My Biggest Failing as an Entrepreneur: Not Asking for Help

This will date me, but I first heard the song ‘Message in a Bottle’ by The Police off a 33 r.p.m. record in my parents drawing room. It’s an eloquent parable of a song, written by a loner, sending out an S.O.S. to the world, his message in a bottle, resigned to a feeling of loneliness, until one day, hundred million bottles come washing up on his shore.

There is a kind of structural autonomy to being in charge, to being the head of your own outfit, which forces you quickly realize that really, if the buck stops with you, then you better be ready for anything. But this is only half the truth. As Obama pointed out recently, if you’ve done anything successful and good in life, it’s because of the network of institutions and people that support and service your business – you didn’t build that!

For many years, CKS never had an advisory board. Put it down to ignorance and naivete – I never understood how such a board might work or what it might do for us. Well, we have had one for the last two years, and it has made a tremendous difference to the way we think about business, and the kinds of strategic decisions we make or are capable of making.

When we began the Design Public Conclave early last year, one of the first things I did was constitute an advisory board. Members have contributed to varying extents and in varying ways. The sense of collective purpose that the Conclave now has is largely due to the collective efforts and weight of the advisory board. I’ve also gotten into the habit of asking new partners about how they would like to contribute, rather than sharing with them any prefigured slab of sponsorship fees. Organizations can contribute in kind, with resources, through knowledge and knowledge networks. There are any number of ways in which they can put their weight behind a project and program they really believe in.

For the new institutions we’re now building – especially the Bihar Innovation Lab and the School for Innovation and Leadership – we won’t be making this kind of mistake again. We’re speaking to the entire community – public health and innovation respectively – to see how different organizations and individuals can contribute, each in their different way.

Last weekend I sent out some fifty emails to some of the most senior people, the most competent people, the most respected and knowledgeable people around the world about our new School for Innovation and Leadership. These are former clients of CKS, former partners and associates from different kinds of initiatives we’ve taken over the years. I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the responses I’ve received during the week.

I’ve heard back from professors at the Technical University of Delft, Aalto University in Helsinki, NESTA and the Young Foundation in the UK and the Social Innovation Exchange, all of whom have promised to help in the development of our curriculum in different ways. Some want to come and teach on the program. I’ve heard back from former employees of CKS who are working or pursuing degrees in different parts of the world. I’ve heard back from heads of innovation teams at major Indian and multinational companies, who are willing to come teach modules and to consider kinds of joint projects that might help future students gain real-world expertise. I’ve heard back from senior consultants, strategists and thought-leaders who are doing some of the most interesting and important work on innovation anywhere in the world.

We never felt so alone as when we were being alone, the song says. But having sent that message out there, and with so many bottles now washing up on our shore, we’ll be taking on risk and chance collaboratively, together, not alone. This is will make the school possible, this will make it great.

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1 Response to My Biggest Failing as an Entrepreneur: Not Asking for Help

  1. prakashunakal says:

    Good Initiative School for Innovation and Leadership and need of the day

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