Author Archive

Want to be creative? Think like a genius!

Posted: February 26, 2012 by John Clarkin in Innovation, People, Planning, Startup

Last fall, my colleague Joe Carter published an article titles “There Really Are No New Ideas in the World.”  (Check it out at In it, he concluded that the ability to be creative is a learned process, and presented an overview of Murray’s “Six Steps to Business Innovation” as a process that can help spark new venture creation.  Joe’s article recognized that successful businesses are borne out of feasible opportunities, and that opportunities often begin life as ideas in the minds of creative entrepreneurs.  So, how do entrepreneurs think?

According to Michael Gerber, author of E-Myth Revisited, all great entrepreneurs are systems thinkers, ones who view their employees and associates as operators of the system.  Rhonda Abrams, author of Passion to Profits, says you have to think out of the box, think of change as something to embrace, and not to think of failure as failure.  While helpful, I would like to share some cues from a man whose genius is still respected worldwide 500 years after his death.

Like many of today’s entrepreneurs, Leonardo da Vinci came from humble beginnings.  He was the illegitimate son of a notary and a peasant girl, grew up in a small town, and employed as an apprentice in a workshop until he went out on his own.  The year was 1477, fifteen years before Columbus discovered America and more than 250 years before economist Richard Cantillon first use of the word entrepreneur.   Many viewed him as a misfit; working left-handed at a time when left-handedness was viewed as the devil’s work, and a strict vegetarian who would often buy caged animals at the market just to set them free. He was involved in so many different projects that he typically failed to finish what he had started and just went on to the next exciting endeavor.  Although he is best known for his art, Leonardo recorded his way of thinking in his meticulous notes, many of which are used today to help individuals and organizations innovate through creative thought.

In his book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, Michael Gelb presented seven steps to genius every day, all based on the writings of Leonardo.  I think these are valuable lessons for today’s and tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.  The first step in the process is curiosity (curiosita), an approach to thinking about life with insatiable curiosity and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning. The business boneyard is littered with companies started by smart people who began with a good idea, and then stopped learning at some point.

How does a person assess and improve their level of curiosita?  Do these statements describe you? True or false:

☐ My friends would describe me as open-minded & curious.

☐ I am always learning something new.

☐ I seek out new perspectives when facing an important decision.

☐ I take adequate time for reflection.

☐ I am a voracious reader.

☐ When I hear a new word, I always look it up.

☐ I solicit feedback from friends, relations & colleagues.

☐ I love learning.

☐ I am skilled at identifying and solving problems.

☐ I keep a journal to record insights and questions.

Your answers will reveal your present level of curiosity and some areas where there is room for improvement.  Want to be more creative and innovative? The first step of thinking like a genius begins with curiosity.

Creating an Enchanting Business Plan

Posted: January 22, 2012 by John Clarkin in Money, Planning, Startup

This is an exciting week for Cincinnati. Four universities will compete in the NKU “Reality Check” Undergraduate Business Plan Competition. Ten teams have submitted entries and will present on Friday, January 27, 2012 in the NKU Ballroom. Guy Kawasaki, founder of and author of many books will give a SkypeNote address live from Palo Alto, California at noontime.  Guy is the master mentor of helping startups communicate their ideas to investors. Here’s a blog from Guy Kawasaki about building a plan that enchants readers.

Creating an Enchanting Business Plan

By Guy Kawasaki

Think of your pitch as an outline, and a business plan as the full text. (How many people write the full text and then write the outline?) The more you pitch, the better your outline and the better your outline, the better the plan. After you perfect your pitch, then start writing the business plan. At a high level, here are some tips for writing an enchanting business plan:

  1. Write for all the right reasons. Most people write business plans to attract investors, but most venture capitalists have made a “gut level” go/no go decision during the PowerPoint pitch. Receiving (and possibly reading) the business plan is mostly a mechanical step in due diligence. The more important reason to write a business plan, whether you are raising money or not, is to force the management team to solidify its objectives (what), strategies (how), and tactics (when, where, who). Even if you have all the capital in the world, you should still write a business plan. Indeed, this may be especially true because too much money usually causes sloppy and lazy thinking. (more…)

Startup Genome

Posted: December 4, 2011 by John Clarkin in Ecosystem, People, Startup

Ge-nome (noun): all the inheritable traits of an organism.

