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‘Obsess over problems, not idols’: 9 pieces of advice from Nadiem Makarim

  • News Desk

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, December 10, 2018   /   09:37 am
‘Obsess over problems, not idols’: 9 pieces of advice from Nadiem Makarim Founder and CEO of Go-Jek Nadiem Makarim (right) and founder of Narasi Najwa Shihab give a keynote speech themed “Breaking The Old Paradigm” at GDP Icon 2018 at the Kempinski Ballroom Jakarta, on Nov. 13. (The Jakarta Post/Donny Fernando)

Go-Jek is one of the most sought-after employers for young people and founder Nadiem Makarim shared some advice for them based on his eight-year experience transforming Go-Jek from a ride-hailing app with only 20 drivers into a US$9 billion Southeast Asian unicorn. One of his pieces of advice is not to listen to too many experts, including himself, while another is to embrace luck. 

Here are the nine pieces of advice he shared with young people to survive and thrive during an invitation-only discussion with journalists:

1. Don’t listen to too many experts

Try not to listen to too many “experts”, including myself. I would much rather go out and just do something I want versus listening to everyone about how best to do that something. The learning you get from doing something is so much more valuable. So my advice is to just start and then listen to people because if you never start you’ll never achieve that something.

2. Stop trying to be someone

The second thing is – this may be disappointing for some – but stop trying to be someone and instead obsess over a problem you’re trying to fix. 

I think a lot of young people say that their dream is “I wanna be like that person” while, in reality, very few idolized people were trying to be idols. These idols were just trying to solve a problem with great passion and perseverance. 

You would have a much higher chance of success obsessing over a problem and taking action instead of trying to emulate someone. 

3. Question everything

Most people don’t know what they’re talking about so you cannot just believe whatever people say. You should research, experiment and test everything, including your mentors. You should definitely test your mentors.

A driver from popular ride-hailing application Go-Jek transports a passenger to their destination on Dec. 18, 2015.A driver from popular ride-hailing application Go-Jek transports a passenger to their destination on Dec. 18, 2015. (thejakartapost.com/Wienda Parwitasari)

4. People are important

If I had to pick my number one lesson, it would be the importance of people. At the end of the day, everything that you need out of a business – whether the funding or technology – will be derived from the people you have. So, the most important lesson I’ve learned is to always put the best person you can find to do the best job that they can do.

5. Find their passion

The second most important lesson, related to the first one, is to not force people to do things that they are not passionate about even if they are good at it. We found that putting someone into something that is of deep interest to them can actually multiply their capability by 10 times.

6. Believe in serendipity 

I would say the third most important lesson is to embrace luck. When you start thinking about the mathematical probability of a company growing as fast as Go-Jek, then that probability approaches zero very rapidly. 

So stepping back and focusing on how serendipity has played a role, adds a huge amount of gratitude for the team and the culture of the business. That, in turn, forces you to be constantly alert, grateful and second-guessing yourself because otherwise you’d think that you made all those right decisions instead of everyone conspiring to make the company successful. I think that distinction is what separates a lot of corporate cultures.

7. It’s not about you

Outside of the required capability and intelligence, the core principle of behavior that you will look for in candidates in Go-Jek is that it’s not about you, it’s about something bigger than you. 

A lot of people are confused over why that’s our number one core value but if a candidate’s main objective is to advance himself as an individual then – they can be a superstar – but they won’t survive very long in Go-Jek, because the requirement to collaborate is so dramatic that you have to be driven by something bigger than yourself to be able to perform at sustainable levels.

This means that our people must have the mental resilience to see things as they are and problem solve instead of taking it personally. That requires being able to separate me, as an individual, and my purpose as an individual. 

Don’t get me wrong, there are various people who are very successful who always prioritize themselves, but it won’t work in Go-Jek. 

8. Structured thinking

The second part is to look for structured thinking in team members. This is much harder to learn. Some people, such as certain graduates or domain knowledge experts, are naturally more structured thinkers. But you can find structured thinking across all domains, including the arts. 

I joke about this all around but some of the most structured people in Go-Jek is our design team. They talk a lot more with numbers and quantitative results as opposed to just high-in-the-sky creative ideas. 

This is important because structure is the building block of scalability. Without structure you can do a great job on a small-scale project but can’t scale up as structure sets the foundation for other people to work around that project.

9. Courage

The third thing is candidates have to be courageous. I don’t know why some people are more courageous than others – I think it has to do with social security – but courage is a prerequisite for risk-taking that is, in turn, a prerequisite for any kind of advancement. You cannot progress without courage. (nor)