We can say that we know how to make start-ups fail less.
Suddenly, innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship are the most powerful ideas in not just the business world, but also on the New York Times best-seller list and in Congress, that infamous dungeon of inspiration, where good ideas go to die. These are distinct, if overlapping terms. Not all creativity leads to innovation and not all innovation is done by entrepreneurs. But you can learn a lot about the first two terms by studying the third.
And so, for The Atlantic‘s week-long special report on innovation, I wanted to talk to one of the smartest and most commonsense thinkers I know on starting a company and harnessing creativity for start-ups. That’s Steve Blank, a teacher, blogger, Atlantic contributor, and serial entrepreneur whose breakthrough ideas about customers and epiphanies have inspired both entrepreneurs I know personally and the U.S. government. We spoke yesterday about Steve Jobs, the character of Silicon Valley, and why Steve believes entrepreneurship is teachable.
Here’s a lightly edited transcript:
It seems to me that enthusiasm for start-ups lags behind a clear understanding of how start-ups work and why some are successful. What have we learned recently about the character of successful start-ups?
The modern corporation can be traced back to the East India Company in 1600. The corporation evolved to its modern form over 300 years. Business men learned on the job about accounting, and human resources, and team building.
It wasn’t until 1908 that some people at Harvard University realized that nobody was teaching an advanced course on how to teach a manager. Harvard came up with a Masters in Business Administration, an MBA. It was a two-year course on how to execute existing companies.
For the next 50 years, the MBA dominated the American Century. It became the gold standard. There’s nothing wrong with an MBA. It just teaches you execution. When the first investors came out to Silicon Valley they looked at these tech companies and said, “We’ll take everything we know from business school about how to organize companies.” But they didn’t understand the big idea: Start-ups aren’t smaller version of large companies. You can’t put execution strategy on top of a start-up and expect to succeed.
Learning to manage a company seems categorically different from learning to come up with ideas that grow into companies. That skills feels more elusive. Can you really teach entrepreneurship?
Many people say you can’t. They’re ignorant. But it was true that we didn’t know how to teach entrepreneurship for decades, because we didn’t understand how start-ups were different from large companies.
Bookmark this page for “Secrets of Start-Ups” and check back regularly as these articles update on a very frequent basis. The view is set to “news”. Try clicking on “video” and “2” for more articles.