Suggested Song: Sweet Emotion, Aerosmith
Suggested Drink: Passion Punch; light rum, dark rum, passion fruit, orange juice, sugar syrup

 On Entrepreneurship

BootsTen inventors and 40 students passed through another long and exhausting Sci-Tech Entrepreneurship Bootcamp at INSEAD last weekend. We start with a speed dating session on Friday afternoon between the student teams and external innovation projects and once paired up – typically 3-4 MBAs and 1 mad scientist per love-match – the newly formed teams start pounding out the core elements of workable business models.

Friday and Saturday evenings run to midnight or later, as each of the mock startups work through an endless series of assignments around value proposition, product design and evolution, IP and patent considerations, and customer discovery and market strategy, … and realizing that in this iterative process each business model decision impacts earlier assumptions, they return to the white board to reassess and redesign where necessary. Sunday is reserved for estimating cash needs to get their dreams across the finish line and how these will be funded, then on to presentations to investor judges. We finish by early evening, awards announced, photos taken, a big group hug, and everyone leaves exhilarated, tired, and ready for a serious cocktail.

The innovations under development through the weekend camp varied widely, from programmable antibiotics to hybrid tractors, autonomous robots to fiber composite wheels for aircraft. Through the course of a weekend my students – who lead the charge on the business model creation – tend to pass through Magill’s 5 stages of bootcamp emotion:

  1. Absorption, of what is often a complex and confusing underlying science.
  2. Exasperation, at first attempts at developing a sound and workable business model around it.
  3. Traction, when their growing understanding of the innovation’s capabilities and limitations coalesces with their knowledge of basic business planning.
  4. Exhilaration (or deflation), when the true market potential of their project starts to emerge.
  5. Realization, that the real work of validating all of the weekend assumptions and correcting course is just beginning.

I’m never disappointed by the flexibility, efficiency, and level of accomplishment on display by the business students and visiting scientists during these entrepreneurship bootcamps. Their ability to work together through the science, the business, and deciding what’s next, and often in some unpredictable mix of primary languages, is incredibly impressive and inspiring.

On Intérpreneurship

In early December I’ll give another 3 day workshop, what I call the Intérprize Accelerator, at the University of Aix-Marseille. While the entrepreneurship weekends center on the creation of compelling businesses that flourish and sustain, with an outward focus on external markets, my intérpreneurship sessions emphasize exciting life ambitions that inspire and endure, with an inward focus on personal achievement and self-realization.

The fundamental principals of both camps are largely similar: what is your project’s true value, what assets do you bring to its realization and where are the holes to be filled, who are your customers and in what format do they consume your project (some participants may want to become best-selling authors or artistic performers, others may want to start cafes or operate wineries, so the variance is as wide as in the recent entrepreneurship camp), is extra financing needed and where do you find it?

What is vastly different, however, is the added emphasis on wellness and balance. Without these things we quickly lose our bearings and the ability to execute effectively. The Intérprize Accelerator involves daily happy hours around concepts of positive psychology, and participants also get a 2-hour experiential session on the merits of meditation and yoga (or whatever your favorite physical outlet tends to be).

Mark Stock, Ponder
Mark Stock, Ponder

Like entrepreneurs, intérpreneurs most often start out passionate about their projects (more passionate possibly, given the deeply personal meaning of these aspirations), which yields to a more enlightened acceptance of the sober challenges involved. They pass through the same 5 stages highlighted above, then launch and optimize their models, or in some cases realize that not all dreams are attainable, at least in the form envisioned. This can be a painful discovery but one better arrived at early than late, after precious time and resources have been committed.

… a note on passion

We tumble hard sometimes, foolishly and obsessively. You meet someone and the world is suddenly brighter and more animated, colors are richer and more expressive, your heart beats faster. Irrational exuberance takes root and you know it, you feel it, but you can’t resist it, talking about her or him, repeating yourself, thinking of them, aching to see them again soon.

When you feel this way about your intérprize project something powerful is happening and you have tapped into something deeply meaningful that demands to be explored and exhausted. There is no option. As with our love lives, it all may come to nothing, but oh what sweet emotion while it lasts, while we still believe.

Bill Magill

Song suggestion: Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan
Drink suggestion: Creative Cocktails, from Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen

Creativity is the residue of time wasted. – Albert Einstein

He was sick of writing music, sick of playing music, sick of the whole music scene with the worshiping fans and hangers-on, sick of being the wise oracle and rambling troubadour of a generation, sick of everything and everyone associated with Bob Dylan, most of all sick of himself. After a grueling tour that ended in total burnout, he walked away from it all to become an author. He would be the secluded Emerson and Woodstock would be his Walden; a hermitage away from the chaotic and demanding world.

