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Archive for September, 2009

Freedom to Fail – Part 2

September 25th, 2009

In my last post, I talked about Vinod Khosla’s “freedom to fail” thinking.  But, how do entrepreneurs develop this? Is it acquired or are they born with it?

Freedom to Fail Learned?

One wonders: where does “freedom to fail” come from? Some of us seem to be born with a “spirit of exploration” (one that tends to drive our parents nuts in early years). Think of Ted Turner in his younger years (dropped out of Brown U) –probably exhibited a high “freedom to fail” component in many things he did – a certain irreverent personality. Picture Bill Gates dropping out of Harvard undergrad (failure to finish Harvard? so what!).  Or, modern day repeat, Mark Zuckerberg on an even faster race to financial freedom.  It doesn’t appear that they harbored a concern with failure.  I’m sure there were some healthy debates with college-paying parents, but ultimately the some of the greatest entrepreneurial examples of our times seem to exhibit a freedom to fail.

Yet, for others, environment definitely shapes our “Freedom to Fail”.  It comes with maturity.  Did parents use an encouraging touch? Were influential teacher allow students to make mistakes and learn from them. Did peers reinforce mistakes or mock them? Tim Brown, Found/CEO of IDEO talks about this “freedom to play” in his TED Talk from 2008 Serious Plan conference.

Pixar’s “Peer Culture”

Greg Brandeau, SVP of Pixar loves to talk about the culture of Pixar that the executive team has developed. The company strongly values collectigregbrandeauve creativity – the “peer” culture in which employees are encouraged to help one another out. Greg points out the “culture makes the team” – by that he means that keeping a culture where it’s safe for one express their opinions, make mistakes, learn from others (Pixar University has an incredible number of topics/courses for employees). Key to this is attracting VERY talented people – the rule of thumb is hire someone brighter and smarter than yourself. However, at Pixar “the Team builds the culture” – the company is run as a meritocracy (the better ideas float to the top) and innovation is all about the concept itself not whose idea it was in the first place. All of this basically creates an environment where an extremely bright set of people are not afraid to express their creativity.

Setting the Creative Culture

Patty McCord, the SVP of “Talent” and architect of Netflix’s unique culture, says that allowing people to fail at what they doPatty1_image is one of the most critical elements of the success of Netflix. At Netflix Inc., CTO (“Chief Talent Officer”) Patty McCord and founder, Reed Hastings, have taken this one step further, creating the “Freedom and Responsibility” culture. The company has deliberately built its culture in a way that allows employees the freedom to experiment, take on challenges and sometimes even fail. In essence, by giving employees the freedom to create and solve problems on their own accord, they fight off bureaucracy and control issues at the company grows.

You can see Patty’s Freedom and Responsibility Culture posted in PPT format. Patty is joining me on October 7th at UC Berkeley for my class on Innovation, Creativity & The Entrepreneur and the unveiling of a virtual case study on Netflix that we filmed at Netflix.

Freedom to Fail – Part 1

September 23rd, 2009

This past month, I was struck by something that Vinod Khosla brought up at the Haas School while accepting a “Lifetime Achievement” award, and have been turning it over in my mind many times… Khosla is responsible for major successes at Daisy Systems, Sun Microsystems, huge portfolio wins at Kleiner Perkins (KPCB) over the years, and is now responsible for at $1+ billion new fund at Khosla Ventures. What would you guess contributed most to his success: an eye for technology? Luck? Choosing the right teams?

Khosla’s secret to success

When asked what most contributed to his success over the years, Vinod boils it down to this: the Freedom to Fail. According to Khosla and many others, if we feel that we have the freedom & ability to push ourselves to the limit, create new ideas, and start companies we believe in – we are more likely to succeed. An entrepreneur who allows FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) to creep in about his/her abilities and leadership, and fears failure is more likely to fail. More on this in a video of Vinod from SDForum awards 2 months prior.

Lessons from Early Yahoo

As part of the original Yahoo team, I observed this first-hand. There as a general feeling among the team that “hey, if this doesn’t quite go the way we imagined, we’ll fix it and try something else.”  If the worldwide web (or Yahoo)  didn’t quite take off, some of us would  just go back to their happy lives as grad students at Stanford and continue on.   Of course that didnt’ happen.  And, it was later on, after the company tasted big success that fear of failure crept in.

