When think of Internet start-ups that become recognized in popular culture, you tend to think that their leadership is pretty savvy. That may be so in some ways, but business is multi-dimensional and success is about balancing those dimensions, not being good at just one or two things.
Case in point is a recent interview (One minute with Dennis Crowley)in NewScientist with Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley.
My first concern, and granted this is a short interview, but to me, that is where CEOs should shine—comes when Crowley, talking about the concept of “mayor,” says: “If someone ousts me, I take personal offence. I want to defend my territory. I don’t fully understand the psychology, but there’s something primal and territorial about it.”
Now, for an enthusiastic coder in a college dorm room, that kind of non-analytical thinking is expected, even if it can’t be forgiven. As the CEO of a company, and adjunct professor at NYU, I think it is unforgiveable.
Crowley is falling into the same trap the drug makers, tobacco companies and others have fallen into in the past, things you don’t understand because they weren’t intended. Things that weren’t in the test plan so they don’t matter. Things that aren’t regulated, so why worry about them.
Foursquare is a psychologically-based environment. As he said in the preceding sentence, “I wrote the rules and the code that enables people to become mayor.” He made it into a game, but because he was focused on the process and not the effect, he didn’t do any research into the psychology of the game.
Now, you can argue that hey, “its just this Internet app that helps me navigate a city. Why do I care about the psychology of it?” The answer is you shouldn’t, but Crowley should. As an analyst, this quip demonstrates a lack of homework, perhaps more disheartening is the apparent lack of interest in understanding the psychology of his invention—which then prompts me to call into question any other assertions he makes about his product, his company or his market.
Strategically, businesses need to understand their part in the business ecosystem, and increasingly, in work and life and play, because these areas are quickly blurring together. The entrepreneurial mantra to just do a few things really well doesn’t sway me anymore. Entrepreneurs need to think broadly and strategically if they are going to be more than fast winners and even faster losers. The winning firms of the future will understand their products and the impact they have on people, society and business, or they will, more rapidly than ever before, find constituencies that push back against their assumptions. If they don’t heed the concerns of the market, the amplified voice of those constituencies will quickly put them in their place by deftly redirecting their clicks to someplace more credible.
Crowley needs to stop sounding cool and start thinking strategically or next year NewScientist will focus One Minute on some other young gun as Crowley becomes irrelevant.