The Prophets of Innovation (or The 4 Steps by Real Risk-Takers)

These days there are no lack of “experienced professionals” and “entrepreneurial prophets” professing the value, ways, outcomes, means, ends, or any other particular snake oil they are peddling about innovation and its aptly associated sibling, risk-taking. They espouse their version of the truths of innovation about the little guy making a different, or even changing, the world. The philosophize how the evil overlords of corporate <insert country name> need to be overturned and disrupted by the Ubers of the world.

Mind you, there are actually quite a few writers and bloggers and podcasters of innovation, disruptive or otherwise, that I respect and that actually have experience in doing so. These truly experienced few have done more than just write/blog/podcast about it. They’ve done it, in their particular ways. More about them later. But there are others who also do the same soliloquy of innovation and how we must all “fight the great fight” to bring our ideas to the world and leave it forever changed. Yet they’ve never done it. At least not in the way that better demonstrates taking the risks on a truly passionate and sometimes maniacal crusade to bring ones idea to the world. That way being without the cocoon of millions or thousands of corporate dollars. Without the soothing safety of organizational infrastructures that, while may be slow and bureaucratic, offer a significant reduction in the risk of jumping out of the airplane with quite the uncertainty as to whether the parachute will actually deploy. Or even having entered a “startup” at a stage where they are cashflow positive, growing money in the bank, success is certainly not guaranteed but the major hump up the hill is over. Now it’s looking for a few smaller hills to overcome.

It’s not too dissimilar to the old comical adage of the priest giving advice about premarital sex. Father, if you can’t give me real world expertise and perspectives based on your own successes and failures, I’m not willing to be a guinea pig for some textbook. There are the academic (aka I read this in a book, so now I’m gonna teach it) and there are the real world (aka I did it, I probably failed once or twice, maybe even succeeded) ways of telling the story. I’ll take the real-world every time!

Look, I’m not saying that there are not good intuitions from people in the world that could possess particularly gifted views on subjects that for some reason come naturally to them. It could happen. I would rather learn (or avoid the mistakes) from the experiences of others that have been in the trenches, have taken risks, maybe have thrown caution to the wind (such as goodbye paycheck) and given their yeomen’s go at it. Whatever it is.

In my limited experience of having thrown caution to the wind, made sacrifices from financial to professional to family, and can certainly recount my successes and failures alike, these steps seem to make sense to me as well as set themselves apart from the posers of innovation prophesying and philosophizing.

  1. Goodbye paycheck. Sure many people need to pay the bills and it’s noble to try to keep that semblance of sanity if you’re raising a family. After all, good ideas and passion don’t just come from 20 somethings with only the recurring cash need for burritos, craft beer and Uber. But there is a certain mental commitment to your passion when you’re not being recompensed for it on the 15th and 30th of every month. You’re just gonna have to cut back on that $200 a month crossfit gym membership or coming up on the latest Tesla S waitlist.
  2. Living the life…NOT. When one is pursuing their passion of truly changing the world, the late afternoon yoga class and Thursday night book club tend to take a backseat. There is NO 9-to-5 in the world of truly executing on real innovation!
  3. Patience IS a virtue. Yes, you need patience as a real game-changing entrepreneur. No shit, Sherlock. Thanx, Captain Obvious. And other notable quotes of the apparent and evident. Here I refer to your family, friends, loved ones. There will be a certain degree of “damage” to be done to those relationships, unless they happen to be your business partners. In which case, good luck…that’s a topic for a future rant. No, you’re going to see them, have dinners with them, travel with them, go to the brewfest with them a LOT less. They may resent you. Unless they are your spouse (and that’s not guaranteed, take my word for it) they may even sever their relationship with you.
  4. Learn the word NO. I don’t mean learn to say it. This word is unknown to the real innovators. “Can’t” is another one. What I mean is learn to hear it a lot, and at the same time become very proficient and continue the trudge up the hill while on the sidelines everyone is saying you can’t do it, or no you’re not going to make it. Sure those of us in corporate life hear it from time to time. Actually we hear maybe or nothing at all most of the time. But even so, this is not as emotionally taxing to us corporate animals because we simply find the next project to get our names attached to that has been funded.

I’m sure there are others, but in my experience, these are the top 4 differentiators between the real risk takers looking to make the world revolve a slightly different speed and those that have read about those people, and somehow now think they are authorities on the matter. There’s no real punchline here. I’d love to hear about your own opinions, perspectives, flames and generally whatever you have to say on the matter. There’s no magic mathematical algorithm. There’s no magic bullet. And there’s no magic business book on Amazon Kindle. Just sheer will, perseverance and desire. With that said, get your ass out there, take the risk even with no guarantee of reward (at least not monetary) and savor the journey! For every single startup experience I’ve had (some not so successful), the journey and the people are always what engrain themselves in my memory.1

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