Tuesday, 3 June 2008

The wrong socks

My big sister bought me a pack of socks for my last birthday with the days of the week embroidered on them. Monday’s socks are red. Tuesday’s blue and so on. A pair of socks for each day of the week. Now, I have discovered something quite interesting about myself. I am unable to wear the wrong socks. I have tried and tried but I am completely unable to step out of the house wearing Tuesday’s socks on a Wednesday. Is this wrong?

More importantly, does this disqualify me as an entrepreneur and therefore should I do the right thing, take my embroidered socks to my VCs offices, slap them on the table and declare that I am unfit to be CEO of Garlik? Surely entrepreneurs are innovative, daring, risk-takers? I do not know for certain that anything bad will happen if I walk down the street in the wrong socks but the way I look at it, hey, why take the chance?

People assume that entrepreneurs are extrovert, risk taking, dare devils but actually you can be a successful entrepreneur whatever your personality type. You just have to play it your way. I have a slightly odd personality type. I can’t wear the wrong socks on the wrong day. I yelp with delight when a train arrives exactly on time to the second. I plan my spontaneous, off the cuff jokes sometimes months in advance. I am, in Myers Briggs terminology, an extreme INFJ personality type.

In simple terms this means I am, amongst other things, extremely introvert (if you ever meet me, don’t actually speak to me as it will freak me out) and extremely structured (my “To Do” list has entries on it such as “Plan tomorrow’s To Do list”). These might be considered rather odd traits for an entrepreneur but it just goes to show that you don’t have to be a gregarious, spontaneous type, such as say an ENTP to be an entrepreneur.

Not that there is anything wrong with ENTPs too. Some of my best friends are ENTPs. When I worked at the online bank, Egg plc, I was surrounded by the blighters, rushing around trying to talk to me all the time. My goodness. We used to have meetings and all these ENTPs would just start talking to each other, all at the same time, bouncing from topic to topic, inventing, exploring. I could hardly get a word in edgeways and I could never tell whether the meeting had actually started or whether we were just chatting randomly before the meeting starts.

I remember one meeting that was supposed to last an hour. At the end of the hour I prepared to leave. The Boss asked where I was going. I said, well, the meeting was in my diary for an hour and the hour is up so the meeting must be finished. But, he said, we haven’t finished discussing the issues and besides, did I have another meeting to go to? No I said, but the meeting was an hour and an hour is up. We finally compromised on the basis that the first meeting was over and we were now starting a second, completely different meeting, so I settled back in to my seat and prepared to sit silently and listen to another hour of random, spontaneous, extrovert idea generation.

However whilst any of us can be entrepreneurs it is essential to have a really good mix of personality types in the team. Us introvert entrepreneurs need to be surrounded by extroverts to bring us out, to mix with contacts, to network, to get the brainstorms going. The extroverts need us introverts to absorb all those words flying around and then sit silently and ponder, to think deeply and weigh up all the angles before acting. Us intuitive “big picture” guys need those “sensing” detailed types to delve deep in to the numbers for us, picking over every penny to make sure our numbers add up and they need us to paint visions on huge, global scale of what this company can be. So as an entrepreneur you really need to understand yourself and to put together a complementary team. You need to be wary of surrounding yourself with people like you or you will end up with an oddly shaped company. Have you ever been to a party of all introverts?

The second important thing is to be yourself, not to try to be a stereotype of what you think an entrepreneur is supposed to be. If you are an out going, hand shaking type then that’s great. Go for it and use your extrovert skills to the max to build your business. But if you are a quiet, pondering type then don’t try to do the loud, networking thing as you will just look daft, like an Uncle in a baseball cap. Partner up with one of those outgoing types and leverage your deep thinking skills. The smarter VC will see the strength of the combination and will draw comfort from the balance in the team. The dumber VCs will try to replace you with what they have read in the “How to be a VC” book is a proper type of entrepreneur. Run a mile from these people.

So, entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes and all personality types and if you play it your way and surround yourself with people that complement your type you will build a great team. You need people who always wear Monday’s socks on a Monday and you need, I am told, some of those people who don’t even wear socks at all !


Toby Stevens said...

Tom, the fact you're still wearing socks demonstrates that you haven't gone completely feral, and at least you embrace variety rather than an Einstein-like drawer full of identical socks.

In my dot-com days I came up with an 'eight working hour' rule for meetings. I refused to accept any meeting invitation that required more than eight working hours (so four people for two hours each, or eight people for one hour each etc). Once eight hours were up, I'd get up and leave regardless of the state of the meeting. Any issue that requires more than a working day to resolve clearly needs to be dealt with in a different way. :-)

Rob Styles said...

Great post Tom, thanks.

It's all too easy to think we all have to be full-on all of the time. I remember so many meetings at Egg where I literally said nothing, not a word. Just listened, and listened, and listened.

Now the real dilemma I know you face is what to do when the right day of the week socks don't match the (always immaculate) shirt you want to wear? Compromise the shirt, or wear the wrong day...

Andy Gueritz said...

One of the key difference between E*** and I*** people is that E***s have to talk to think, whereas you can hear a clock tick when an I*** is thinking. I***s talk to communicate (occasionally), and sometimes imagine that they have had the conversation with somebody else, but in fact, had the conversation with themself, and never actually got around to verbalising it.

Being an INTJ myself, I exhibit a number of the traits you might expect, however, I have found that sometimes other behaviours sneak out. For example, in the 90s, I used to affect loud ties - I recall a video conference once where my bright red Daffy Duck tie saturated the video back-picture link!

Also when leaving the office, I would rev my BMW to the red line, drop the hammer, and lay down rubber, smoking out of the car park. Much to the surprise of the extrovert sales team who were astonished to see the normally thoughtful and analytical Development Director making such a display.

Kerry said...

Funny I don't recall Mike Harris talking about socks in his recent book!
Perhaps that was the missing chapter...