When I see the label, entrepreneur, I am always confused what that really means to the person using that description and what the public perceives. Now, having been raised in an artistic environment, I do understand what a great “artist” should be. And, my intuition says that the definition between an entrepreneur and an artist should be similar.
Let us look at what takes to be an “artist”. An artist strives every day to reach perfection. There are always attempts to “get it right”. In oil paintings, scholars see an older painted brush layer of a single attempt, and repainted on the surface – described as “pentimento”. Another way of saying, “I thought about this approach but now I think this is better.” Great photographers apply the same approach, yet with a different technology. They shoot several iterations of the same image, until a final one is selected. As a teenager, I had the privilege of observing great photographers go through thousands of images, and then selecting a handful – their “perfect” images.
Another trait I have noticed about artists is an acknowledgment of previous works produced chronologically, and willingness to burst the bubble and create something different. The new art might be an observation of some other work, and the novel creation is a step above that. Picasso’s works are an excellent example. He would take some trend such impressionism, and decide to jump to another level. He would delve into cubism, African art, and surrealism. He always progressed every few years into something novel, and, therefore, different. Musically, I have observed the same traits from the Beatles, who moved from the established rock and roll, to a landmark album, Rubber Soul, where they used a sitar, an Indian musical instrument, as a total differentiator in the musical industry.
So when you combine the perfectionism trait with constant innovation, the very artistic product becomes Hegelian. Hegel, excuse my brevity on a lengthy philosophical belief, established the concept of “universal” meaning or impact. That whatever act or acts would be adopted by history as having chronological significance.
With this artistic preface I come back to the meaning of entrepreneurship. In entrepreneurship, I see two groups. One category starts a company with the sole motivation to make money, not a great product or service. Quite of few exist in the East Coast. I have worked with such individuals who would describe themselves as visionaries – becoming “experts” in the medical industry for a few years. Then, if that fails, jump into real estate development. Later on, telecommunications or Internet. And so on. I myself find that these guys are hardly credible – it is tantamount to believing that Picasso would jump from painting canvases and then becoming a world-renowned nuclear physicist. However these guys do exist and are prevalent. They start a company and, if they know something, hire a senior management team with the right expertise to run the company. (Although I have seen the opposite happen, and that becomes a disaster.) And these guys will throw caution into the wind until he/she has a home run.
The second entrepreneurial category falls closely to the description of an “artist”. I prefer to use Steve Jobs as an example. Whatever product Jobs pursued had to be “different”. He borrows the mouse design from Xerox and integrates the technology into the Mac. He takes a portable device and creates the iTouch and the iPhone. Nokia and Dell had first mover advantage. Yet, Apple went beyond the rudimentary designs. From various Job biographies, he seemed to have a “perfectionist” mindset. And he wanted his products to be uniquely designed. These characteristics seemed artistic in nature.
I do believe that the term, entrepreneur, is used too freely in the Silicon Valley ecosystem. Anyone can start a company. It only costs several hundred dollars and a few filings. I think that is why they use that term. But the reasons for doing so are more important that the establishment of a company. There are many startups, but which are the true “Picassos”?