The irony behind Dylan’s nomadic escape in 1965 to his idyllic hide-away has been well documented: in this period of extreme fatigue and retreat from his craft the star composes his all-time biggest hit almost against his will. Dylan claimed to have vomited it out, that in his solitude at Woodstock he simply picked up the pen and wrote page after page for hours straight. It was if a ghost was guiding his hand. He didn’t care what it said and he didn’t care what it meant, he just wrote. Like a Rolling Stone was recorded a few weeks later and quickly broke the charts worldwide.

How does this happen? Why does this artist’s greatest inspiration erupt at the moment he’s trying hardest to avoid it? There are many similar cases explained in a new book titled “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” by Jonah Lehrer. According to Lehrer, there is indeed a biochemical explanation for Dylan’s creative outburst. I will spare us both the deep dive, but it involves alpha waves swarming the right hemisphere of the brain. When these waves flow more actively we tend to be more creative.  This has been observed and documented exhaustively through brain scans and creativity tests of all sorts, and the book lays them out in detail. It is a great read for those of you wanting a more thorough explanation.

So how do we stimulate our alpha waves? Surprisingly enough, it comes most organically by not trying hard, by removing ourselves from the stresses and excesses of deadlines and obligations. And this helps explain Dylan’s flash of inspiration. Out of the public lens and away from the demands of his agent and record company, he felt free for the first time in years to do absolutely nothing. In his calm the lyrics just burst out. This is not to diminish the role of deadlines, just don’t expect a flash of genius when laboring under them. When we are relaxed and our minds are free to wander we tend to have our most profound breakthroughs. Is this not true? Do your eureka moments come at the sterile office desk or under a warm shower head?

Lehrer goes on to explain that as a rule people are twice as creative in blue rooms versus red. Why the color effect? The going theory is that we associate red with danger, which makes us more alert and adept at attention to detail and accuracy, which is useful for solving math problems and finding spelling mistakes. On the other hand, blue recalls the expansive sky and ocean and opens up our imagination. Our minds unwind and we daydream more effortlessly. An increase in alpha wave activity can be observed when we think about calming scenes like passing clouds or a sandy beach, and as mentioned above, alpha waves are manna for our imagination.

Tech giants rely on a constant churn of creative new ideas to remain competitive (scratch that, to remain in business), and the most progressive amongst them architect “fun” campuses surrounded by trees, ponds, gardens; areas to wander and escape if only for an hour.  Ping pong tables and open air cafes abound. Just take a tour of Silicon Valley. When decided to build a new campus in San Francisco, the CEO announced that it would feature “fountains and pools, and large outdoor art pieces, (which are) intended to give physical evidence of’s philosophy of innovation.” Notice that he didn’t mention infinite rows of cubicles and free green eyeshades. Google employees have a 20% rule – 20% of one’s work week should be directed towards personal projects – and it’s hard to argue against Google’s creative output.

But greater invention through encouraged diversion was not a Google innovation. 3M has been pushing employees to not only think outside the box but get outside their heads since William McKnight took the helm back in the Depression Era. A company that generates a third of its revenues each year from new products needs A LOT of creative ideas. It was the first to mandate a daily “bootleg hour” for free thinking, and 3Mers are encouraged to remove themselves from their work, take walks on the Minneapolis campus, sit by a sunny window, daydream, play pinball, find escape. A list of their gifts to the world is astounding –scotch tape and post-it notes barely scratch the surface – and a fascinating read on the company and how it fosters creativity can be found here.

Why care about maximizing our creativity? For those of us passing through a re-invention phase at mid-life, creative thinking is required. That was then, what is next? Often, “next” is simply an extension of “then” with a new paint job and speed limiter on the throttle. Not a problem. But if Dylan’s loathing for the acoustic troubadour finds some resonance with your own situation, if you seek a more fundamental redesign and new ambitious tangent, then creative thinking without limitation is Step 1. Lehrer’s book provides a variety of insights on how to spark our creative sides, built on his mountain of research and observations. When aligning these with my own interest in personal development, I boiled the list down to 5 key dynamics:

