For now, hang loose

It’s great to be in control, but sometimes this can throttle your efforts.

Early-stage enterprises are ambiguous, uncertain animals that are never a perfect fit with the market. They need a lot of tweaking and changing.

Being imprecise over goals and methods can be an advantage.

During the Vietnam War, the insurgents and North Vietnamese used the Russian AK-47 semi-automatic rifle, which was very effective in battle because it was engineered slack. U.S. forces, by contrast, were saddled with the fine-tolerance M16 weapon that in its early form needed frequent cleaning and often jammed, resulting in unnecessary loss of life.

LOOSE AND EASY

Anyone who plays tennis knows the virtue of a floppy serve and a relaxed grip. This allows a whippy racquet motion, using the pivot points of the fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder and back. The grip is tightened up before the racquet contacts the ball.

Ever listened to Bob Dylan’s early songs or read the prose poems on his album covers? Their meanings are often vague and impressionistic. They say almost whatever you want them to, which gives them wide applicability.

So too with business. Hang loose until the moment when you have to tighten up. Let market forces and other uncontrollable variables tell you what you need to know.

Be free, people.

After the perm, it’s still a dog

The corner restaurant near this office has been through five tenants in recent years. Each spends money on a new name and new fitout, but these don’t stop the venture from failing.

We’ve had a Mexican, Turkish, contemporary, Asian, and one I can’t remember.

In each of the formats, there’s been nothing wrong with the food or service. But the floor size of the premises is enormous and would need a lot of diners in order to be profitable. Many of the tables are empty during the week. The two-highway exposure must also push up the rent.

BLIND FAITH

And this is on a high street that’s already overserviced with casual restaurants.

What startles me is the faith that each new operator has in a fresh concept, as if this will be the one to break through into profitability. A revamp is seen as the answer.

You can dress up these premises any way you like and the business fundamentals aren’t going to change much. A dog remains a dog, regardless of the color of its coat.

The 21st century Howard Hughes

I looked at a couple of movies recently about the mid-20th-century entrepreneur Howard Hughes. These were The Aviator, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and The Amazing Howard Hughes, with Tommy Lee Jones.

Both movies told interesting stories, the first focusing on Hughes’s early years, the later protraying his decline into eccentric old age.

What startled me was the similarity between him and our current rich visionary, Elon Musk.

Hughes made his pile selling drill parts during the Texas oil boom, then parlayed the cash into blockbuster movies, operating an airline (TWA) and making extravagant forays into aircraft design.

His six-engined Spruce Goose was at the time the largest aircraft ever built. It barely got off the ground and has been hangared ever since as an awkward reminder of Hughes’s overreach.

FATED TRAJECTORY? 

In a similar vein, Elon Musk got rich from the internet revolution, bought into the car company Tesla and has ambitions to be a space transport pioneer.

Both men had or are having trouble reining in their cashed-up dreams to keep pace with the reality of what they’re trying to achieve.

The Musk story is still unfolding, but how fascinating to see if the second half of the man’s life will mirror the fated trajectory of his forerunner.