So, I have been wondering: what’s the link between “freedom to fail” and creativity in a start-up?  Do most successful entrepreneurial environments include this element? Is Freedom to fail learned or are some of us born with a certain “chutspah” that keeps us from thinking about failure? Can an entrepreneur deliberately set up a “Freedom to Fail” culture?  (More next post –>)

Jack's Notebook – excellent book on creative problem solving

September 6th, 2009

jacksnotebook Just finished reading Jack’s Notebook by Gregg Fraley.

Fraley is a Creativity and Innovation expert currently residing in the UK and he’s worked with companies and insitutions globally on creative problem solving over the past 20+ years. His blog is a regular read among the creative community.

“Novel” approach to teaching

Fraley’s really done something innovative with this book, that is remiscent of Who Moved My Cheese or The One Minute Manager, told in story format – but with a twist in this case.  The book takes the form of a novel, which makes it fun to follow along, using a combination of a hidden “love story” and story about how a start-up concept is born.  While it’s not exactly a high-tech startup, the creation of a graphic design shop is likely to hit a chord with many readers:  we’ve all dreamed at some point in our life about how nice it would be to own the home-town restaurant, boutique or graphic studio.  Maybe that’s small potatoes for some conquer-the-world types, but in this case it nicely illustrates the subject matter.

The true subject matter of the book is the Creative Problem Solving (CPS) process, which was designed at SUNY Buffalo over 50 years ago, and has survived the test of time with many creative professional world-wide.  The book walks the reader through CPS by using the main characters and their problems/challenges to demostrate the process.  And, it does this several times by wrapping around various problem/solution themes throughout the book.  I like the positive spin that Fraley put on main characters too – they seem to lift from a “fog” in the early chapters (“what is my life really about”) to much greater clarity and purpose.

Is this stuff usable?

My own experience with CPS process goes back over 20 years – I was first introduced to it by my Dad – who was a highly-creative type that thought exposing his son to the annual “Creative Problem Solving Institute” (held by Creative Education Foundation) might be a good idea…so in 1976 I attended my first CPSI event and took the “SpringBoard” entry which coupled me with other newbies and walked us through the CPS process over 3 1/2 days in a group setting.  Since that time, I’ve used that process over and over in my life – like the time I had to launch a series of CD-ROM/software products for Apple, the brainstorming I led with the Yahoo original team, the approach re-branding our venture capital firm in 2002 and even last month the brainstorming I led at a senior team offsite with one of my clients, Les Concierges.  I’ve used the process on problems I encountered at Harvard Business School. And,  I’ve even used this stuff at home to figure out better ways of relating to my children.

Creative Problem Solving – step by step guide

Jack’s Notebook allows someone unfamiliar with the process of CPS to see it in practice, while enjoying some fun reading. Each chapters prologue highlights the key principles that will be included in that chapter, and the back of the book contains a layout of the entire CPS process, step-by-step…a great tool.jacksnotebook2

We’ll be reading, discussing Jack’s Notebook within my course at UC Berkeley (in fact, Gregg Fraley will be joining us via Skype from his home in UK on September 16), and students will be placed in teams and asked to use the CPS process on a specific life/business problem.  With a combination of Engineering and MBA students in the class, the outcome of this process should be VERY INTERESTING.  More on that in a future blog…

Where is "Creativity" found?

September 4th, 2009

One of my chief purposes in creating a course on Creativity & Entrepreneurship for UC Berkeley engineers and MBAs was to prove a point:  creative genius and innovation can be found in many aspects of the start-up or intrapreneurial venture.  It’s not just new products or services, but in my experience, you can find highly creative approaches in leadership, business model, marketing, manufacturing, sales/channel approach, financing and fund-raising.

After 12 years in the venture capital business I like to say “show me a strong Entrepreneur, and I’ll show you a highly creative thinker.”  It’s not only the nature of an entrepreneur to get creative & think differently – but it’s pretty much a REQUIREMENT – the sheer number of challenges one has to face to get a venture from concept to exit is mind-boggling these days and new challenges crop up at every turn in the process.

But where do creative concepts and approaches typically come from?

