Sunday, November 29, 2009

The wise learn from other people's experience

"The wise learn from other people's mistakes and fools from their own." So goes an ancient proverb that some say was first written in Aramaic. As far as I'm concerned, I have been more often a fool than a wise person. That may be because I prefer experimentation to inertia, feeling that Randy Pausch was so right when he said in the Last Lecture that in life "experience is what you get when you you didn't get what you wanted". This post is about experience sharing and it was prompted by a visit to Genaro Bardy's recent post on a presentation made by Kevin Rose.

Few things are more valuable for entrepreneurs and venture investors than getting the account of some real-life experience, whether it speaks of "success" or "failure" is completely irrelevant so long as the content is genuine and the analysis honest. When speaking to customers during workshops, trainings or coaching sessions I often encourage them to examine cases of other entrepreneurs they might know. I also advise them to cut through the crap of accounts entrepreneurial successes and  failures:

  • in the former crap is neat logical explanations of how the successful entrepreneurs identified and captured an opportunity (i.e. they knew what they were doing from day one, had a definite plan and eventually ended up exactly where they'd wanted to be) and 

  • in the latter crap is justifications and excuses pertaining to everything but the entrepreneurs themselves (i.e. they did everything right but someone else messed everything up or the circumstances caused them to fail despite their "perfect" plan).

In this post, I'd like to comment a bit further on this matter of sharing experience and use a presentation made by Kevin Rose as an example of the practice of honest and factual sharing of experience gained through different entrepreneurial initiatives.

Accounts of how entrepreneurial ventures unfolded are interesting insofar as they allow us to see how a given entrepreneur acted, both successfully and unsuccessfully, through expected results and unexpected twists and turns of the economy, in the context of a specific industry.

In such accounts there are elements that are very peculiar to the industry or to the entrepreneur and could not possibly be replicated. For example, Steve Jobs has very peculiar ways of doing things and much of his ways cannot be replicated even if we try to immerse ourselves Inside Steve's Brain (very interesting book) and in the business of social marketing there are practices that work very well but could not possibly be applied to financial services where regulatory constraints set clear limits on the nature of open community driven interactions. On the other hand, entrepreneurs' account offer elements that can be replicated and can be used in other contexts, in other industries, by different people. Very often these elements are good practices, activities, initiatives and sets of assumptions about the business. For example, Jamendo's founders could teach volumes about their initial assumption that open sharing of content under Creative Commons licensing would pave the way for new forms of distribution of and interaction on music. Their input would be valid for other forms of content and could be used to examine the impact of social media on traditional media or to carry out an analysis of the current war between Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp, Google and Bing.

One great example of such account is Kevin Rose's presentation in which he shares his experience of practices that worked well at Digg, Twitter or WeFollow. His low key approach is great as he is giving us a perspective on what worked and what did not, to tell us how to go with the flow and listen to users in shaping a service and to honestly state he is on constant experimentation. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect in Kevin Rose's presentation lies in his relentless drive to speak of practice and not to preach for a theory or abstract construct. Practices can be replicated elsewhere giving due consideration to the peculiar aspects of a given business or industry.

Taking your Site from One to One Million Users by Kevin Rose

View more presentations from Carsonified Team.

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