Business as Art
Fact: Entrepreneurship is an irrational pursuit. Founding a company–much less one that could “change the world”–entails insane amounts of risk, ridiculously low chances of success and zero work-life balance.
Nevertheless, the value of risk-taking is incalculable, insists Steve Blank, professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, who pioneered the Lean LaunchPad course that the National Science Foundation adopted for its new incubator boot camp, I-Corps. Blank started a total of eight technology companies–two of them massive failures, one that set him up for life–before turning his attention to the next generation of visionaries, to whom he’s been extolling the virtues of embracing his particular brand of irrationality.
Why? Well, Blank says, illogical ideas are how society achieves progress.
Every great entrepreneur, from Richard Branson to the late Steve Jobs, made decisions that seemed crazy to the rest of us. But those decisions did eventually change the world. And almost every great entrepreneur, when asked to share the secret behind such success, chalks some of it up to “gut instinct.” (Seriously, check out their quotes.)
“It’s a survival trait,” says Blank, who believes that entrepreneurs are wired to think differently and to see things most people don’t, so they should be encouraged to act on their instincts. In fact, he maintains that a good chunk of what people call gut instinct is really a mesh of experience and a data-driven way of thinking about things. “Entrepreneurial brains are like full-time pattern recognizers,” he explains. “People attribute radical decisions to their guts, but there is actually a lot of hard thinking and information processing that goes on subconsciously before there’s a pattern match.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean they always get it right–quite the opposite, in fact. Blank says 90 percent of entrepreneurial ventures fall prey to “noise and hallucination,” but the impact of the remaining 10 percent is so valuable that it warrants setting up an environment in which more entrepreneurs can thrive.
“Ultimately, entrepreneurship is more of an art than a science,” he declares, comparing the revolutionary beauty of Facebook and Google to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Makes sense. Starving artists and budding entrepreneurs always did have a lot in common.
By: Jennifer Wang