Sunday, June 13, 2010

Entrepreneurship Lessons from Seinfeld

I have always been a great fan of Cosmo Kramer in Seinfeld, and now I know why. But before I get into that, I would like to start this post by repeating a question that is on our collective minds these days:


Has no one ever really thought about a solution to this kind of problem? Not even someone at BP? It is hard to believe that this is such a mystery, especially when you compare this problem to so many other, much more complex obstacles that mankind has been able to overcome with flying colors (say, putting a functioning robot on Mars as an example!), not to mention the fact that even celebrities (e.g., James Cameron) seem to have their version of the solution to this problem these days. And when you put all that together with the fact that BP has almost infinite resources as the fourth largest company in the world (prior to this accident), things don't quite add up...

Anyhow, this Gulf oil spill crisis reminds me of one of my main takeaways from my experience in the venture capital world: That there is a BIG difference between an inventor and an entrepreneur, and that the valley between innovation and entrepreneurship is filled with the rotting corpses of innumerable great ideas that never see the light of the day.

I am convinced that the proverbial "mad scientist" dwells in the minds of each and every one of us, and although our innovative scientist comes up with great solutions to everyday problems as we encounter them, most of us rarely ever do anything about them. And the same exact phenomenon happens all over the world in academia, corporations, startups, governments, oil companies... you name it! People constantly come up with great ideas, and those ideas are soon shelved (or less affably, tossed) in the circular file.

Given this overabundance of brilliant ideas, the question really becomes Why aren't these solutions put into practice, productized, or mass marketed? Just like the Gulf oil spill, there are so many "unsolved" problems out there, and the solutions aren't there not because no one has figured out the solution in their head/lab/company/department, but because no one has so far effectively executed on the solution.  It is one thing to innovate and to find the answer to a problem, but it is a completely different thing to breathe life into that innovation and to bring it to the market, which is the essence of what we call "entrepreneurship".

In that sense, Seinfeld's Kramer was a true entrepreneur despite his crazy ideas (remember, he actually made his Coffee Table Coffee Book and it eventually became a movie!), whereas the main character, Jerry Seinfeld, was at best a mere innovator, with tons of opinions and brilliant insights into everyday problems, but never really doing much of anything about any thing (but I suppose we can forgive him, as he was just a comedian after all).

The Gulf oil spill tragedy, and many other everyday tragedies resulting from unsolved questions, is symptomatic of the fact that as a society we have put so much more emphasis on innovation to the detriment of entrepreneurship (see, even the show was called "Seinfeld" and not "Kramer", as I would have liked it!). There is constant talk of promoting R&D, or a "culture of innovation" at all levels of government and corporations worldwide, but FAR LESS resources, time and money is spent on promoting a "culture of entrepreneurship": For example, a simple google search for "culture of entrepreneurship" returns barely 200,000 results, whereas "culture of innovation" returns over 1.5 million results; Or consider the fact that we have volumes of laws that protect innovators' rights (aka Patents), but can you point me to any law that tries to protect entrepreneurs? And some laws that even try to come close to promoting entrepreneurship (e.g., Startup Visa) face fierce opposition in legislative bodies for some unknown reason; and the list goes on...

I think it is about time that as a society we start giving entrepreneurship its due, if we really care to have effective solutions to our problems. What do you think?