Valley in Berlin 2017, hosted by Scout24, brought together close to 400 professionals in Berlin’s startup industry for a day of talks, pitches, and networking. There were many speakers whose words I found valuable and inspiring. One thread that connected several of the presentations was the importance of “fluid intelligence” in the new economy – the ability to use past experience to apply to new problems.
It’s not just a matter of individuals needing fluid intel to bring all of their experience and knowledge into the new economy. It’s a matter of vital importance to corporations that have been around for decades, and who must adapt to the new marketplace with either new products or new uses for the products they know how to make. Scout24 is an example of this, itself: it began as an online classified marketplace but has moved into creating a networked marketplace – “to inspire people’s best decisions.” Christian Bubenheim, Senior Vice President of AutoScout24, said in his remarks that this has come to include inspiring innovation not only within larger companies, but also from outside the companies, arising from the needs of the marketplace.
Jonathan Greechan of the Founder Institute, in his remarks, posed the question: Can someone inside a big corporation really be as innovative as someone from outside the company, who isn’t jaded? Greechan said the Founder Institute thinks so. He said fluid intelligence is the key. But, corporations have to find the innovators within their corporation.
As I have heard throughout many presentations at events like this, corporations have to ensure that people are not punished for coming up with new ideas, even if those ideas turn out to be not-so-good in the end. Fault people for trying new ideas and, pretty soon, people will stop trying. That’s not good if your business wants to adapt to the changing marketplace.
The most invigorating presentation of the day was by Ben Larson, co-founder of Gateway Incubator. He started out with a story related to his passion for skiing. One day, when he was young, he came home from a day of skiing and told his parents what a great day it had been, and how he didn’t even fall once. His father did not look as happy as Ben had expected him to be. When he wanted to know why, his father told him “If you’re not falling, you’re not trying hard enough.” Ben went on to talk about how you must embrace failure in order to achieve something great.
I admit, when I found out the title of Larson’s presentation was “Hustle Hard, or Die Trying,” I was prepared to dislike him and what he had to say. I’ve heard too many people extol the virtues of THE HUSTLE. Usually, they are the ones whose Instagram feed is a stream of pictures of expensive cars and stacks of money.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that his presentation was the one that inspired me the most. When Larson talked about the hustle, he specifically said, “Don’t hustle people, just hustle.” He said, “Empathy, honesty, and the desire to create value” are what’s important for an entrepreneur. “You need to believe you are providing value to people, otherwise you’re just a sleezy salesperson … When you create value, you believe in it. It exudes out of you.”
Larson spoke about the qualities needed by entrepreneurs, adding, “It’s okay. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur.” He emphasized
* Do the essential.
Larson said, “Know what’s essential to you and focus on it.” He recommended reading the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Gary McKeown.
* Be resourceful.
“Getting ahead is about taking the tools you’ve gathered over your life and using them for what you want to do.”
* Do the hard stuff.
While Larson advocates hustling – “Get shit done” – he says hustling is not enough anymore. “Doing the hard stuff is what differentiates you.”
He says when he started out as an entrepreneur, he had a hard time with all of the highs and lows. Larson assures other entrepreneurs that “After you’ve been at it awhile, you learn how to navigate the highs and lows. The highs are high and the lows are low, but you learn how to not be affected by them.”
A few more quotes of note from Larson’s remarks:
“You will know that you’re working on the right thing when you’re willing to do things you never thought you’d be doing in order to make something happen.”
“You are not your idea. Your job is to create value. If your idea is not the right way to create value, then that’s okay. Try another idea.”
“You can’t dabble. You have to put everything behind it. Give it everything you’ve got. Because if you don’t, then what’s the point.”
I’m encouraged by Larson’s words, not only for my own business, but for the future of the startup world. Despite, as Greechan of the Founder Institute said in his remarks, “It’s mostly innovation theater – ‘Look! We have slides!’” and that most of the startups don’t have a clear structure, Larson is an example of the many founders who are out there, diligently working away on a business idea they believe will provide value to their ideal customer.
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