Helen Yu expertly weaves something that feels part personal memorandum, part leadership advice guide, and part spiritualistic philosophy. Her new book is Ascend Your Start-Up: Conquer the Five Disconnects to Accelerate Growth, and like its titularly referential metaphor is aimed at coaching the burgeoning up-and-comer on the corporate and/or entrepreneurial ladder about the potential pitfalls that may await them.
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The book’s outlining of these pitfalls feels like something akin to corporately altruistic insurance – a sort of pre how-to guide that warns you about these things and how to navigate them, before they happen. The fact Yu details her coming to these informed theories and observance-based, on the ground methodologies from the wise influence of her grandmother only adds a pertinently humanistic touch to the entirety of the proceedings, if not the whole detailed affair. There’s a sense as much as she’s operating from years of professional experience Yu is also operating from something deeper, the kind of thought quality starting to infect the post-modernist workplace in the form of holistic corporate psychological designs and acute implementations of Eastern spiritualistic practices. Examples include Toyota’s Lean philosophy. Such conceptual elements only bleed over to the more left-brain, terra firma aspects of the book’s topical focus, making its entirety feel coherent and whole.
“Many founders focus so much on the product that they don’t have time to connect with others,” Yu writes. “Sixteen-hour days where lunch is a luxury are common. That’s not sustainable. And it’s short-sighted.” She goes on to elaborate, “To be strategic, you have to make mind space for yourself, to carve out one or two hours a day to think…Spending time away from the day-to-day business unleashes (one’s) brainpower. Here is where you begin to choreograph your start-up’s graceful climb…As a founder, focus on defining your North Star, articulating that to your team. The ability to empower experienced leaders and determine when to step in sets successful companies apart from others.” If one could summarize the crux of all of Yu’s arguments about avoiding such potential obstacles, one couldn’t help but note the recurring theme through all of them regardless of their chameleonic specificities.
Go into an enterprise with your mind focused only on the labor of work and nothing else, Yu writes, and ironically you become the antithesis of actually being productive. As an innovator, she continues, you need to allow enough space to constantly be on the lookout for new avenues and new ideas. This way it’s a win-win, the pragmatic aspect being your continuation maintaining the success already realized, and the long-term gains meaning you continue to push the envelope in new and exciting ways. “Your peak is self-defined and ties back to your purpose. One person’s peak is different from another’s,” Yu writes. “…Peak is defined as this: What would you like to be remembered for as a person? When a person goes to a funeral, no one talks about the business they were in. You remember how that person made you feel based on what you experienced together or how they supported you or how they helped you through challenging times. What legacy do you want to leave behind? How do you want to be remembered?”
While the book’s more right-brain tonal structure might not be for everyone, most will likely find it nourishes and expands upon its heady concepts so one’s heart is probed as much as their mind.