The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.
By Lauren Nham
“…You have to do everything you possibly can to take control and make your vision a reality – Pour Your Heart Into It”
— Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks.
I am a dreamer. I love imagining new possibilities and often find myself asking the “what-ifs?”. Having spent the past 5+ years working in the strategic business consulting world, I was ready to begin exploring the prospect of launching my own business. Eager to actively learn the art of business firsthand, I joined the MBA in Design Strategy program at the California College of the Arts.
While Edison’s “10 percent inspiration and 90 perspiration” quote is well-known to entrepreneurs and businesspeople, it has recently come under fire from both critics and academics alike. Malcom Gladwell suggests in his book, Outliers, that while it takes 10,000 hours to master a subject, which gives you the skills and competency, it really takes luck as well. While there is essentially zero chance of success if you don’t put in the hours, between hard work and luck, you can only control one.
How then, can one create sustainable growth, let alone survive? If you’ve ever tried planning for the future, things are abound to go awry. But instead of fearing risk, embrace the uncertainty: think like a startup, act like an entrepreneur.
1. Personal Board of Directors
Throughout my years I have had many mentors but realized I needed something more robust. Like any startup, corporation or organization, you can establish your own Board of Directors, a professional circle of trust. In her October 2001 HBR.org article (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/10/forget_mentors_employ_a_person.html), Priscilla Claman suggests finding a diversified group of trusted advisors whom you consult upon regularly as a sounding board to receive advice and feedback.<
2. Personal Business Model
Following the dot-com bust, many business models were called into question. The failure to create, deliver, and capture value – the essential makeup of a business model – led to the demise of many startups. Similarly, we all carry business models of our own.
Additionally, the “non-business” world of non-profits, NGOs, and other social enterprises “consistently proclaim that they aren’t businesses, and therefore business rules don’t apply.”
Ironically, we are all “businesses”. Sean Kaplan argues on HBR.org that we are all an entity of one sort or another, just under different tax codes and jurisdictions. Because we all exist under a capitalistic society, there is an unspoken mandate to create, deliver, and capture value — including us as individuals.
To this end, Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas is a widely adopted tool that provides a clear, concise visual mapping of the personal (and business) ecosystems we operate in, along with easy-to-use tools on how to optimize them strategically for success.
3. Design Me!
Living in a world full of “competitors,” under-resourced, and sometimes just plain scared, the odds of success can be staggering. While the path of life may not be clear nor even visible, the road to growth and success remains the same.
“…Entrepreneurs feel comfortable not knowing what comes next, but they don’t see this as risk,” writes G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón (in Business Week).
Designers simply do two things: build and experiment. Taking a cue from designers — and quite possibly Mother Nature — entrepreneurs have learned to fail often and fail quickly. One can analyze data and follow best practices all day long, but that is simply following status quo. The world (social, economic, nature, etc.) continues to evolve.
Life is an adventure — full of unexpected surprises, messy, and sometimes simply unpredictable. Such uncertainty calls for us to become entrepreneurs and/or inventors. In this context, we need to think like a startup: never stop exploring, always seeking new radical ways to change the way we look at our world, and in this case, our very lives.