  1. Setting. To increase alpha wave flow and boost creativity one needs to relax and release the tensions; this is known. Corporations who profit from creative ideas know that inspiration strikes more commonly while employees are on a long walk, relaxing by a pond, or perhaps getting a massage. My home town of Aix-en-Provence is a perfect location for finding zen. When I’m stumped and the gears won’t engage, a stroll down the broad Cours Mirabeau, under the leafy elms and past the cafes, often helps get past the block. I find that an early morning jog, before the city awakes and while the neighborhoods are still quite, is also helpful. I hear little and feel only the rhythm of my breathing, the tempo of my pace. The mind is calm and I can think clearly.
  2. Color. Work in a room with cooler colors, or better yet under the grand expanse of the sky. Blue has a positive correlation with enhanced creativity and helpful for establishing the relaxed setting mentioned in the previous bullet. Again I am lucky. Provence has over 300 days of sunshine per year on average. Lots of blue sky. How about you? Need a change of venue?
  3. Attitude. Fear of failure binds the imagination and limits our creativity. Indifference to criticism permits us to push into new and unknown territory.  To get their creative juices flowing, actors at Second City – the famous American comedy troupe – engage in a pre-performance ritual that involves humiliation in front of the other troupe members (they make loud burp and farting sounds, admit to intimate and embarrassing recent situations) to remove any inhibitions before going on stage. They claim that it removes the limitations that could hamper their ability to improvise and create effectively.
    Lehrer discusses “outsider status” as a particular fear for many of us. But newcomers to a field often bring its most disruptive ideas, whether it is in art, science, food, or other. Why are young people the most prolific inventors and groundbreakers? Because they know the least and tend to be the most fearless. Getting older doesn’t preclude us from imagining quixotic adventures, for pursuing our true passions, but it takes a greater effort to get through our learned limitations.
  4. Escape: We can escape both into ourselves and out to the wider world. And both are effective at stoking the creative flame according to Lehrer. Daydreaming is particularly good at letting our minds drift without bound. Certain parts of the brain interact directly only during daydreams, and in parallel with an increase in alpha wave activity. Disciplined daydreaming (that term almost takes the fun out of it) requires setting aside time for zen-like moments each day. By the way, I was encouraged to read that having a drink at the end of the day is an excellent way to induce mind-wandering!
    Likewise, being thrown into new environments is a challenge that forces us to think resourcefully. People who live abroad are better at solving creative problems (based on 2009 study by INSEAD and Kellogg School of Management). The assumed reason is that living abroad forces one to be flexible and think with an open mind, which transfers to other tasks and challenges as well. Even if a move is not possible, a stay beyond the typical 1-2 week holiday span is suggested.
  5. Emotion: Get happy, because as with the color blue, happiness and creativity are closely linked (interestingly enough, depression is also shown to stimulate the imagination, but I will not condone being miserable). Getting happy is easy to suggest of course, not always easy to realize. The other 4 recommendations on the list help establish positive emotion: finding a relaxing setting with calm colors, agreeing not to be bowed by others’ judgments (or our own), giving ourselves permission to “waste” time with daydreams, and challenging ourselves to thrive in new environments. I find that living in Aix-en-Provence doesn’t hurt.

I am always interested in readers’ comments about the themes explored in these postcards. If you have developed ways of getting the creative juices flowing I would love to hear about them.

Bill Magill

Suggested Song: What do You Want From Life, The Tubes
Suggested Drink: a light and fruity sangria

It has been a fun but long few weeks of business travel and tumbles into personal time sinks. A more gifted writer would have managed to keep the pen active, late nights or early mornings. I’ll blame the past month’s inactivity on my twins, who arrived in May and have been soaking up all spare minutes, blissfully. We’ve been dogged in our search for the best café in town serving one round of drinks – defined as a peach syrup (Stella), Coke (Shane), and tap beer (me) – for less than 6 euros. Happy hour at the Café du Palais, conveniently located just a block from our flat, has not yet been bested. There have also been more than a few laps around the Monopoly board since May. We love this French version with Paris properties like Avenue des Champs-Elysees and Boulevard Saint Michel. Fun times.

