If you find yourself at a new startup job, you might ask yourself, “well, what do I do here?” Job roles at a startup company change day to day, which means that your definition of success might be different from what you’d use at a traditional company. To get your answer, consider two opposite approaches to defining your startup job the FNG and the Savior.
Why You Never Want To Be An FNG
FNG stands for “F**king New Guy”. It’s the guy who just shows up clueless, doesn’t know the culture, lacks any sort of useful knowledge (or the wherewithal to share it), and generally gets in the way. You never really like this guy because he doesn’t know why he’s there, and neither do you. He stands around and just does what he’s told, and it’s exactly who Charlie Sheen’s character, Chris, became in the 1986 classic film, Platoon:
The Opposite Of An FNG: The Savior
On the other end of the spectrum lies The Savior, the genius whose transformative insight or wisdom forever changes the way his company works. It’s the person every company aspires to hire. Unfortunately, finding a Savior is about as easy is spotting a unicorn. In the movie Moneyball, the Oakland A’s get lucky and identify one in Jonah Hill’s character, Peter. By looking at the struggling baseball team’s player selection process in an entirely new way, Peter completely reworks the way the team recruits and helps turn the organization around:
Avoiding The FNG Role Is A Choice
Obviously, no one envies Chris and few wouldn’t love to be as insightful as Peter, but what really separates the two? Here are three factors:
Peter started exploring new ways of selecting players long before he had any real influence on the A’s. He wasn’t hired to be “influential”, but he didn’t wait for his boss to prompt him before innovating. He just did it. The fact that Peter was at his first job and in a relatively junior position didn’t stop him. It shouldn’t stop you, either. Just because you’re new and/or junior doesn’t mean you can’t start asking lots of questions and figuring out where you can add value. If you’re waiting around for someone to tell you how you can help, you probably won’t be around for long.
Your naivety in a new industry or at a new company may be your greatest strength. In fact, it’s not at uncommon for outsiders to use their unique perspective to help companies do new things. Witness Steve Jobs’ disruption of the music and mobile phone industries. Or the exploits of Sir Richard Branson, who said, “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them… “. Or Alan Mulally, who brought Ford back to profitability despite having no automotive experience. You may not be a captain of industry, but if treat your “new guy” perspective as an asset, you’ll go far.
Sometimes, the culture of a startup can have a big influence on the effectiveness of new hires . The Vietnam military culture that Chris faced in Platoon certainly didn’t foster the development of new recruits. Fresh soldiers were all but guaranteed to be FNGs. Ask yourself: does the company you’re planning to join encourage new ideas and different ways of thinking? Have they asked for your perspective on problems they’re currently tackling? Do the people you interview with ask for your critiques on how the company can improve?
If the answer to any of these is no, then don’t work there. Chances are, your new ideas won’t go very far. Find a company who values your input, even if your ideas aren’t as helpful at first.
Startups are quick to hire, and quick to fire, so hopefully this post moves you a bit less of an FNG and slightly more of a Savior. Good luck!