Jun 072012

How Creative Do You Have to Be?

How Creative Do You Have to Be?

To follow up on last week’s post about the two types of entrepreneurs, I hear from people all the time that they can’t be an entrepreneur because they’re not creative.  I used to say that myself, but Mariquita reminds me periodically that that’s nonsense…and as a case in point, I didn’t have the original idea that gave birth to Return Path James Marciano did.  And I didn’t have the original idea to create a deliverability business, George Bilbrey did.  Or an inbox organizer consumer application, Josh Baer did.

But I still consider myself an entrepreneur as the founder and leader of the company, as it takes a lot of creativity and business building acumen to get from an idea to a business, or from a small business to a big business.

Sure, you can invent something from scratch.  Someone created the first car.  The first computer.  The first telephone.  Harnessed the power of electricity for home/commercial use.  The first deliverability service or inbox organizer.  George and others will say you can create a process for this…but I think it’s a bit like lightening striking.

But sometimes the best ideas are ones that are borrowed from others or combined from other sets of existing things.  There’s nothing wrong with that!  And you can do this without stealing intellectual property.  For example, I took a ton of business trips my first few years out of college with a heavy duffel bag that caused a pinched nerve in my shoulder.  Then someone decided to put wheels, a relatively old and stable technology, on suitcases about 15 years ago.  Hallelujah.

Regardless of what type of entrepreneur you are, you can exercise business creativity in lots of different ways, not just by inventing a new product.

UPDATE:  This week’s Economist has an interesting article that fits right into this discussion.  It’s called In Praise of Misfits, and its telling subtitle is something like “Why business needs people with dyslexia, ADD, and Asperger’s.”  A great read on this theme.

Sep 222011

Who Are Your CPO and COO?

Who Are Your CPO and COO?

Every senior management team needs a CPO and a COO.  No, I’m not talking about Privacy and Operations.  I’m talking about Paranoia and Optimism.  On my leadership team at Return Path, many of us are Paranoid and many of us are Optimistic, and many of us can play both roles.  But I’m fortunate to have two business partners who are the Chiefs – George Bilbrey is our Chief Paranoia Officer, and Anita Absey is our Chief Optimism Officer.  Those monikers fit their respective roles (product and sales) as well as their personalities.

My view is simple – both traits are critical to have around the management table, and they’re best when they’re in some kind of equilibrium.  Optimism keeps you running forward in a straight line.  The belief that you can successfully execute on your plan, with a spring in your step and a smile on your face, is very motivating.  Paranoia keeps you looking around corners.  It may also keep you awake at night, but it’s the driving force for seeing potential threats to the business that aren’t necessarily obvious and keeping you on your toes.  I wrote about the benefits and limits of paranoia (with an extreme example) years ago here.

Too much of either trait would be a disaster for a team’s psyche.  But both are critical points of view that need a loud voice in any management discussion.  It’s a little bit like making sure your management team knows its actual and target location along the Fear/Greed Continuum.