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A few weeks ago I wrote about Kurt Anderson’s TIME magazine story entitled The End of Excess (post: 4/10/09) in which the writer and radio host found surprising hope and optimism in our current gloomy economic straits. Anderson suggests that the unpredictability and flux that will come in the months and years ahead will be a time of fruitful opportunity for creative thinkers and entrepreneurs. I just came across an INC. magazine interview with Jim Collins, author of Good To Great and founder of the research firm ChimpWorks, and I found synergy with Kurt Anderson’s article. Collins and expands on Anderson’s theme in some intriguing ways—I particularly appreciate his holistic view of entrepreneurship.
“I take a broad view of it. The traditional definition—founding an entity designed to make money— is too narrow for me. I see entrepreneurship as more of a life concept. We all make choices about how we live our lives. You can take a paint-by-numbers approach, or you can start with a blank canvas. When you paint by numbers, the end result is guaranteed. You know what it’s going to be, and it might be good, but it will never be a masterpiece. Starting with a blank canvas is the only way to get a masterpiece, but you could also blow up. So, are you going to pick the paint-by-numbers kit or the blank canvas? That’s a life question, not a business question.”
Collins also takes a refreshing view on the notion risk, one of the great barriers to entrepreneurship.
“As an entrepreneur, you know what the risks are. You see them. You understand them. You manage them. If you join someone else’s company, you may not know those risks, and not because they don’t exist. You just can’t see them, and so you can’t manage them. That’s a much more exposed position than the entrepreneur faces.”
Doug Hall, a columnist for BusinessWeek’s SmallBiz offshoot agrees with the theme that our current economic flux presents an opportunity for entrepreneurs in his April/May column. “Small, incremental changes are considered a waste of time,” writes Hall, “Now’s the time to be bold. And by that, I mean that it’s time to be a radical innovator of products, services, and business models”
BusinessWeek is an excellent (and relatively design-friendly) resource for business news, and I’ve found the INC. Magazine website to be bookmark-worthy too…although the INC. blogs don’t seem to be as content-rich as I would hope.
As this recent NY Times article about iPhone app development illustrates, we are in the midst of an absolute gold rush of entrepreneurial activity around the release of these (sometimes) amazing bits of software. Stories abound of “kitchen table” developers cranking out the next great app in a matter of weeks and turning outrageous profits. But with more than 30,000 apps now on the market, this trend must be waning, right?
With such a deep history and strong connection between Apple and the communication design profession, this seemed like an obvious topic for Merge to explore.
Terry Anderson is a co-founder of Tiny Wonder Studios which released their first app, Pixi, in January. In Part 1 of my conversation with Terry, I discuss the overall trend of app the development and the process of creating Pixi.
I’m sitting in on Marcia Lausen’s Design Colloquium class at University of Illinois Chicago today as students present their designs for a personal experience mapping project. The students have taken a variety of—mostly mundane—life experiences, from the micro, like “what I do in the morning before school” to the (relatively) macro, like “friends I’ve known over the last ten years” and developed graphic interpretations of them. I’m seeing some outstanding solutions using thoughtful information design and we’re having a vibrant discussion about what lies at the essence of a story—a process which is, of course, at the core of what we do as communication designers.
As you know, I’ve been struggling with how to integrate business planning—on the surface a rigid and mundane process—into the entrepreneurial experience for designers and creative thinkers. Today I’m seeing that experience mapping is part of the solution to this dilemma—I’ll be writing more about this soon.
Here is a selection of designs from the student work:
I hope to achieve a rhythm with Merge between the micro and the macro. Examples of micro topics will be tactical stuff like business plans and online advertising, while the macro will come through in an ongoing discussion of business and cultural trends and how they relate to design and entrepreneurship. Today, we go macro.
Kurt Anderson is one of those annoyingly multi-talented guys. An author (latest novel: Heyday), a former journalist, and the host of the design-friendly weekly public radio show Studio 360. His cover story in the April 6 issue of TIME Magazine (yes, the one that has ink on paper) is an exquisitely clear-headed snapshot of the current cultural/economic/creative moment entitled: The End of Excess: Why This Crisis is Good for America. And a snapshot that is relevant to entrepreneurs.
With all of the hyperbolic commentary about the current state of the state, Anderson pushes the pause button in this essay and puts a surprisingly hopeful spin on our seemingly grim circumstances. Looking back at our recovery from previous economic and cultural crises, he discovers that those hard times were followed by periods of great innovation and progress.
“Recall, please, the national mood in the mid-’70s: after the 1960s party, we found ourselves in a slough of despondency, with an oil crisis, a terrible recession, a kind of Weimarish embrace of decadence, national malaise — and at that very dispirited moment, Microsoft and Apple were founded. The next transformative, moneymaking technologies and businesses are no doubt coming soon to a garage near you.”
Or maybe a design studio near you? I would suggest that another area on the cusp of a great leap forward is communication. As designers of communication, we are the ones to lead this trend—and not by waiting for our clients to hire us to design their innovative communication products for them, but to innovate ourselves. Kurt Anderson continues:
“This is the moment for business to think different and think big. The great dying off of quintessentially 20th century businesses presents vast opportunity for entrepreneurs. People will still need (greener) cars, still want to read quality journalism, still listen to recorded music and all the rest. And so as some of the huge, dominant, old-growth trees of our economic forest fall, the seedlings and saplings — that is, the people burning to produce and sell new kinds of transportation and media in new, economic ways — will have a clearer field in which to grow.”
Designers, let’s take the field.
Special thanks to my friend, mentor and new social media user, Eric Madsen for the tip on the TIME article (more on Eric another time).
As you know if you’ve read any of my previous posts, I’m a big proponent of the business planning process for entrepreneurial designers. Despite how painful it can be for creative thinkers to complete, the business plan is an absolutely vital tool when, inevitably, we need to pitch our ideas to the non-creative “majority.” There is no shortage of resources, templates and guides for b-plans, the problem is that most of them are outrageously lame: overly complex, rigid, redundant, and (of course) horribly designed.
I’ll continue to revisit this topic periodically, but for now, I want to point you to Tim Berry, who writes, speaks and blogs extensively about business planning (I referred to him in an earlier post along with Guy Kawasaki). Berry is the founder of Palo Alto Software, which creates Business Plan Pro software (which I have never tried—let me know if you have experience with BPP) and author of many books, most recently The Plan-as-You-Go Business Plan.
This short video is an interview with Berry that gives a good overview of his thinking.
What I like about Tim Berry is that he is not rigid in his approach to business planning. He offers a basic structure but insists that the plan really needs to work for you, not vice versa, hence there are many forms it can take. His mantra that “business plans are always wrong” is a refreshing approach that highlights the organic nature of the planning process he endorses. This will resonate with designers because it allows us to be creative with the process and format of the plan—essentially, to treat the business plan as a design project (aha! more on this another time).
Here’s a link to Tim Berry’s blog (he blogs for many different outlets, but his own version seems to be the best).
More on business planning to come!