Among several upcoming forums on innovation and entrepreneurship, one in particular caught my eye since it’s expected to draw some 1,500 attendees to New York City next month. This got me to thinking about how anxious people are these days to learn the secrets of coming up with marketable and potentially lucrative new ideas – especially in an economy that offers so little in the way of job security.
Having spent the better part of my career as both an innovator and entrepreneur with varying degrees of success, I feel qualified to offer some advice of my own to those who are in search of the ‘holy grail’ that will at least assure them of a sound and reliable income, if not fortune and fame.
I like to think of this as my “Hoop Dreams” metaphor, because if my entrepreneurial experiences have taught me nothing else, they’ve made me realize just how much running with an idea resembles playing basketball. The similarity of these pursuits (which became particularly apparent to me after a friend gave me a courtside ticket to a Lakers-Spurs game in the recent NBA Playoffs) lies in the fact that both require the ability to move fast, assess the response, and pivot – the simple definition of which is to rotate, revolve and turn – again and again, until, sooner or later, you find yourself in the right position to score (or else to pass the ball to a teammate who’s in a better position to do so).
Assuming that the idea you have in mind has some basic potential, just as a basketball player must have some degree of athletic ability and coordination to start with, what matters most is not so much the concept itself, but not being afraid to test and retest it, to keep tinkering with it, perhaps trying one approach, then another, and continually readjusting what you’re doing. Or to proceed with even just half an idea and seeing whether it can be transformed into a solid proposition through trial and error, rather than planning and PowerPoints.
Ask any innovator or entrepreneur whose venture has succeeded, and they will tell you their success didn’t come automatically, but was a continual process requiring both perseverance and flexibility. However, once you’ve mastered the art of putting yourself and your product or service out there, objectively observing the reaction and pivoting accordingly, your chances of becoming a champion will have increased immensely.
The ability to pivot in this manner shouldn’t just be limited to the process of turning a vision into an actual venture, but extend well beyond the launch. That could mean having to stand up to investors, employees or even friends who might question any strategic or tactical change. But, like the guy in the basketball jersey, you’re the one who’s out there on the court, having to continually rotate, revolve and turn as circumstances dictate — and occasionally tune out the boos from disapproving fans.
To that advice, there are a couple points I would add: be sure to give yourself enough room to maneuver, meaning sufficient time to continually test your product or service and react accordingly, and always remember to enjoy the game – to make it a ‘fun one’, no matter what the score. And one more thing: don’t settle for what you know is a mediocre or second-rate result, but always give it your best shot. That is, if you really hope to achieve your ‘Hoop Dream.”