“I’m a big believer that when someone succeeds, and even when others fail, they want to raise the bar. When the busts come, people will leave, people will say ‘I told you so.’ And then things happen.”
Too many business books, especially those written by successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs, are self-referential and have no practical use for the reader. A managing director of McKinsey once categorized these books as being about, “how you can be more like me.” What a refreshing experience to read Crazy Is a Compliment, a unique contribution that combines remarkable lessons about what it takes to build an enterprise from scratch, as well as how entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are capable of solving real-world problems. In fact, small enterprises often succeed where top-down government and large institutions fail.
Linda Rottenberg’s new book is remarkable because it is based on her work with 600 fast-growing companies, which her business network Endeavor has been supporting and advising since 1997. She describes the need for entrepreneurship and offers intriguing ways to build new business ventures as startups or within existing organizations.
“Pretending your job is safe and your company is stable leaves you dangerously exposed. If you think risk taking is risky, being risk averse is often riskier.”
This is a concern for all of us, whether our credit unions are large or small. “Most of the world’s CEOs realize they have to disrupt their own organizations before others beat them to it,” Rottenberg writes. However, trying something new and being disruptive means challenging the status quo, powerful incumbents and group think. And sometimes those movers and shakers are seen as being crazy. Rottenberg notes: “Almost all world changers at one point or another have been accused of being out of their minds.”
Crazy Is a Compliment tells the stories of some of the amazing entrepreneurs in Rottenberg’s network – from young tech giants like Wences Casares, who came from a sheep herding community in Patagonia to build the first major online financial portal in Latin America. His company, Xapo, is now one of the most interesting companies working in Bitcoin. Rottenberg tells stories of some of the great American icons. But she also tells us amazing, against-the-odds stories like the story of Leila Velez, who grew up in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro where she grew one beauty salon into a chain that employs over 3,000 people and earns $100 million in revenue across Brazil – and soon beyond.
What prevents more of us branching out and taking greater commercial risk? A colleague of Rottenberg calls it the “pre-Bannister mistake,” the epitome of self-limitation. Before Sir Roger Bannister broke the four- minute barrier for running a mile in 1954, no one thought a human was capable of this feat. But three years later 16 runners had done it. Your dreams may be “crazy” but they may also be worth shooting for.
Along with her own partners’ stories, the author points to other well known “crazy” successes with important lessons. Sara Blakely launched her Spanx underwear business, with its “Don’t worry, we’ve got your butt covered” slogan, after being rejected as totally misguided by everyone in the industry. She pressed on regardless.
Sir Richard Branson told an Endeavor conference that Virgin Cola had been a mistake, but it was a contained disaster. “Make sure a single failure won’t ruin everything,” Branson advised. Bad times offer opportunities.
Experimentation is also vital. Rottenberg suggests entrepreneurs should “minnovate” – take many small steps.
Stand out from the crowd, she says, and be ready to be rebuffed: “If they don’t call you crazy, you aren’t thinking big enough.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of hope,” she once said to me. “I’m a big believer that when someone succeeds, and even when others fail, they want to raise the bar.” She has learned from her experience and in any part of the world that there are countless committed, talented, and dedicated people who know their region, know its issues, and understand its opportunity. They are willing to roll up their sleeves, take on their scars, build, and mentor others. “An ecosystem comes from this. Big things happen.” There will be booms, and there will be crashes. Irrational exuberance can quickly become irrational depression. “When the busts come, people will leave, people will say ‘I told you so,’” she smiles. “And then things happen.”