Category: Business

Inspiration or Innovation

Time is a teacher. With age, fundamental shifts in my perspective have emerged that I neither anticipate nor ask for and that, ultimately, highlight how little I know about much of anything. Examples abound, but one such shift took place while viewing a 2005 Bezos recording about “taking on the challenge” of entrepreneurship.

We’re hopefully in agreement that Bezos is one of the greatest businesspeople in recent memory and, even in February 2005 — when Amazon was priced at roughly $35 (you do the math) — it’s apparent that he excels at something so common among the brilliant: namely, making complex ideas accesible to the layman.

His resonating point concerns how people approach the generation of new ideas. To many, myself included, the easiest way to frame or define idea generation is by attributing a new thought or concept to inspiration — the proverbial “light bulb” going off. We all have ideas, and chalking this up to some random inspiration multiplier that functions slightly differently from one person to the next makes it easier to rationalize that some will inevitably have better ideas than others.

Bezos describes this as people seeing a problem that annoys them, which then motivates them to find a solution; inspiration strikes to offer solutions to the annoyance. For as long as humans have been conscious enough to be annoyed, these moments of inspiration have spawned the creation of tools, technology, art, acts of charity, WD-40 and so on. But far more frequently, inspiration yields little more than a moment of self-congratulation and a passing “I should write that down” which we quickly forget once we’re confronted with the menu at Starbucks.

How Bezos continues is what struck me:

Sometimes you can work this from the backwards direction and, in fact, in high-tech I think a lot of the innovation sometimes comes from this direction. You see a new technology or there’s something out there, some new understanding in the world, and you work backwards from a solution to find the appropriate problem.

The process that Bezos identifies is the opposite of inspiration. He points to the conscientious and active channeling of brainpower to identify an annoyance before it strikes — in my mind, innovation. Where inspiration is fleeting and self-indulgent, innovation is pointed and educated. Understanding a market takes time, particularly from the outside looking in. To further bet on this market by inventing and investing in solutions to problems or annoyances that have not yet emerged: that’s vision, that’s insight, that’s innovation.

It takes but a few moments to connect the dots between recently notable founders and markets they upended through conscious and calculated innovation. Daniel wasn’t a record producer, Brian didn’t run hotels, the Jennifers weren’t dry cleaner franchisees. In each case, the market silently screamed for attention and they tuned in to the frequency before anybody else cared to actively listen.

Why so personally pivotal? Because it’s easiest to explain the success of our innovators by attributing it to a moment of inspiration that the divine weren’t kind enough to impart upon us personally. It acts as both an excuse — “well, the idea didn’t come to me” — and an exemption — “…so I didn’t do the work”. A naive avoidance of giving credit where credit is clearly due which also serves as a method for conveniently excluding ourselves from the ranks of the exceptional.

As a person who closely guards the idea journaling habit, this perspective gave me pause. The “billion dollar partnerships” formed over a few pints, the woodshed inventors that tinker for a lifetime, the silent genius that keeps her ideas hidden from the world are legion. While I doubt it was his intention, in just a few sentences Bezos sent a chilling message: maybe the majority of our most successful doers find themselves there because it was their exact intention. The partners wrote the business plan, the invention left the woodshed, the silent genius chose not to keep silent.

Waiting for the mythical “right idea” is just that, a myth. An individual with an authentic passion to change the way we humans interact with our world, despite best intentions, may wait on inspiration for a lifetime. But the hard-won progress of innovation, that’s available to us whenever we’re ready to hunker down and do the work.

Hustle Con 2016 – Takeaways


Hustle Con is the anti TechCrunch Disrupt.  It’s not about crushing code in a dark room while you slurp down cup-0-noodles.  (Okay, maybe there are cup-o-noodles involved.)  Instead, it’s a conference designed for non-technical founders that are striving to build physical world businesses.  These are hungry entrepreneurs in the worlds of fashion, food, furniture, and beyond…all coming together in a 1-day sprint to learn from the best.  And go figure, there are actually a few entrepreneurs who built / are building massively successful business without using Sublime Text.

You can check out the full guest list for Hustle Con 2016 here, or just dive right into the recordings on their YouTube page.  In the meantime, here are my notes and three key takeaways that have kept me up for the last few weeks:


You are the guardians of simplicity in your organization.

David Bladow, BloomThat

Successful entrepreneurs build their businesses around one core idea, only expanding once they’ve validated a simple concept that appeals to an identifiable market.  New ventures can so easily spin out of control as founders attempt to pack on new products, designs, pitches, etc…but scaleability cannot be reached through complication.  If you think focus is challenging as a small company, the conditions only get more worse as you grow.


The evolution of mankind, starting with pants.

Andy Dunn, Bonobos

Even if your soon-to-be unicorn company is still an organization of one, have a mission.  A one sentence, no frills statement that characterizes your business and all it hopes to accomplish, that explains the “why”.  This is important not just for you, not just for maintaining focus (see takeaway 1), but also for attracting purpose-driven people as you scale.  For an entrepreneur, not having a sense of mission is crippling.  For a team, it’s fatal.


We set out because we believed in something…there’s no fear, nothing to lose when you’re passionate about something.

Andy Puddicombe, Headspace

Authenticity is a secret weapon of all successful entrepreneurs.  While it’s intoxicating to believe that a great idea can sustain you through the inevitable trials of an entrepreneurial venture, it’s a falsehood.  Without an authentic purpose, without a true meaning and momentum behind your venture, you’ll find that you’re faking it, that you’re operating without real passion.  And without passion, no success can there be.  Yoda said that, right?

KX 93.5 Interview with DMR’s Dan Reilly

DMR member Dan Reilly was highlighted this past weekend during an episode of KX 93.5’s recording of Talking Ventures – a live radio show and podcast covering the current trends in entrepreneurship.

You can listen to the recording here:

Entrepreneurial Love and Emerging Technology Trends with Dan Reilly – 3/5/16

Or, go to iTunes > Podcasts > Talking Ventures > March 5th 2016 Episode.


Chamath at LAUNCH

Chamath Palihapitiya is a beast.  He’s most notably a key member of the executive team that brought Facebook over the 1B user mark.  More recently, he’s been running The Social+Capital Partnership and acting as part-owner and board member for the Golden State Warriors (you know, the NBA team with six losses after 62 games).

He also brings the heat anytime he speaks publicly, and was by far my favorite speaker at this year’s LAUNCH Festival.  Topics covered include sports, politics, morality, gambling, tech, and beyond…but Chamath’s comments on diversity in tech and the dusty, overly white hierarchy of venture capital steal the show.

He’s an influencer worth following and definitely one that will get you thinking about the big things.

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