 When the word genome is used to study humans, it includes all of the genetic information inside and outside the nucleus of our cells, and all of the hereditary material related to our organism.  In Greek, genome means, “I become, I am born” or “to come into being.”  The word came into use in the 1930s as scientists began to study genetics and the set of human chromosomes in an attempt to crack the code of human evolution.

Earlier this year, a group of Silicon Valley researchers took this scientific approach to entrepreneurship in what they called “The first step in cracking the innovation code.”  They examined the drivers of entrepreneurial performance, looking at 650 young Internet companies for patterns in successful startups.  They looked for answers to the question “What makes Silicon Valley startups successful”?

The Startup Genome Project tracked startups moving through a lifecycle of four initial stages:

  1. Discovery: In this stage, startups determine whether they are really solving a meaningful problem and whether anybody is interested in their solution.  Events include founding team formation, value proposition formulation, creating viable products, friends and family financing, and the first mentors & advisors come on board. Startups typically spend 5-7 months in this stage.
  2. Validation: Startups get validation that people are interested in their product through the exchange of money or attention. Events include refinement of product features, revenues realized, seed funding secured, first key hires made, and validation of the product market fit is established.  Most startups spend 3-5 months in validation.
  3. Efficiency: In this stage, startups refine their business model and improve efficiency in their customer acquisition process. During the 5-6 months most spend in this stage, startups refine their value proposition, overhaul their user experience, achieve viral growth, and discovery of repeatable sales processes and scalable customer acquisition channels.
  4. Scale: This stage is where startups step on the gas pedal, and very aggressively drive growth.  Events include “A Round” financing, massive customer acquisition, back-end scalability improvements, first executive hires, and process implementations over an average 7-9 month time frame.


Innovation or Invention?

Posted: October 30, 2011 by John Clarkin in Innovation, Technology

Hardly a week goes by without someone talking about innovation and innovative ways of solving problems.  There are Innovation Summits, Innovation blogs, and countless ad campaigns by companies who claim to be innovative.  But what does the word innovation mean?  Considering the recent death of Steve Jobs, widely recognized as one of the greatest innovators of our time, it might be worth exploring what innovation is and what it isn’t.

I think Webster’s dictionary has it wrong.  Look up the word “innovation” and the definition states “the introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device.”  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the synonyms for innovation is “invention.”  There is an important difference between an invention and an innovation, a difference that is often overlooked.


Startup DNA

Posted: September 18, 2011 by John Clarkin in Innovation, People, Startup

What makes entrepreneurs different from other people?  Is it some character trait (or flaw)?  Is it something related to behavior, or is it how they think?  These are questions that have been asked countless times in surveys conducted throughout the world.  Imagine for a moment that we could get a sample of 100 million people, locate those that founded companies over the past 10 years, and explore elements of their backgrounds such as their age, where they live, where they worked, and where they were educated.  That’s exactly what Monica Rogati did.

 Rogati is a Senior Data Analyst at LinkedIn, and she presented the findings of her “Sequencing the Startup DNA” study at Startup Fest 2011 in Montreal in July.  The study revealed some interesting patterns in the education, experience, and threads that link the careers of more than 13,000 entrepreneurs.  Although some of the findings were not surprising, such as the disproportionate amount of startup activity in California and Massachusetts, some results reveal interesting differences from earlier studies of entrepreneurs.


E- Wannabe

Posted: August 22, 2011 by John Clarkin in Innovation, People, Planning, Startup

Why would anyone not want to be an entrepreneur? Many entrepreneurs make a fortune before they reach the age of 30, government agencies are created to help them, and politicians design policies to encourage them. College students enroll in classes to learn how to become an entrepreneur, in the hope of joining others in today’s Hall of Fame for business. It seems that everyone (including this group of authors) wants to write about them, hear more about them, and celebrate them. You can find many entrepreneurial tales on our website,!  What’s not to like about being an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs get media attention for their successes, while press coverage of corporate executives is often limited to testimonies before Congress. Gone are the days when the CEOs of GM, GE, and Exxon represented the face of American business. Larry Page and Sergy Brin (Google), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jack Dorsey (Twitter), and Steve Jobs (Apple) have replaced Roger Smith (GM), Jack Welch (GE), and Rex Tillerson (Exxon/Mobil) as the icons of American business today. What do we know about entrepreneurs and the businesses they create?