Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Don't Be Hasty: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Ents

The ancient character of Treebeard the Ent in J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings" is constitutionally averse to haste: "Do not be hasty, that is my motto." Much of the popular notion of entrepreneurship, and seemingly that most valued and promulgated by some investors, is one of rush, speed, first-to-market, quick-to-exit.

What percentage of that sort of entrepreneur survives long enough to actually succeed? And by what means is success measured? These are relevant questions for someone who has decided to forego the comforts of relative certainty that seem to be the aim of getting a job. [I demur on this point, as I've little experience in my 44 years of getting or keeping what might be construed as a typical 9-5 job.]

Before rushing headlong into any plan of action, I seek to know: What are my motivations? What is it I seek to accomplish? What is the point of it all? The answers to those questions should help to clarify when and where haste is warranted or to be avoided. If the goal is to produce something lasting and sustainable, to propel true innovation, rather than superficial repackaging, then endurance may often trump haste.

I was recently pushed by a potential investor to provide a quick demo for some capabilities we are developing. I have utmost confidence that we can deliver, but the time scale is likely beyond his expectation. In the next breath, he explained that a partner of his believes he had worked on "the same thing twenty years ago". Really? I thought.

How incongruous that someone could believe that time is of the essence, and yet argue that two decade old failed attempts to develop a technology (that is completely absent from present offerings, but could revolutionize the field) could somehow forestall our efforts.

For now, I'm happy to put the Ent back into entrepreneur.