Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Driven by frustration

BBC’s Business Daily discussed Entrepreneurship in their end-of-2010 episode, its intriguing to step back and think about what it takes to succeed as one.  Brent Hoberman, co-founder of, gave the best perspectives, covering the roles of start-ups in the economy, sources of funding and mentoring, and the qualities that founders must have.  The ideal traits are not surprising: courage, creativity, persistence, confidence, bold, focused, dedicated, competitive, passionate, obsessive, tenacious…

and Frustrated.

It wasn’t a trait I would have picked, but he spoke convincingly of  the way entrepreneurs say “I can do it better”, “I can fix this”,  “It’s not that hard”.

A friend called last night to ask why I didn’t apply for a job that seemed to tick all of the boxes of my past experience.  It’s because I’ve moved beyond my past experiences. Why would you do that? Because I was frustrated.

Ten years ago I was a research director for a wonderful medical products company: great staff, worthwhile products, I enjoyed coming in every morning.  And our projects succeeded, so much so that the pipeline to development clogged and the manager called a halt to research investment.  A sound financial decision, but an unfortunate human one: people left, knowledge was lost, projects died.  Within two years, nothing was left.

I took a sabbatical to get my business degree to become a better innovation manager.  What I found was that I needed to be a business manager, thinking about markets, investment,  customers, and value.  So, upon graduating, I took an expat position as part of a general management team for another medical products company.

Again, ‘larger considerations’ and ‘the good of the business’ led to closure of our successful division and dispersal of people.  Frustration: here was talent, resources, distribution channels, a brand that should have succeeded at commercializing home-grown innovation, but couldn’t.

“I can fix this: I can do it better”.   it was a matter of scale, of leverage, of networks, of building something fresh and successful.  Of entrepreneurship.

Okay, weirdly, in the Netherlands, but that’s a detail.

frustrationSo I do agree that frustration was the essential spark for me.  With the ideas funnel, with dogs and cows, with the star system, with Good to Great.  (interesting to contemplate whether something similar motivates expats).

But only the spark.  Passion and talent still have to be there to go beyond first-step commitment, on to fulfill a dream in a free-market environment.  Passion, and persistence.

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