Sunday, February 01, 2009

Blowing S#%T Up

I am a big Guy Kawasaki fan. And I have helped sell hundreds of copies of his book, Art of the Start, by assigning it for my entrepreneurship classes.* It is a great starting point for people interested in starting a new venture. My students love it. And, since I am teaching it, I reread it often. My copy is dog-eared and highlighted in a rainbow of hues.

But Guy left something out. Right up front. And it is important. Guy starts strong in the book's second paragraph: "The best reason to start an organization is to make meaing- to create a product or service that makes the world a better place." He then goes on to list four ways to "make meaning":

  • Make the world a better place.

  • Increase the quality of life.

  • Right a terrible wrong.

  • Prevent the end of something good.

A nice start. Very NICE. But entrepreneurship isn't always nice. Guy forgot the knockout punch. And that is where I come in. With my own addition to his list:
  • Destroy something that sucks!

See, as Joseph Schumpeter pointed out, capitalism involves creative destruction. And entrepreneurs are the opportunistic organisms that exploit niches in the system. They may be predators and feed off the weakened members of a herd. Or the decay of rotting organizations (oops, I mean organisms). Or take advantage of changing climates to out-compete (and eliminate) dinosaurs. Entrepreneurs can't just play nice and pretend that it is all about creating, ignoring the consequences of their visions for a changed (and better) world. Entrepreneurs are revolutionaries with a business model. And sometimes, competitors get hurt. Suddenly and without much warning.

Now I hasten to add that I am not advocating violence. In fact, this post was motivated in part by Paul Hawken's wonderful book, Blessed Unrest. One of my favorite sections traces Thoreau's work through to Gandhi and MLK. These men saw something that sucked and destroyed it, using non-violent means. They were changemaking giants- activists using social movements to achieve change. I am merely an entrepreneur (and educational arsonist) working to use business ventures to achieve impact. Non-violently. Inside the lines, basically.
Of course, when dinosaurs get threatened, it can get pretty crazy (just watch Jurassic Park, or listen to those Detroit executives). But history shows that when a collapse occurs, it often happens much faster than expected, and it often impacts those species or societies that thrived in the earlier ages. What made them successful before, now makes them weak and slow to respond. Some recent articles point to similar unexpected speed for collapsing organizations. Who knows, perhaps the current financial crises will be the K/T Extinction Event for some corporate leviathans.

So I find it ironic that the WEF Davos crew is discussing the BOP and releasing reports called NextBillions- Unleashing Business Potential in Untapped Markets this week (with only a footnote refernce to the folks at WRI who have had a blog for years with this name). This crew represents many of the dinosaurs that are going down if the entrepreneurs have their way. And smack in the middle of the report's "framework for innovation success" is "Creative Collaboration." That's right, these $5 billion global corporations should collaborate with NGOs, social entrepreneurs and activists. Lambs lying down with lions. Yin and yang. Very nice.

Ah yes, Alanis, isn't it ironic? Will Chevron and BP evolve into a renewable energy companies for BOP markets if they talk about it on the ski lift in Davos? Does the end of poverty come from Citi and JPMorganChase and their "leverage of shared resources and capabilities" that they read about in the report? Do the WEF'ers realize that as businesses scale up from down at the base of the pyramid, they could find themselves disrupted, in a terminal way? Clayton Christensen does. It could be a jagged little pill, couldn't it?
Excuse me if I don't hold my breath while some of these companies come up with the report's suggested "life enhancing options." Seems like some are too busy figuring out how to get bailed out by governments than to think of innovative new initiatives. Many of these companies have a long way to go before they even get to neutral, much less having sustainable business models. Because I am an unrepentant optimist, I hope they redesign their businesses and begin a journey toward sustainability (hey, how about a trip to Interface?). Some are starting. But because I am an entrepreneur, I am betting that many don't make it. And all that destruction will make for some exciting opportunities.

So, when you talk about your new venture, don't forget that part of your job is to "blow some S#%T up." If it sucks, part of your job is to destroy it.** Make life "nasty, brutish and short" for Leviathans too.***
* I get no kick backs from Guy. Zero, zilch, nada.
** Note to students: as with other things we have discussed in class, this may not go explicitly in your business plan. I am not advocating subtitles for "What Sucks" and "How We Will Destroy It." But make it part of your business planning, if not your business plan. It could also be a good rallying cry, and test for hiring.
***For my Enviro-bleeps: I am not advocating the extinction of whales, squids and other "monsters of the sea."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Paul, what can I say? I gave a talk to a great group of young public service fellows last week. They asked me to define "social entrepreneur" and the gist of my answer was "one who identifies something that sucks and does something outside the lines to fix it." So I totally agree with you.

As for the NextBillions report...well, I will be writing about that over on (thanks for the shout out) as soon as I can. You have some very valid points...