It is summer in Provence and this or that friend has been finding his or her way to Aix for a sun-kissed week or two.  After a full day of local exploring under cloudless skies and the summer heat, returning to my place for cool aperos and a late lingering dinner is the usual plan. And lingering we do. Case in point, this past Thursday we started with appetizers of green olives wrapped in anchovies and marinated in olive oil (spotted at the morning marché, I couldn’t resist) and melon wedges wrapped in prosciutto. Local Cavaillon melons, considered by many to be the best in France, are peaking now, and the fruit stands are abuzz with honeybees, drawn by their sweet perfume. For drinks we had the choice of pastis over ice, a Provence rosé, or a fizzy artisanal lemonade that my kids discovered and love. The apartment has no air-conditioning, so to avoid the kitchen oven I decided on an impromptu salade niçoise for the main course, with a mesclun mix, ripe heirloom tomato wedges, green beans and small potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, onion and pepper slices (both red), local black olives, and seared tuna strips. All were marinated in a vinaigrette of olive oil, white wine vinegar, crushed garlic, mustard and lemon. My neighborhood sommelier Yves of Cave d’Yves had suggested a white wine from Cassis, a small village on the Mediterranean coast, which was the perfect accompaniment. No French dinner is complete without a cheese plate, and we went with wedges of Pyrenees, Tomme de Savoie, and a blue (but not Roquefort, and I wish I had written the name) that was both creamy and intense. But the evening highlight was prepared by my daughter Stella, who filled high-ball glasses with cut ripe strawberries and apricots, bathed them in orange juice and topped the cocktail with whipped cream. Sweet dreams.

My June was a month of events around the theme of entrepreneurship. We had a Global Entrepreneurship Forum at INSEAD where I teach, some colleagues and I met with an EC commissioner in Brussels to discuss entrepreneurship’s role in economic growth, and I spent a week participating in BizBarcelona, an innovation forum that brought together aspiring entrepreneurs and early-stage investors from around the globe. BizBarcelona is a fun annual event that offers more than the usual format of speakers and panel discussions (it has those too).  With a focus on “speed dating” and investor/investee networking, the forum gives me the chance every June to meet dozens of interesting people developing brilliantly creative ideas. And it’s in Barcelona; Gaudi and sangria and in this author’s opinion the yummiest small-plates gastronomy on the planet.

The innovations being promoted at this year’s forum ranged from novel energy storage devices and printable batteries to next-gen women’s shoes (taking the pain out of fashion) and intelligent contact lenses for glaucoma sufferers. A favorite of mine was smart-phone games for children with autism and other developmental challenges. The passion that drives these entrepreneurs to invest long hours and days and months and every family centime to realize their ambitions is in a word inspiring. Was the next Edison, Gates or Zuckerberg at the show this year? Impossible to say, but some of the attending hopefuls will certainly flourish and develop their ideas into impressive start-ups. Also as certainly many will fail.

Readers of this blog know my fixation in the ideals of personal fulfillment, self-realization and self-determination as one passes through the membrane of mid-life. These same ideals induce entrepreneurs to work impossibly long hours for little pay and great risk to the family treasury for the uncertain (many would say unlikely) possibility of creating a successful company. In fact, most start-up companies fail. Still, the possibility of building something truly great and under one’s own design and direction motivates entrepreneurs to disregard the odds and press hard ahead.

Inspiring is the word I chose earlier. Indeed they are, and can inspire us to pursue these ideals of fulfillment and achievement in our post-50 years, similarly excited by the possibilities but exposed to the uncertain outcome of our pursuits. Business entrepreneurs measure success mainly by the market demand for their ideas. With social entrepreneurship, a more recent phenomenon, success is measured as equally by the ability to make a sustainable impact on the customers’ qualities of life, most often in the developing world. In both categories the efforts direct outward, at the end users of these products and services.

We spiritual entrepreneurs face inward, focused on the creation and development of our individual talents and abilities. As with our distant cousins above, we are energized by the possibility to conceive something deeply meaningful and under our own design, but the platform for realization is personal development, not product development. The spiritual entrepreneur’s energies target positive engagement with life, not markets (although the 2 are not mutually exclusive). Perhaps most critically, we share an allergy to the mundane, the routine, and the rust that settles in when we coast and the gears stop spinning.

To be clear, the “spirit” in spiritual entrepreneurship must be self-defined and not affiliated with religion in general or for that matter any specific belief system, other than a deep commitment to and belief in one self.

I am intrigued by this concept of spiritual entrepreneurship and will write more on it in the coming months. I would be interested to know how you define the term, what traits are common across the cohort, …and if you are joining us for the anchovies and olives.

Bill Magill

Postscript: I first heard the term “spiritual entrepreneur” coined by Dipak Jain, the new dean at INSEAD, during his keynote speech at a forum on entrepreneurship this summer. Dipak is a more elegant speaker than I am writer and I wasn’t taking notes, but his point was essentially this: if the past 50 years were marked by the rise of the business entrepreneur – Bill Gates v1 – and the past 10 by the emergence of social impact entrepreneurship – Bill Gates v2 (with wife Melinda) – then the first ripple of a wave of spiritual entrepreneurship – a focus on individual development to attain more meaningful personal fulfillment, and through this a deeper engagement with the world around us – is appearing now. Amen.