Many times when we seek to grow or advance our businesses or careers, we seek the advice of “experts.” These are usually people with more experience in the field, good judgment, connections, good business sense, etc. There is a danger, however, in accepting the advice of experts. Most experts rely on knowledge of the past and past experience, yet the essence of new ideas is that they begin in the mind of the entrepreneur. Nowhere else can they be found or tested; they are the product of seeing the world in a new way.
The passion, determination and, finally, persistence of the person behind the idea help predict success. Of course, not all new business ideas make it to success or even profitability, but most that do require the unrelenting belief of the creative mind that developed them.
Looking at the history of “naysaying” new business ideas is interesting. Some of the most profitable businesses today were told by “experts” that they would never work. In 1927, H.K. Warner, head of Warner Bros., asked, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” Spencer Silver, the chemist who produced the compound used in 3M’s Post-It-Notes, said, “If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do this.” Not until Art Fry, a colleague in 3M’s product development, used it to keep his notes from falling out of his hymnal in choir practice did anyone even think it was remotely useful.
Decca Records told the Beatles in 1962 that guitar music was on its way out. In 1981, even Bill Gates said, “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” And finally, when Fred Smith, the founder of Federal Express Corp., wrote a paper proposing reliable overnight delivery, a Yale University management professor told him, “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”
The point of this is to remember that expert advice is necessary but not sufficient to make business or career decisions about the future. Accepting advice must be balanced by listening to the voices of innovation and creativity. The caution, experience and judgment of the expert must be balanced with the risk and passion of the entrepreneur. According to Peter Drucker, “Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
If you are reinventing yourself or your business, seek advice to improve your idea, not kill it. Be wary of advice that denies your own belief, experience and intuition. For those who think it won’t work, ask them what would improve it. When you seek advice, seek that which points you forward to the future. The advice that draws your career and your business back to the past is not likely to be helpful.
Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computer Inc., describes his experience going to Atari and Hewlett-Packard and trying to get them interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. He told them he had an amazing product, built with some of their parts, and he was seeking funding. To show his passion in the product, he suggested, “Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.” Atari’s answer was no. Hewlett-Packard said, “We don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.” If you are a business owner, ask yourself if your business is killing the creativity within it. Are those who make decisions not only open to new ideas but actively looking for them?
Franta is the owner of Pamela Franta Consulting. She can be reached at [email protected]