As discussed in Nature Or Nurture, I believe that entrepreneurs are born rather than created by their environment. However, one’s environment clearly has an impact on a person’s ultimate career path. In looking back on my childhood, three unlikely environmental influences nudged me in the direction of entrepreneurship.
A friend once told me about a soccer game in which the opposing team deployed a frustratingly effective strategy. Every time they scored, their Captain ran around the field yelling, “tied score, tied score!” He continued to do this, despite the fact that they were beating my friend’s team by several goals. The Captain’s message was clear, “Ignore the score and play as if we are tied. If we sustain the intensity of a tied game, we are assured victory.” Entrepreneurs should maintain a like level of enthusiasm when operating their adVentures. If you always execute as if the score were tied, irrespective of the actual numbers your adVenture is putting on the scoreboard, your chances of success will be greatly enhanced.
Community Organizer Saul Alinsky categorized people into three classes; (i) the Haves, (ii) the Have A Little, Want Mores and, the (iii) Have Nots. He wrote Rules For Radicals to instruct, “…the Have Nots on how to take it away” from the Haves. Mr. Alinsky preached that wealth was relatively static. In Alinskyland, if you were a Have Not, your only alternative to attain wealth was to take it away from a Have, preferably with the assistance of Government-sanctioned coercion. Mr. Alinsky rationalized such legalized theft with the oft-repeated phrase, “the ends justify the means.” It is difficult to believe that Mr. Alinsky actually believed this fanciful, binary view of reality. Yet the simplistic nature of his Marxist-based Haves / Haves Not argument did not stop him from encouraging a generation of under-educated people to believe that their only opportunity to obtain wealth was to gather around him so he could sufficiently intimidate wealth creators into giving away some of their lawfully earned fortune. Mr. Alinsky provided a malevolent disservice to his followers. Rather than cajoling his supporters to snatch wealth from the hands of those who created it, he should have encouraged them to become wealth creators, as opposed to wealth confiscators. Mr. Alinsky incited his followers to demand something for nothing. Such thievery is the antithesis of the entrepreneurial approach of creating something from nothing.
You have authored two bestselling books explaining why certain companies will “Last” and how others have gone from “Good to Great” and subsequently a majority of the companies falter and some completely fail. What do you do? Do you introspectively evaluate your research methodologies and assess your failed assertions? Do you admit that you may have mistakenly analyzed the data? If you are Jim Collins, you ignore the fact that your underlying assumptions and interpretation of the data were flawed. To further enhance your state of denial, you write a new book entitled How the Mighty Fall and blame the previously vaunted companies for subsequently faltering.
“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Wayne Gretzky Imagine how difficult it would be to score in hockey if you were required to rely on someone who is not your teammate to convince another third-party, whom you have not met, to take a shot on your behalf. As crazy as this scenario sounds, it is very similar to the “scoring process” companies engage in when they track Net Promoter Scores.
In the early 1970s, the Seven-Up Company devised an ingenious plan to market its flagship soda. The campaign was so successful it eventually catapulted 7-Up’s sales to rival that of both Coke and Pepsi, making it the third most popular soft drink in the US. The company hired the Dominican actor Geoffrey Holder, who delivered the commercial’s signature tagline with memorable panache, “Maaarvelous, absolutely maaarvelous.” Overnight, “maaarvelous,” spoken in an exaggerated Caribbean accent, became a national catchphrase. What made the commercials noteworthy was not their charismatic pitchman. It was the fact that the Seven-Up Company defined its product by describing what it was not, via the “UnCola” label. When evaluating a potential Institutional Investor, entrepreneurs should consider what they are not, as much as what they are. Entrepreneurs in search of startup capital are well served to seek an UnVentureCapitalist (UnVC), an investor who understands and appreciates the unique benefits of capital efficiency.
In 1998, a new type of game show was aired in the United Kingdom. Rather than a panel of contestants competing to answer rapid-fire questions, the new show involved a single contestant who was often given a seemingly unlimited amount of time to ponder each question. In fact, contestants were even given a chance to call a friend and poll the audience for help. The payout was also unique. Rather than walking away with cheap, garish prizes and a diminutive handful of cash, contestants had a legitimate opportunity to win £1,000,000. Entrepreneurs who experience promising initial success also play a similar game. Would-be suitors often swoop in and make unsolicited offers that would result in the Founders becoming paper “Millionaires.” Although such offers are always flattering and provide meaningful validation that the adVenture is pursuing an exciting opportunity, they bear careful consideration.
Reginald Martinez Jackson was a perennial major league baseball all-star throughout most of his 21-year career. Reggie earned the nickname “Mr. October” because of his consistent ability to hit home runs during clutch situations in playoff and World Series games, which contributed to his teams winning five Championships. He was also often referred to as a “hotdog” for his self-promotional antics and lackadaisical on-field play. When teammate Darold Knowles was asked about Reggie’s hotdog status, he replied, "There isn't enough mustard in the world to cover Reggie Jackson.” In addition to his reputation as a showoff, Reggie was renowned for deriding his teammates in the press and initiating clubhouse fights. While it is not uncommon for losing teams to squabble, Mr. Jackson fought his teammates in good times as well as bad. Rick Cerone, the New York Yankees’ catcher during the early 1980s recalled a fight between Mr. Jackson and teammate Graig Nettles, which occurred at a celebratory dinner following the Yankees’ American League pennant victory. “We are going to the World Series and we’re celebrating. But Reggie and Nettles are fighting. Nettles punches Reggie in the face and Steinbrenner is rolling in the middle of the floor trying to break up the fight. And I’m saying to myself, ‘Didn’t we just win the ACLS? We’re going to the World Series right?’”
In 1266, the Emperor of China, Kublai Khan, granted the Venetian merchant, Marco Polo, a life-saving letter of recommendation. The reference was in the form of a gold tablet that stated, “By the strength of the eternal Heaven, holy be the Khan's name. Let him that pays him not reverence be killed.” The tablet allowed Marco Polo and his fellow travelers to transverse nearly 7,500 miles unmolested during their three-year return trip to Italy. This golden reference effectively communicated the Emperor’s sentiments in absentia. Although it may be a bit much to ask your Referencers to provide you with a golden tablet, you should strive to obtain similarly impactful references.
In an episode of the popular 1990’s TV sitcom Seinfeld, Kramer, played by Michael Richards, begins “working” at the fictional Brandt - Leland Investment Firm by simply showing up, attending meetings and acting as if he is part of the team. Although the plot was obviously devised for comic effect, it serves to illustrate that non-conventional methods of infiltrating Big Dumb Companies (BDCs) are often effective. The key is to avoid the adverse fate suffered by Kramer at the conclusion of this particular episode.