Thursday, May 24, 2012

Notes on working with entreprenuers

In a meeting the other day, an entrepreneur shared a moment of great self-insight.  He said, "I'm an entrepreneur, I come up with all kinds of ideas.  Some of them are great, and lots of them are terrible.  I need people around me to tell me which is which.  But I really need people to get things done."  At first, I thought this was just his take on the role, but I've had the chance to work with several now and I see it's a bit of a universal truth.  And knowing that can help those interactions quite a lot.

This is a guy I am day dreaming about a STEM program with.  He loves it when I tell him which ideas might work, or how we are going to have to pull them off.  He doesn't perceive those responsibilities as his role- his job is to have great ideas and find the resources to make them work.  I am one of those resources, and I'm valuable because I can tell him when his ideas stink. 

When I look back on my interactions with the algae guy, he had a lot of this too.  Great ideas that weren't always bounded by our current access to technology, money or other practical considerations.  I'll admit that that kinda spooked me a bit.  A good entrepreneur is so compelling about that "The Sky is the Limit!" pitch that other people buy into it, literally giving money, and suddenly you've got everything you need.

Scientists can be a little like this too.  If you dread showing your boss data because they will come up with 8 equally important follow-up experiments that don't overlap with the experiments they proposed that got you there in the first place.... you work with an innovator.  I knew a guy like that.  I work with some of these PIs now as an intern at C4C.  The tech managers often complain that their teams can't make forward progress because they get distracted by all kinds of other considerations.  You mix the entrepreneur's dream with a habit of basic research and it can be really tough to move a brilliant idea to a product on the shelf. 

One of the (many) reasons I don't want to be a faculty member is because I don't think like that.  I don't like to invent bad ideas to find good ones, and I am much more opinionated about the practical things.  Honestly, I thought that made me less of a scientist.  But I think in a commercial world, there is a real need for people like me.  Brilliant ideas aside, if you want to put a drug through trials, there is a lot of regulation that doesn't usually benefit from creative thinking.  I mention this, because I think recognizing which type of person I am and how I related to the other type has helped my professional interactions.

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