Dedicated to Brandi Clark, The Austin Eco Network, Founder
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.” – Henry David Thoreau
Bell Telephone Labs ((formerly Lucent Technologies) and now Alcatel-Lucent, NYSE: ALU) of Holdel/Murray Hill, New Jersey began the testing and reporting phases of Project Echo in late 1960 as part of a passive communications satellite initiative. The primary instrument: the Horn Antennae–a monolithic structure shaped like its namesake. By 1962, the technology was obsolete. And not unlike most projects of its scale during the proliferation of the military-industrial complex (MIC), the cost of the antennae justified keeping it around… Bell’s scientists continued to experiment, if only half-heartedly.
As the story goes, Arno Penzias’ and Robert Wilson’s plan, like the scientists before them, was to use the antennae to detect and measure radio signals between galaxies. Previous attempts to detect radio transmissions resulted in a fant static–an aberration– and though most of the scientists wrote it off as a byproduct of the antennae itself–hardware that was essentially deemed antiquated and obsolete–Penzias and Wilson were not altogether convinced. They methodically investigated possibilities–isolating variables to test and eliminate in pursuit of the root cause. Their efforts were exhaustive even going so far as to isolate and eliminate underground nuclear testing, nesting pigeons in the antennae, dismantling and rebuilding the equipment hundreds of times, as possibilities. All attempts failed to identify the source of the “static bath.” Meanwhile, Robert Dicke of Princeton University was investigating theories suggesting the Universe began in the distant past as an explosion of epic, unprecedented proportions. If, in fact, the genesis of the universe began as Dicke theorized, there should be “echo evidence” of the event in the form of microwave radiation… a background static that continually bathed the Universe. And the rest as they say, is history. Essentially, two scientists, Penzias and Wilson persisted through abject failure and accidentally discovered the first empirical evidence and news of the Universe’s birth. They,
…stumbled on the microwave background radiation that permeates the universe. Cosmologists quickly realized that Penzias and Wilson had made the most important discovery in modern astronomy since Edwin Hubble demonstrated in the 1920s that the universe was expanding. This discovery provided the evidence that confirmed George Gamow‘s and Georges Lemaitre‘s “Big Bang” theory of the creation of the universe and forever changed the science of cosmology — the study of the history of the universe — from a field for unlimited theoretical speculation into a subject disciplined by direct observation.
Though they never intended the discovery, Penzias and Wilson were not satisfied when the intended results of their effort proved fruitless. Hard-headed and harnessed with dumb-luck, they went looking for a needle in a haystack only to discover the needle was the haystack; the fools persisted in their foolishness inevitably inherited wisdom. Penzias and Wilson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 for their discovery.
Robert Wilson explains “cosmic noise” (recorded audio, download, length- 6:25) MP3 [3.6 MB, 44 kHz 80 Kbps]
The story of Penzias and Wilson naturally, or in this case, supernaturally, begs the question: what does this anecdote have to do with lessons learned in entrepreneurship? Everything and nothing.
The story, both in fact and subtext, extends far beyond a passing interest in cosmology, because it presents the sophisticated complexities and humbling limitations of the human condition. Something of Penzias and Wilson, for me, whispers, “Keep failing. Just fail faster. The fool persisting in his foolishness shall inevitably inherit wisdom.”
Entrepreneurs, by definition, see the world differently; there is something entrepreneurial in each of us and that something expresses itself differently for everyone, too. For at least five years, I’ve hung my hat on entrepreneurship–jack of many trades, master of none. As October expires and I head into planning for 2010, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I’ve been and where I want to go… thought and emotions that fostered this post.
From this point forward as a matter of ritual, every Sunday, I will flesh out one of the fifty-two lessons learned in entrepreneurship enclosed below. Said “lessons” are in no particular order. If you do the math, the plan is to cover all fifty-two lessons in one calendar year.I may throw an extra “lesson” in for good measure as no doubt Mom will be reading (don’t call me about this; I’ll call you. )
I definitely encourage feedback: I have not “been at this” for very long, consider myself a student of life and hope the concept in and of itself fosters conversation of the fellowship-kind.
Towards a Bigger Bang,
52 Lessons Learned in Entrepreneurship
1. There is a Yes to every challenge. Don’t be so sure about the Question.
2. Don’t fire all of your ammunition at once.
3. Don’t get mad except on purpose.
4. Effort is admirable. Achievement is valuable.
5. Make every effort more than it’s worth.
6. Give them a title and get them involved. Expand the leadership.
7. Pay your self last, and always honor the agreed terms, even when your support does not deserve it.
8. You can’t beat a plan with no plan.
9. Business technology determines business success.
10. Sound doctrine is sound policy.
11. In business, you have your word and your colleagues’; go back on either and you’re dead.
12. Keep your eye on the main opportunity and don’t stop to kick every barking dog.
13. Don’t make the perfect enemy of the good.
14. Remember: the other side has troubles too.
15. Don’t treat the good guys like you treat the bad guys.
16. A well-run project takes care of its own.
17. Hire at least as many to the right as to the left (both traditional and innovative; gorillas and gazelles.)
18. You can’t save the world if you can’t pay the rent.
19. All gains are incremental; some increments are gains.
20. A stable project requires a healthy, reciprocal I.O.U. flow among its participants. Don’t keep a careful tally.
21. Real Innovation is the perfect nexus between two or more seemingly dissimilar concepts
22. Market segments are shared motivations within a group of people; isolate motivation, not people.
23. An ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness.
24. Never miss a business meeting if you think there’s the slightest chance you’ll wish you were there.
25. In volunteer efforts, a builder can build faster than a destroyer can destroy.
26. Actions have consequences, both intended and latent. The latter is often more poignant than the former.
27. The mind can absorb no more than the seat can endure. Collaborate in short iterations.
28. Personnel is policy. What your Mom said about “the company you keep…” is true.
29. Remember: it’s a long ball game.
30. The test of business ideas is business results.
31. You can’t beat somebody with nobody.
32. Better a snake in the grass than a viper in your bosom.
33. Don’t fully trust anyone until they have stuck with a good cause which they saw was losing.
34. Be prompt. A generous letter of thanks can seal a commitment which otherwise might disappear when the going gets tough.
35. Marketing and customer service are dating/courting by different means.
36. You cannot make friends of your enemies by making enemies of your friends.
37. Choose your enemies as carefully as you choose your friends.
38. Keep a secure, organized home base. GTD, FTW!
39. Don’t rely on being given anything you do not ask for.
40. In business, nothing moves unless it’s pushed.
41. Winners aren’t perfect. They made fewer mistakes than their rivals or won the business equivalent of the lotto.
42. One big reason is more equal than many little reasons.
43. In a moment of crisis, the initiative passes to those that are best prepared. The initiative is accomplished by the ready, willing and able.
44. Business is of the heart as well as the mind. People do not know how much you know until they know how much you care.
45. Always promptly report your action to the one who requested it.
46. Moral outrage is the most powerful motivating force in the Universe.
47. Pray as if all depended on God; work as if all depended on You.
48. Don’t fire people for failure. Reward them. Terminate for Inaction.
49. Nothing static can multiply (despite what Keynesian economists have told you your entire life.)
50. Whether failure or success, stop reliving your past projects. No one really gives a shit, especially you.
51. You are a world premier experience. Second only to the people that fostered that experience, what you embody is your greater asset.
52. Every second of every waking day is an opportunity to create. Tens of thousands of choices. Create wisely.