Exceptionalism is dangerous

Warning – this is an Op-Ed, there are opinions here, you might not like them…

The act of creation is exceptional, but are you?

You’ll find a lot of navel-gazing in the startup scene: successful founders talking about their success, failed founders talking about their mistakes, embarrassed founders talking about their indiscretions… In fact – startup blog-land is full of self-righteous navel-gazing bollocks.

It’s very easy, when creating something, to fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve done something exceptional. You might have created something incredibly unique – but does that make you exceptional? Or does it make you a prime mover – a force that pushed an idea from nothing to reality?

Personally, I think it’s the latter: the act of creation is about making something real and the act of creation is exceptional, because anyone can have an idea, but few have the motivation and grit to birth it.

Now I’m not going to pooh-pooh the fact that some really talented people make some amazing software and services out there, there are are *exceptionally talented* people, making *amazing* things…

… But they aren’t doing it alone.

Greatness is rarely forged by one person alone

I’d like to take a hammer to the notion that it is one person, alone, forging greatness. It’s a myth, and it’s one that will destroy the progress and creativity of young would-be founders wanting to make their mark in the world. Exceptionalism can either lead to arrogance, or crippling anxiety and indecisiveness, and those things will kill any fledgling startup idea dead.

No, what really forges great things is when the right people work together, and when the right people, together, take risks: they feel joy, and pain, and hurt and scrape their way out of a hole together. When there’s guts and skin and bone and sadness and happiness all balled up into expectation and reward, that’s when you you really feel like you’re making something. That might seem a little hyperbolic, but it’s just like any team sport – you need to put yourself out there, in the hands of others, to really achieve something.

That, for many technologists, is really hard to do.

So here’s my bit of navel-gazing: I have tried, and failed, to start a business four (four!) times. Each time, I tried to do it alone, I tried to push it out, make a thing and make it successful, because I was narcissistic enough to think that all it took was some hard work and my own magic, snowflake-powered touch. (Which, of course, is complete and utter horse-sh*t, and those ventures were doomed to failure and deserved to die in the fires of arrogance).

Now there could be many reasons why they failed (maybe the ideas were just crap!), but the one I put most of the blame on is myself, and, ultimately, my lack of trust in others to help me (or, rather, fear of others’ help). 

We all need a little help from our friends

The current success of Tyk is not down to some awesome source code, or secret formula, or personal snowflake-magic. It’s down to our people.

Personally, success started when my co-founder joined: a single moment when another human being decided to join their fate to mine, hold hands and jump into the abyss, laughing at the darkness and screaming “Geronimo!” (or actually “API Management!”).

Together, I like to think we’re pretty formidable. But as a company, we didn’t start to really roll until we begun to cover the gaps in our knowledge by building a team. And not just any team; one that pushed back, told us when we were talking rubbish, and questioned our thinking, constantly.

Building out your team is partially about your capability, but I think it’s more about personal growth.  I believe we should always strive to be better, and we can only achieve that when we share with others, and, in doing so, expose ourselves and our preconceptions to the minds and ideas of our team.

So that fear of failure, that nagging doubt that comes when you think you are exceptional (or more often, because you think you aren’t), goes right out the door when you share it with someone else. Then the fear is gone, replaced with confidence, and you are left able to focus on creating something great.

Want to be part of an exceptional team? We’re hiring for a wide range of exciting opportunities. Many of our roles are available remote, with flexible hours, and all members of our team have unlimited holiday. If you’re interested in joining us, find out more about our current positions.