Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Solution in Search of a Problem?

I have found that all too often entrepreneurship is stereotyped from an almost exclusively business-minded stance. We frequently hear statements like:
It's not about the technology; it's about the sales.
So, how do you monetize that?
Ah, so you're a solution in search of a problem.
Well, no, not really. The problem with this sort of dismissal is that it presumes only one aspect of a venture is relevant, that only one sort of expertise is valid, and belittles the great diversity of other knowledge and skill sets as meaningless. It reminds me of the attitudes of many insecure academics, who seek to denigrate their colleagues in adjacent disciplines, because their respective specialties don't fully overlap.

It seems to me, we need each other to accomplish great things. It is true that one can make a lot of money without doing anything earth-shattering, and that without revenues even the greatest innovation may fail. It's akin to politics in that way: the best leadership is empty if your candidate isn't elected.

But entrepreneurship isn't simply about counting the money (that's for the Bernie Madoffs of the world). Entrepreneurship is about taking calculated risks to accomplish something greater as a result of your efforts than you started with.

No, I am not a solution in search of a problem; I am a technology in search of a business model. I am a game-changer is search of sustainability.

Would anyone today question the value of Pixar's innovations that Disney acquired for $7.4 billion in 2006? Was the company worth the $5 million that Steve Jobs paid Lucasfilms in 1986, or the subsequent $50 million he reportedly poured into it over a decade to keep it afloat before Toy Story was released?

Did Ed Catmull, who led the enterprise from it's origins at Alexander Shure's New York Institute of Technology beginning in 1974 start with an eye toward monetization and a solid business model? No, I think it's safe to say that for 22 years his principal aim was to solve the technical challenges that would enable a feature-length animated film to be rendered.

Thankfully, he expended his greatest effort in line with his talents, and left it to others, more skilled in the realm of sales and marketing, to work their magic there. Somehow, I can't imagine the marvels of CGI to ever have reached such lofty heights had it been otherwise.

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