The ultimate student of management, Peter Drucker, identifies 7 sources of innovatoin in his book Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which was nicely condensed into an HBR article called “The Discipline of Innovation” (HBR 3480).  He says new ideas are found from:

(1) unexpected occurencesdrucker1
(2) incongruities
(3) process needs
(4) industry & market changes
(5) demographic changes
(6) changes in perception
(7) new knowledge

I love #1 an #2, because they are also the reason a GOOD JOKE works – the “unexpected” or “incongruent” punchline leads to a creative new outcome – which leads us to (hopefully) laugh.  In his book The Medici Effect, Frans Johanssson likes to call the place where creative thoughts occur “The Intersection.”  The intersection is the spot in your mind, or reality, where thoughts from 2 or more fields or disciplines intersect, creating a new concept or idea.

Seth Godin, founder of Squidoo and author of  numerous web and marketing books actually takes the argument in almost the OPPOSITE DIRECTION.  In a January 2009 blog post writes “For me, creativity is the stuff you do at the edges. But the edges are different for everyone, and the edges change over time.”   The edge, as in “leading edge”, means being on the fringe of a movement and demonstrating a new approach that leads the pack, which others have not yet thought of. Depending upon your own experience, the edge might look creative or it might look mundane.  Creativity is in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps The Edge and The Intersection are quite related.

When my friend, Scott Adams (the quintiscential entrepreneur) conceptualizes a Dilbert cartoon strip over his morning coffee, his mind has the ability to pull incongruent thoughts together in unexpected ways.  Scott, who certainly seems to think at “The Edge” with his sarcastic observations of life,  creates the Dilbert cartoon strip somewhere along the  “The Intersection” of restrictive business rules and every-day life principles.

dilbert4

Hats off to all those creators and entrepreneurs – living on The Edge, driving in The Intersection, and (hopefully) enjoying The Ride.

Creativity course at Berkeley – 2009

September 2nd, 2009

Luck is believing you’re lucky.”  Tennessee Williams (1911-1983)

This past week, I launched a new course at UC Berkeley, completely designed from scratch, called “Innovation, Creativity & The Entrepreneur” (“ICE”).  First class was on Wednesday and room was overflowing with students from Cal’s Engineering School (grad students) and MBAs from the Haas School of Business.  I feel very lucky to be able to teach this class at my favorite university.

growing ideasI’ve been teaching these past few years at Haas School as a Professional Faculty member, and my course is “New Venture Finance” which is offered through the Entrepreneurship program. During the last few years I started thinking:  what is my true passion and how might I make an impact on Cal students with my ideas to help shape their careers in a valuable way.  The idea for “Innovation, Creativity and the Entrepreneur was born from two primary experiences in my “youth”.  I’ve long attended the Creative Problem Solving Institute’s annual summer gathering (CPSI) in Buffalo, NY (see: CPSI 2010).  Each summer, thousands of “Creatives” from many disciplines gather to share seminars and topics on creativity from eduction, business, consulting, art, and more.  These conferences, which I’ve been attending since my teens have been a great source of inspiration over the years.  Perhaps an even bigger impact was a course on Creativity & Entrepreneurship – which I took while at Harvard Business School by John Kao (author of Jamming). Kao offered man whimsical looks at where creativity plays a role in business and in leadership – a view that I’ve often used in my 30-year career in the Silicon Valley.

My last dozen years as Managing Director at Outlook Ventures and my prior work at Apple Computer, Viacom/Paramount’s Media Kitchen, and entrepreneurial stints at Yahoo, NetChannel, Overture, My eLife, and many others have helped me validate some of the concepts of creativity and innovation within the entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial setting.

The course at Cal will also explore Creativity and The Entrepreneur – but I’ve expanded the “curriculum” based on my hands-on and personal experience with hundreds of highly creative entrepreneurs over the years. cal_logo What really makes them tick?  Where do great ideas come from? What were the innovations that contributed to some of the greatest companies of the 21st and 20th century?

More importantly, the goal for the class is to help each student better understand where they can use their own unique and personal creativity in the entrepreneurial realm..because I believe everyone has one form or another of creativity…just waiting to be discovered.

Hopefully this blog will be useful in sharing with a wider audience the many findings and musings from this first class and well-beyond…                 ~R~