The Creator’s Code: Entrepreneurial Skills or Habits?

Per recommendation from leadership at work, I read the Creator’s Code by Amy Wilkinson from my Summer 2017 Book List. The subtitle boasts “six essential skills of extraordinary entrepreneurs” and I was curious what those would be. More buzzwords? More bravado?

Yeah. Preeeeetty much.

  1. Find the gap
  2. Drive for daylight
  3. Fly the OODA loop
  4. Fail wisely
  5. Network minds
  6. Gift small goods

I think she could have summarized these skills into four main skills, but I do appreciate her approach. Her idea of entrepreneurship is very lean startup-based. Entrepreneurs exist in more than startups, but also corporations. Lean, agile methods keep entrepreneurs efficient, but basic skills assist certain people in becoming more successful.

I think she termed it “skills” to imply that these are all learned behaviors. They are, but I would consider them more habits or *flows.* They are so natural to a person’s life and way of thinking that it’s difficult to consider them skills.

  1. Find the gap

Successful entrepreneurs are always finding opportunities. When something in life gets frustrating or complicated, they don’t see it as a hurdle — they see it as an opportunity for improvement. She identifies a few different types:

  • Sunbirds (take solutions that work in one area and apply to another, like how Howard Schultz brought the concept of espresso bars from Italy to the United States)
  • Architects (recognize openings and furnish whats missing, like how Sara Blakely realized women wanted/needed Spanx)
  • Integrators (combination of both, like how Chipotle created fast casual food)

My main takeaway? Complainers won’t be successful entrepreneurs. Someone that is complaining about something not working, something not making sense, or something that seems out of place will not be able to identify many opportunities. They’ll be too busy mumbling and grumbling!

2. Drive for daylight

Entrepreneurs “set their sights on the horizon, scan the edges, and avoid nostalgia.” They’re always looking forward, figuring out how to manage the present, and working towards the future. They have long-term vision but are setting short-term goals to get there. They know the power of momentum and to-go thinking, the opposite of to-do thinking: instead of thinking I’ve already made it this far, think I only have this much is left to go. Research from the University of Chicago shows that to-go thinking accelerates the speed of accomplishing goals.

3. Fly the OODA loop

The OODA loop (observe, orient, decide, and act) was created by John Boyd, an Air Force air fighter pilot in the Korean War. Applicable to any strategy or game theory, OODA is the art of constantly being one step in front of your competitors — you don’t predict what’s next, but you dictate it. “In today’s world of instant communication, accelerated technology, and economic turbulence, success requires adapting to a constantly changing context. Creators decode the environment, take definitive action, and prevail by making adjustments swiftly.” I understand why she created a separate chapter for this concept and used the PayPal Mafia as a case study, but it overlaps with driving for daylight in my opinion.

4. Fail wisely

From the generation who received participation awards for everything, this is probably one of least common skills to find in entrepreneurs. Taking risks isn’t hard the first time, but confidence can drop so low so quickly. In a world of oversharing, no one wants to share their failures, but they are necessary for success. Like Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Like with lean startup methods, failure is crucial to learning lessons and should be encouraged. Experiments can be small but they should be specific with hypothesized outcomes. If your experiment fails, cool because you still learned how to develop your next iteration.

Remember in 2011 when Netflix was going to split into two businesses, DVDs and online streaming? People were angry. Hastings decided to keep DVDs after all, and a lot of people didn’t know if Netflix would last after a severe drop in stock price. Netflix took the fall, but persevered. Now look at where Netflix is today.

5. Network minds

As Helen Keller said, “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Cognitive diversity is crucial to collaboration and success. Often, people think that only founders can be entrepreneurs. However, any team whether startup or corporation needs team members and a variety of opinions. I love love love this quote from Katherine Phillips, a professor at Columbia: “Surrounding ourselves with people who are dissimilar often feels uncomfortable. We don’t like diversity because it makes us work harder. We are cognitive misers and would rather not put forth so much effort if we don’t have to, but discomfort serves a purpose.”

YAAAS. Entrepreneurship isn’t about having one founder with an ego or a small team of like-minded divas. Without differences in opinion, groupthink occurs and holds back the team from success. Even if it’s difficult to be around people who aren’t like you, challenge yourself to embrace the opportunity to always learn more.

6. Gift Small Goods

I think this is a weird point because it’s not so much about gifts but being a decent human. To me, that sucks that you have to lay that out as a skill, especially at the end! Gifts don’t have to be materialistic, but could also be your time or some kind of gesture to show your appreciation and care. People like to know they are thought of, and small gifts can build relationships. Generosity is contagious and can spark collaboration. I get it, but again, duh.

I do love how Nowak, a Harvard professor, argues that Darwin’s theory of evolution needs an update. In addition to mutation and natural selection, evolution also requires cooperation. Beyond genetics, communication is how humans have thrived.

In a world where transparent communication is so difficult despite technology and social media, this scares me. But, it will make it easier for good-spirited entrepreneurs to succeed since there will be a gap for them to flourish.

Overall, I really did enjoy this book and I loved all of the examples. I think this book should be included in any business school curriculum, but I also hope people are skeptical of it, like any content with clickbait. Read, take heed, but don’t be afraid to make your own list. Create your own formula to be an extraordinary entrepreneur.

++ Mary K

(photo from YourStory)


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