Target Panic. What a great diagnosis. As soon as a read the term, I knew I’d suffered from it. Have you? Looking back, I can now see it in the would-be entrepreneurs and innovators I’ve worked with who, despite promising ideas and heroic efforts, never made much progress.
Most of the advice for entrepreneurs that is floating around these days is focused on the 0.5% who are building venture capital-backed companies and furiously pivoting away in hopes of being the next Instagram. The overwhelming majority of new ventures, however, live in a different world with different rules. Gravity applies, so does the need for profitability, cash flow, paying customers, employees, and lines of credit. And regardless of what the meia tell you, this is where America actually produces most jobs. So it was great to see Jay Goltz, writing for the New York Times, offer his list of 10 Rookie Mistakes for Entrepreneurs.
I recently ran across this list while reading about the challenges faced by John Maeda as he moved from software engineer and computer scientist to President of the Rhode Island School of Design. It reminded me that not all of design, in education and in work, can be neatly packaged and served to managers in a sound bite like ‘design thinking.’ I’m reprising here the list written by Wieden+Kennedy’s Executive Creative Director, John C. Jay of 10 lessons for young designers:
I just returned from an engaging panel discussion on social entrepreneurship, at Darden’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Research Conference. We were asked to speak on social entrepreneurship—a new field of venturing and venture investing, and a new and rapidly emerging curriculum in business schools across the country. I had to pose the question: If at this moment we are talking about entrepreneurship for the social good, what are we talking about, and teaching, when it’s just entrepreneurship?
It seems that the best strategy for a startup is longer a matter of if, or even when, but now how many times you pivot before you make it rich. Pivoting, a term the enterpreneur-turned-entrepreneurial sage Steve Blank recently popularized, now threatens to become the next business buzzword. Forget open innovation, what’s your pivot strategy? That’s dangerous.
Innovation is risky business. For companies pursuing sustainable innovations, these risks take on the scale of the effort and the context of the problems, the politics, and the markets involved. The most important aspect of this challenge to sustainable innovation is understanding the nature of risk at work. Without this understanding, innovation efforts are paralyzed and innovation policies—especially those intending to promote new investments—stifle them instead.
Is it time to revisit (or visit for the first time) some of the central challenges of developing and launching sustainable innovations? With the demise of Solyndra and Beacon Power still recent memories; with Ener1 entering bankruptcy; and the recent disclosures that EV makers Fisker Automotive and Tesla are troubled, it may be long overdue.
Two stories crossed my desk this morning. My gut reacted the the first one even before I could make sense of it, the second explained why. They had to do with entrepreneurs, venture capital (lower case), and jobs policies.