by Art Piccio . April 8th, 2015
In his book Weird Ideas That Work, Stanford professor Robert Sutton explored innovation, and what makes companies and individuals be innovative.
Sutton crunched data on processes, culture, people – almost everything you can think of – and the one thing that correlated definitively with consistently with innovation was the amount of times someone tried.
The ones that innovated the most, like 3M, or Apple were simply “the ones that tried more.”
But between “success” and “trying more”, there lies an industry that sells a lifestyle, a dream — business and entrepreneurship magazines. And to keep your hopes up and make you feel good, the content we sell can be somewhat different from what you’d get in a straight up business course — though those aren’t without their problems either.
Let’s explore a few of the more common problems with most business articles today.
It’s almost a given that success is proportional to the number of attempts we make. In fact, daring to fail has become the mantra of many highly-regarded entreps and so-called business gurus. You have to play to win the game.
The elephant in the room however, is that for many –if not most– who want to make the leap, failure would mean living in the streets, losing medical insurance, not being able to support our families, strained relationships — the works.
If you’re somewhat sociopathic, or don’t care about those things as much as other people, then you’ve already got an edge. And if you get lucky, great. But many don’t make it either, and not necessarily because they were worse at anything than you were.
Entrepreneurship has always been a thinking person’s game. But most entreps are just average, or slightly average when it comes to smarts and educational attainment. Plenty of entreps succeed without ever having done well in school. What gives?
You need to know yourself well-enough to channel your abilities where they matter most, but you have to be blind enough to keep doing what you have to when support wears thin and the odds are stacked against you. But the blind by definition, miss a lot of things.
But sometimes we see more than we can handle, and overthink things more than we should. Then we don’t do anything. Then we miss out. Then we fail.
Hard work and introspection are critical for maximizing the luck that does fall into our laps, don’t get me wrong. We can also design our lives and our enterprises so as to tip the odds in our favor– to make our own luck, if you will.
But plenty is left out of our hands. Our predisposition to certain types of disease, the type of upbringing we experience, the kinds of behavior that gets reinforced in our developmental stages, the way our specific cultures treat entrepreneurship. These are just some of the things we have limited control over.
Plus, there are plenty of random encounters that can define our lives and our legacies. What if Steve Jobs never met The Woz? What if Yahoo! did end up buying Google in 1998? What if the Beatles never met Brian Epstein? All would in likelihood end up as minor historical footnotes instead of the unavoidable parts of life they are today.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants. But some giants are bigger than others. It would be ridiculous to suggest that Donald Trump or Bill Gates would be the big shots that they are were they born and raised in Sub-Saharan Africa, or as lower caste untouchables in India, instead of to moderately wealthy families in the United States.
Would they have had the same impact were they born rich in Mongolia or Tahiti? Perhaps, though very unlikely. Being born and raised a Western Culture, despite the huge headstart it gives, is not really an option for anyone.
You could assimilate or immigrate, and you can move up a social or income bracket. But it’s always without exception, easier said than done. Doing these things presents a whole bunch of difficulties you wouldn’t have had were you actually born into a culture.
We can’t all be astronauts, killer emcees, or bad boy industrialists. There will always need to be those whose job it is to support those who are. And while market valuation on the importance of these jobs might differ, they are all important.
Let’s take a short breather and think about the air you just inhaled. Unless you breathe off an oxygen tank, it’s free. But take that air away, and you’re in for a world of trouble. Now imagine if all of a sudden, no one picked fruits, or sorted and disposed of our trash, or picked up road kill, or do any of the hundreds upon hundreds of jobs many of the people dreaming of being entreps feel are beneath them.
There is dignity in most jobs, and there are plenty of practical, valid reasons we can’t pursue certain things. Many dreams are ultimately laughable, no matter what the political correctness police says.
It cuts both ways, for ourselves and for others, but let’s explore one fad in business think-pieces and that is to “encourage entrepreneurship in employees”. There’s plenty of talk of encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit within a company, of giving employees a sense of ownership, of giving them their “fair due”. But employees are employees — not quite partners.
Employees have different motivations and for many it’s usually a paycheck, experience, the esprit d’corps but rarely ever the welfare of the firm above all of those things. If they were concerned about that, they’d be working for free, or at least partly own the enterprise, which as a general rule, isn’t true.
Evil has been a not-so-proud tradition entreps big and small share. No, the good guys don’t always win. No, bad people don’t always get punished — those are functions of riveting fiction and wishful thinking, not reality.
In fact, hardly anyone is. When was the last time you had chocolate? A restaurantier or a baker could hardly do without it. Do you sell cigarettes? Or bought something that wasn’t ethically produced? Or thought of a way to reduce benefits for your employees in the name of “economic necessity”? Even if you feel aren’t outright evil, doesn’t mean you don’t help maintain it elsewhere.
We — most of us anyway — wouldn’t be making such a huge deal about the lack of corporate social responsibility, environmental damage, bailouts, union-free Chinese work houses, the existence of the “1%”, or the huge disparity between living and minimum wages if we knew that these were good things.
But through the implicit approval of the culture that makes the big bucks, plenty of bad things happen. And these bad things are often legal, if not outright encouraged.
Business magazines are full of other people’s success stories. No one is stupid enough to say outright that you could duplicate other people’s successes. But it’s what all inspiration posts imply. Denying that is just plain dishonest.
You could replicate success. Kind of. But even if the factors making the situations the guy in the magazine faced were reduced to a minimum, it would almost kind of like be like duplicating a photograph. Even if all the elements are technically there, everything would have aged. You would have changed.
Market forces are even more fickle. And in any case, you can’t always trust what so-called experts say. Their experiences may not exactly relate to yours, and they may outright attribute their success to the wrong factors. Kind of like how we trusted witchdoctors and shamans for most of our history because they got some things right.
It’s human nature to try to justify huge expenses in time and money, even when the facts stare us down in the face. Education in this sense, is not immune to this phenomenon. An increasing body of evidence strongly suggests that past a point, there isn’t much benefit to pursuing higher education when it comes to startup success.
It’s difficult to generalize as there are plenty of different disciplines that definitely require very esoteric knowledge that would be impractical to acquire outside of an academic setting. But it’d be safe to say MBA’s and business courses don’t belong to that list.
What is often more important than academics for entrepreneurship however, is social success. Getting into a program with people who have connections is one tried and proven way of maximizing your chances at making it. Heck, getting into any decent sized group that offers this does the same thing.
A 2002 study by Oettingen, Gabriele; Mayer, and Doris cited on the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has found that too much fantasy can have negative effects on achieving goals.
Over-fantasizing fools your brain into thinking you’ve succeed now, even before you’ve ever done anything. How many actually successful entreps do you know are hung up with magazines, or YouTheEntrepreneur, for that matter?
Articles and tools like these are great for reference, but you’ve got to get your hands dirty. Try to limit your attachment to whatever some writer said, and focus on doing things.
Entreps come in all shapes, ages and sizes. But, and this is one huge BUT– you might not be ready — yet. Like anything in life, you can get lucky, but relying on blind luck is frankly, for real losers. Some preparation is key to improving your chances and to set you up for more shots, and in turn, more hits.
Thankfully, there’s always a part of ourselves we could improve and new things to learn. There are always new people to meet, and shifts in the market to look into.
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Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.