challengingly – saying ‘no’ to goals that are truly impactful – yet not the most important.
However, by choosing just one goal and focusing on this incessantly, you’re much more likely to hold yourself accountable and ultimately achieve it. You’ll also make yourself happier by not setting yourself up for inevitable failure when you set too many goals and fail to make progress on most.
So how to get started with figuring out just one?
I’m a big fan of Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – which delves into the art and science of focusing on the most essential components of your life. The book is a wonderful study into why focus matters, how to achieve it, and examples of others who have made this a reality. (Greg also happens to be a former classmate of mine from grad school and I continue to be deeply inspired by his work and the growing list of companies that it is transforming)
The added advantage of being extremely focused and excellent at prioritizing – especially for fintech leaders – is that it helps us solve the hard problems, in often non-obvious ways.
We’ve seen this in many great fintech startups over the last few decades. Peter Thiel is famous for walking around PayPal in the early days and asking people about the “one thing they are focused on.” Keith Rabois recalls that Thiel would refuse to discuss anything other than each person’s “#1 most important initiative”, and every employee had to identify their “single most valuable contribution to the company” as part of his or her annual review.
The added benefit is that by sticking to one goal, we are less likely to focus on solving less strategically important goals, just because they are easier to achieve. Instead, we force ourselves to stare difficult challenges in the face, wrestle with them, often develop creative and non-obvious solutions that take time to emerge.
Step 3: Imperfect Action
The last step for an effective resolution is making it a reality.
The key to being successful on this is counterintuitive. Rather than getting everything perfect and taking time to launch, success requires getting nice and comfortable with imperfection, putting something out there, and refining from there.
There’s a wonderful recent NYTimes article by Adam Grant about how striving for perfection often leads to underachievement in life, with the guidance that college students aiming for straight A’s may not actually be stretching themselves enough – as the pursuit of perfection reduces risk taking, learning new subjects, and investing in other areas of life.
This directly complements some of the research conducted by Carol Dweck regarding the power of a “growth mindset” (one in which growth, learning and development is the focus) rather than a “fixed mindset” (which would lead us to focus on the outcome – like good grades – and ultimately leads to less growth and development long term).
For fintech founders and leaders, this means moving quickly, often putting a prospective product or concept out there, and rapidly getting market input – even before something is ready to launch at scale.
Lastly, in terms of getting things done as a fintech startup leader, OKRs are a powerful tool to use in terms of setting clear, transparent, measurable and meaningful goals on a regular basis. John Doerr, one of the greatest VCs of his generation, helped to transform MBOs from Andy Grove at Intel, introduced these to the founders of Google and helped shape the history of that company from year one. His book Measure What Matters is a fascinating study of the history, learnings and contributions he’s made in this space.
Feeling more advanced? You can also take OKRs to the next level by setting personal OKRs – it’s something great startup leaders like Andrew Chen use in their own lives.
As the year winds down and another one begins, New Year’s resolutions provide a wonderful opportunity to take a step back, set inspired and focused goals, and shape the direction of our companies, the happiness of our employees, and the lives of our customers.