Entrepreneurship Is an Art Not a Job

Over the last decade we assumed that once we found repeatable methodologies (Agile and Customer Development, Business Model Design) to build early stage ventures, entrepreneurship would become a "science," and anyone could do it.

I'm beginning to suspect this assumption may be wrong.

Where Did We Go Wrong?
It's not that the tools are wrong, I think the entrepreneurship management stack is correct and has made a major contribution to reducing startup failures. Where I think we have gone wrong is the belief that anyone can use these tools equally well.

Entrepreneurship is an Art not a Job
For the sake of this analogy, think of two types of artists:creators andperformers (think music composer versus members of the orchestra, playwright versus actor etc.)

Founders fit the definition of a creator: they see something no one else does. And to help them create it from nothing, they surround themselves with world-class performers. This concept of creating something that few others see — and the reality distortion field necessary to recruit the team to build it — is at the heart of what startup founders do. It is a very different skill than science, engineering, or management.

Entrepreneurial employees are the talented performers who hear the siren song of a founder's vision. Joining a startup while it is still searching for a business model, they too see the promise of what can be and join the founder to bring the vision to life.

Founders then put in play every skill which makes them unique — tenacity, passion, agility, rapid pivots, curiosity, learning and discovery, improvisation, ability to bring order out of chaos, resilience, leadership, a reality distortion field, and a relentless focus on execution — to lead the relentless process of refining their vision and making it a reality.

Both founders and entrepreneurial employees prefer to build something from the ground up rather than join an existing company. Like jazz musicians or improv actors, they prefer to operate in a chaotic environment with multiple unknowns. They sense the general direction they're headed in, OK with uncertainty and surprises, using the tools at hand, along with their instinct to achieve their vision. These types of people are rare, unique and crazy. They're artists.

Tools Do Not Make The Artist
When page-layout programs came out with the Macintosh in 1984, everyone thought it was going to be the end of graphic artists and designers. "Now everyone can do design," was the mantra. Users quickly learned how hard it was do design well (yes. it is an art) and again hired professionals. The same thing happened with the first bit-mapped word processors. We didn't get more or better authors. Instead we ended up with poorly written documents that looked like ransom notes. Today's equivalent is Apple's "Garageband". Not everyone who uses composition tools can actually write music that anyone wants to listen to.

"Well If it's Not the Tools Then it Must Be…"
The argument goes, "Well if it's not tools then it must be…" But examples from teaching other creative arts are not promising. Music composition has been around since the dawn of civilization yet even today the argument of what "makes" a great composer is still unsettled. Is it the process (the compositional strategies used in the compositional process?) Is it the person (achievement, musical aptitude, informal musical experiences, formal musical experiences, music self-esteem, academic grades, IQ, and gender?) Is it the environment (parents, teachers, friends, siblings, school, society, or cultural values?) Or is it constant practice (apprenticeship, 10,000 hours of practice?)

It may be we can increase the number of founders and entrepreneurial employees, with better tools, more money, and greater education. But it's more likely that until we truly understand how to teach creativity, their numbers are limited.

Reprinted from SteveBlank.com

Steve Blank is a prolific educator, thought leader and writer on Customer Development for Startups, the retired serial entrepreneur teaches, refines, writes and blogs on "Customer Development," a rigorous methodology he developed to bring the "scientific method" to the typically chaotic, seemingly disorganized startup process. Now teaching Entrepreneurship at three major Universities, Blank is the author of Four Steps to the Epiphany. Follow him on Twitter @sgblank.

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4 Comments

  • Jeff 'SKI' Kinsey

    You don't teach creativity... We need to stop demanding conformity in our educational process (think K-12) for the mere sake of mass producing socially acceptable carbon-based units.

  • Francis Moran

    I think you're on to something here, Steve.

    As a writer, I have always said I am more carpenter than sculptor. That is, I am a competent user of writing tools and can fashion beautiful objects from words, but I am not creative.

    It sounds as though you would characterise entrepreneurs more as sculptors than as carpenters.

  • Ralph Haygood

    I'm an entrepreneur, and all that "methodology" doesn't mean much to me. My approach to most things about being an entrepreneur is empirical: I try things and see what happens. My sources of inspiration for things to try are many and varied, and I do pay attention to other people's experiences, but I don't assume what worked for somebody else will necessarily work for me. And I regard my current ways of doing things as working hypotheses, subject to change in light of experience. Entrepreneurship as I live it isn't formulaic; it demands continual attention to the particulars of your situation.

  • Brandon Wu

    I couldn't agree more. I read a lot about entrepreneurship. It was even my emphasis in business school. But the truth is, no matter how much you read about entrepreneurship, nothing replaces getting started and figuring things out along the way. If there were a sure way to success, everyone would be doing it, driving up competition, changing the market, and rendering the sure-way-to-success useless.

    It's an art not a science. And instead of focusing on the methods and tools, I'd rather bet on people and their passion.