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5 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Need More Than Just An Idea and a Plan | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
December 11, 2017
Stock photo of people standing at a business meeting alongside the title of this blog

In an interesting article, John Cleese, the famous comedian, makes a case for creativity (Star Tribune, 2/17/16; page D1). Since this is in the business section of the newspaper, I am assuming the intent is to convince entrepreneurs, business owners, corporate employees, managers and executives to become creative to succeed.

But there seems to be a major assumption here. Just because it worked for Cleese in comedy does it mean that it will also work for people in business?

If you are an entrepreneur or a new-business executive, should you seek creativity or competence? Or both? And if both, which is more important?

I think Cleese is a good comedian. But before you listen to Cleese and become creative, consider the following.

Can your brilliant (and we expect nothing less) idea be copied?

If so, how long will it take? If patented, is there a way around the patent? If your competitors are large and have more resources and attorneys, or are in countries that don’t respect American intellectual assets, will they violate your patents and challenge you to spend the money to sue them in court? The reality is that most innovations can be copied, and most first-movers aren’t the final winners. If you are more competent than your competitors, you may be able to imitate, improve and win. And if you are not, creativity may not help you.

Does your idea have a market with paying customers?

Even if you have developed the best, “first-mover” idea, is the market ready for your product? Being ahead of the market is not great comfort when you fail and others pick up the baton and cross the finish line with the right segment and better timing.

Does your idea have long-term legs?

Innovating a fad means that you need to make your money fast and exit faster. Otherwise, you could end up with useless products or assets that are tough to unload. That is one reason why fashion is fleeting, and the person who has dominated fashion is Amancio Ortega, who created Zara and who has a world-class distribution and retail system, and improves upon great new designs — often from others. This means he specializes in competence more than innovation.

What will it take to make your idea a reality?

What skills do you need to launch your business, do better than your competitors and dominate your industry? Is your idea alone enough? What do you need to find the right market and satisfy their needs and stay competitive and succeed? These skills have more to do with competence, not innovation.

What is needed to make the business a success?

Do you need to know how to build and manage a business? One reason why only 11 percent of first-movers dominate is that it takes more than just an idea to succeed. You need more than creativity and a business plan. You need skills. You need competence. You need to dominate your competition. Otherwise, you may fail.

MY TAKE: Edison noted that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. I read this as one percent innovation and 99 percent competence. Today, innovation is the hot topic. Skills and competence should be valued more. Great entrepreneurs like Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg used others' ideas and built great companies with skills and competence. Students should be encouraged to learn practical skills to run all aspects of a business from startup to domination, not just “out-of-the-box” thinking. Learn sales, not just marketing. Even great innovations need to be sold. Earl Bakken, who co-founded Medtronic and innovated by developing the world’s first cardiac pacemaker, found that just inventing the pacemaker was not enough. To get the modern-day, medical electronics industry going, he and his partner had to learn how to sell them to physicians. So become competent, imitate and improve.

Dr. Dileep Rao has more than 20 years of experiencing financing businesses and ventures using venture capital, leases, debt and subordinated debt. He also bought and turned around several companies. Since retiring, he has been writing, teaching, and hopefully thinking. He has also interviewed extremely successful entrepreneurs such as Glen Taylor and Bob Kierllin. Currently, he is writing books about how to build giant businesses without capital. Dr. Rao teaches in the Master of Science in Management of Technology degree program.

This article was originally written for Forbes, and republished with the author's consent.

About the Author

Photo of Dr. Dileep Rao

Dileep Rao, PhD

TLI Faculty

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