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The Creator’s Code: simple truths from complex data

The Creator's Code: The six essential skills of extraordinary entrepreneursMany business books tell the story of how one man (and it usually is a man) built a successful business and the lessons he learned on the way. Nothing wrong with that, but if you want something more universally applicable, then this week’s Extraordinary Business Book is right up your street.

Amy Wilkinson spent five years at Harvard identifying and interviewing ‘high-scale, high-impact entrepreneurs’: men and women who’d taken their companies from zero to over $100m annual turnover in less than ten years, and had been around for not less than five years (ie no flash-in-the-pan types). She then used a rigorous grounded-theory approach to analyse the data and distil from it six surprisingly simple principles that were common to them all, and which you can use today to scale up your own business.

And, thankfully, she did it not in a dense scholarly paper, but in a hugely readable 300-page book.

The Creator’s Code

She calls it The Creator’s Code. Here are the principles, or essential skills, that she uncovered:

  1. Find the gap – stay curious, spot the opportunity, think creatively.
  2. Drive for daylight – keep your focus on the horizon, not on those jostling alongside you or the constraints of the industry as it is.
  3. Fly the OODA loop – OODA comes from the US fighter pilot technique: observe, orient, decide, and act. Be agile, keep the decision loops short, iterate frequently and continually update your assumptions.
  4. Fail wisely – allowing for small mistakes in your planning helps avoid much bigger ones, and also helps you learn and become more resilient.
  5. Network minds – nobody has all the ideas, and nobody builds a business alone. Successful entrepreneurs reach out to embrace different skills and perspectives and make collaboration – even with potential competitors – a way of life.
  6. Gift small goods – this is my favourite. In a transparent, networked world, being seen to be generous and helping others comes back to help you, since it brings you information, talent and trust. Acting with kindness and integrity has always been the right thing to do but many in business saw it as a luxury the couldn’t afford, or even a weakness: ‘Nice guys finish last.’ Turns out today it’s actually a key source of competitive advantage.

Simple takes time

This is a particularly skilful writer’s trick: to take a massive amount of complex data and draw out from it something simple and intuitive. It takes time, but it’s incredibly valuable both for you as the writer and for your readers. As Steve Jobs said:

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

I asked Amy about the key insights that had emerged for her as she wrote the book, apart from the six principles themselves. It was simultaneously encouraging and depressing to hear her immediate answer: just how much time and effort it takes to write a worthwhile book.

“When we read stories about entrepreneurs and authors, same thing, we think, ‘Oh! They just sat down, and their pens started flowing, and it was just a beautiful endeavour,’ or, ‘They just came up with this great idea, and the next day, someone wanted to fund it, and the next day, it was a global success.’ In fact, it’s not that way. It takes a lot of hard work…

It’s difficult to be a first timer in any field, really. You talk to people that are first timers in writing books, in starting companies, first-time professors, first-time doctors that are just getting started, first-time lawyers. Everyone is learning and growing, and it takes a lot of energy, and effort, and focus, and it takes some time. The thing about the modern economy is that we are all beginners all the time.”

So if you’re feeling stuck with your business or your book or both, take heart: keep going with the energy and effort and focus, give it time, and try incorporating those six principles into your life. I’d love to hear what happens.

For more on the power of simplicity, read Nicola Bird’s post here, and if you’re stuck for ideas on showing small kindnesses, see this list of ideas from guest blogger Sarah Stevenson.

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Alison Jones

Alison is a book coach and publishing partner for businesses and organizations with something to say. She hosts the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.
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