Anecdotal stories in management and the startup world.

Management books are sprinkled with anecdotal recipes for success. Sometimes it's about someone who had success and tells his story trying to convince other people to follow his footsteps (and buy his book). If you do this you will be successful. Sometimes people dress the message they want to sell with research adding several stories and concoct a pattern. Patterns sound more credible than 1 single story.

When you want to have a recipe for success you need to have empirical research confirming the recipe. A story is not a substitute for empirical research. I don't think it is possible to empirical research management.

Off course you try to manage your known context but how can you manage the unknown? Well you can't and the only option you have is using the Agile mantra inspect & adapt.

Management is about people, random events that happen and how those people react on them. You can't predict the random events and you can't always predict how people react on events known or unknown.

This takes me to my favorite environment: the startup world. Founders of startups all write blog-posts about how they:

  • got started
  • got funding
  • if they are lucky got their exit or are profitable

But these stories are irrelevant! Have a look at Y-Combinator where Paul Graham has a strong opinion in what/who to invest. One of his main criteria to invest in people. Passionate, smart people who are resilient will have a big success rate. Getting all the valley contacts through YC and having a dose of luck helps also.

So read these blog-posts or management books as a motivational inspiration but not as a recipe for success.