cdixon blog

Capabilities and sensibilities

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

One reason running a startup is so interesting is the constant tension between opposing ways of thinking: short-term vs. long-term, internal vs. external, saving vs. investment, etc. At large companies, responsibility for these ways of thinking is often spread across multiple business units. In startups they fall on a few people, usually the founders.

As a founder, the most important tension is between your capabilities and sensibilities. Capabilities are your talents and resources. Sensibilities are the way you see the world. Successful founders usually have an unlikely combination of capabilities and sensibilities. The right sensibilities without the right capabilities means a good vision, poorly executed. The right capabilities without the right sensibilities means building something your market doesn’t want. Getting both right creates founder-market fit.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being an experienced entrepreneur. Disadvantages include the fact that, with age, you are more likely to have obligations outside of your startup. You also risk having calcified sensibilities. Counterbalancing this is greater self-awareness, and, ideally, the wisdom to choose markets that match your sensibilities and cofounders who augment your capabilities.