Entrepreneurship has always been a staple of the American economy, but the velocity of business development by creative enterprises has accelerated since the web and its parade of related innovation.
Looking at the role of technology and beyond, Stanford Business School lecturer, Amy Wilkinson, spent the past five years at Harvard researching and writing a brilliant book about the replicable skills that helped entrepreneurs initiate and scale the world’s most successful creative ventures.
“The research of the Creator’s Code, is basically out of my time as a White House research fellow,” Amy recently told the crowd in her keynote at the Mid-Atlantic Venture Capital Association’s TechBuzz Spring 2015. She had moved from Silicon Valley to DC and recalls thinking that the companies that passed through the White House doors were too large to study to get the full picture of innovation in America. The inspiration for the her book came while attending a party in New York City.
“I went to a party in New York and people from eBay, Gilt Group, Google and a bunch of other Silicon Valley people showed up. I started thinking to myself even as a public policy person, what if we could crack the code? What if we could figure out what skills they had so more of us could replicate and emulate those skills. That’s the genesis of the Creator’s Code.”
The Creator’s Code: The Six Essential Skills of extraordinary entrepreneurs, is an important addition to business literature and education. It identifies six skills entrepreneurs who have scaled businesses generating revenues over $100 million (or serving over 100 million) use to make great things happen.
This is not a typical self-help business book. Amy conducted over 200 interviews, and methodically had 10,000 transcript pages reviewed and coded for skills employed, with her insights supported by cross-disciplinary research from sociological and psychological scholars. Amy is a sociologist with an MBA. She emphasizes that every single person can create and scale ideas. A copy of this book should be in the hands of every educator, student, employee, entrepreneur and corporate leader. It is a gem.
The insights Amy provides into the founders of PayPal, Starbucks, Chipotle, Chobani OPower, DropBox, AirBnB, Spanx, UnderArmour, Uber, Theranos, SpaceX and others instruct as much as they inspire. Their first-person founder stories shed light on the six skills they employ when exploring, launching, and scaling new ideas.
Amy emphasizes: “The principles in this research apply to everyone, whether they work alone or in a large corporation.”
Cracking the Code
The most effective creators do all of the following six things:
- Find the gap. “The big difference with creators is they ask questions all the time,” said Amy. They see things others don’t. They don’t ignore ideas that appeal to them from the corner of their eyes. They have different patterns of discovery, they either transplant concepts, design a new way, or merge separate ideas. “That’s something we can do all the time,” she emphasized. “We all have tacit awareness, think something is interesting but rationalize it away. Creators, jump on it. They ask, probe, and continue to ask.” That’s how a fax salesperson, Sarah Blakely, created a pair of panty hose she could comfortably wear under her pants and turned her $5,000 investment into a wholly owned multi-billion dollar undergarment enterprise. Like Sarah, Elon Musk is an architect who builds his ideas, such as SpaceX from the ground up. Idea integrators, like Steve Els, a culinary institute graduate question why fast food has to be so limited and created a new category with his tasty fast-but-delicious Chipotle.
- Drive for Daylight. Creators move steadily towards their goal with their eyes on the horizon, scanning the edges without being distracted by what others are doing around them — even if it takes a decade as it did for Elizabeth Holmes, who came up with the idea for Theranos, a revolutionary blood diagnostics company, at age 19.
- Continuously update their assumptions in a fast OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act.) The ultimate masters of this skill (and proof it can be taught by example) are the PayPal team, Peter Theil, Elon Musk, and Max Lechin, who moved their model six times in 18 months, from encrypted software, to virtual wallet, raising money based on beaming it between Palm Pilots. How? “The co-founders observed people were on the website trying to do something that would be online or emailing money, oriented themselves to determine it was a great idea, [and] quickly decided to act,” said Amy. Then they realized that eBay auction buyers and sellers were trying to use Paypal and had an epiphany to build on top of eBay. eBay was never able to catch up with them and they sell when the bubble burst. Even more interesting is to trace the serial success of the original 12 PayPal employees, dubbed the “Silicon Valley mafia,” who created and scaled Yelp, U-Tube, LinkedIn, Slide, Tesla Motors, Dig — and were among the first investors in Facebook. The Paypal intern who scaled Yelp told Amy he learned to look for the counter-intuitive blip of data. “Yelp was built as an email referral system. It’s founders noticed that a small feature asking if people wanted to write a review of a restaurant, dry cleaner, dance studio etc. was popular. They observed, oriented, decided and acted.”
- Fail Wisely. Run small tests to hone ideas and plan to learn from an acceptable ratio of little failures. “The founders of Stella and Dot say they know that one out of three things they try as a jewelry company won’t work, that’s their ratio,” said Amy.
- Network Minds. Build on the thinking of diverse individuals.
- Gift Small Goods. Generously contribute to the productivity of others and cement relationships.
That’s the gist. The book unfolds with examples that will stay with you and inspire attention to the skills that could fuel your own great creative venture. Listening to Amy spin these tales is solid gold.
So we’re excited to learn that she will be speaking in DC at 1776 on Thursday, April 23. If you get to go, please share your comments with us here.