Bullish: Teamwork Is Overrated (How To Be A Lone Unicorn)

A lone unicorn doesn’t totally eschew the company of other unicorns. Oh, no! When injustice reigns, unicorns shoot energy from their horns and other unicorns come to fight injustice, also with horn-energy, and stompings.

Unicorns are also totally fine with outsourcing things to other unicorns. Little-known fact: all unicorns know each other. So they have wide networks. But they also like to make rainbows all by themselves. They have discovered that when many unicorns collaborate to make a rainbow, the rainbows take fucking forever to get done.

My friend’s hiring problem reminded me of a similar story I told in Bullish: Starting A Business When You’re Broke – I was passed over for a Director of Marketing job at a twelve-person startup in favor of a woman who came from a corporate marketing background. During her nine week trial period, she made a Powerpoint presentation. Full stop.

When they fired her and called me back in, this Powerpoint became mine. I ignored it. It was basically a bunch of charts and bullet points on the topic of how we would market ourselves if we had a lot more people and a lot more money. Not helpful.

Instead, I set about organizing mixers (hint: if you bring paying customers into a bar, you don’t have to pay the bar to hold an event) and organizing online contests (marketing budget: one $100 Amex gift card). I wrote in Bullish: How to Sell Without Selling about the value of speaking and event planning in getting clients to come to you.

Being a lone unicorn is a typical and useful state of being for freelancers and entrepreneurs. But it can also boost you up in small, flexible companies – if I have to lay off almost everybody, I’m going to keep the person who can work alone, and if I have limited money for raises, I’m going to allocate it towards the person who will produce the most for the money.

I also wrote in Bullish: How to Run Your Career Like a Business about being an “intrapreneur,” a person who starts a new division or income stream within an existing company. (I write all the time about the value of pitching things – keep this on your radar even if you work at a 9-to-5.) To a pack animal, intrapreneurship seems like a lot of responsibility and risk! And who would tell you how to do it?

To a lone unicorn, this seems like the perfect setup – all the resources handed to you to have an entrepreneurial experience, and the only risk is to your reputation (rather than your credit). To someone who can function independently, that’s the kind of risk one needs to take at least every couple of years.

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    • Amanda White

      Remember how in high school when you would be assigned group projects, there was always some snot-nosed overachiever who would just do the whole thing herself and then bitch about how she had to do the whole thing herself? And everyone’s kinda going, um you just missed the whole point of group projects? Maybe we should give the snot-nosed overachiever some retroactive credit, as that was actually the most effective way to do the project.

      • Jennifer Dziura

        Second to “not mandating group projects,” you may be right! I am big on letting the most qualified person get the job done, already.

        Once, my graphic designer asked me my favorite colors. You know, for my company’s logo. And I said, “They don’t matter.” I asked her if she knew what colors would probably be best in terms of creating the right associations and getting people to buy things. She did!

        Groups make worse decisions than experts. Why take the right thing and dilute it because of some consensus fetish?

      • Kele

        Actually, I remember being the person who had to scramble at the last minute to do the entire project when one or more of my ‘teammates’ failed to show up or do their portion of the project. As a result, I started just planning ever project assigned as ‘group work’ as if it had only been assigned to me. That way, if people actually did their part, great, but if not, I wasn’t rushing to make up the lost work.

    • Amber

      Im def struggling with being by myself and doing everything by myself. Its difficult as a fashion blogger but I am making it work!



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    • Saphy

      During my law degree we were constantly forced to do groupwork projects. Fortunately we all hated them so we used to divide the essay/presentation into 4 clear sections, work on one section each and generally take nothing to do with each other until it was time to present it/hand it in. So much better – instead of wasting hours on “group meetings” and “branstorming” we just got the damn thing done!

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