You know that sense you get when something has the ring of deep truth to it? That's the feeling I got a couple of months ago when listening to Amy Wilkinson's talk about her upcoming book. So I pre-ordered the book, and when it came out, went through it like lightning through tofu, devouring it in 1.5 sittings.
For my brain, this book is pure crack: stories of risk-taking, hard-working, talented entrepreneurs and their ventures. If that were all that "Creator's Code" were offering, I'd already be sold. But Wilkinson goes way beyond that and actually distills the wisdom of these unusually successful people into six principles mere mortals like you and me can use.
Here are the 6 principles:
1. FIND THE GAP: By staying alert, creators spot opportunities that others don't see.
2. DRIVE FOR DAYLIGHT: Just as race-car drivers keep their eyes fixed on the road ahead, creators focus on the future.
3. FLY THE OODA LOOP: Creators continuously update their assumptions. In rapid succession, they observe, orient, decide, and act.
4. FAIL WISELY: Creator set failure ratios, place small bets to test ideas, and develop resilience. They hone the skill to turn setbacks into successes.
5. NETWORK MINDS: Creators bring together diverse brainpower to come up with breakthrough solutions.
6. GIFT SMALL GOODS: Creators unleash generosity by helping others, often by sharing information, pitching in to complete a task, or opening opportunities to colleagues.
Here's what I like about the book:
--The stories of the entrepreneurs: You may have used PayPal or eBay, or bought Spanx undergarments, or wished for a Tesla Model S for Christmas, but you may not know how these companies came into being. Loved hearing how Sarah Blakely started as a door-to-door fax machine saleswoman, how Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll partnered to get eBay going, how Elon Musk was always mere millimeters away from disaster (or already in it) with Tesla and SpaceX, and how the PayPal guys beat out the competition and beat down international fraud rings through sheer determination and ingenuity.
--The interviews: I hope Wilkinson has super-elite platinum molybdenum frequent flyer status by now, since she must have run up crazy miles to interview pretty much every single luminary of today's entrepreneurial world. Some of these guys I had heard of before; some of them I'm glad to know about now (e.g. Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle). The list is impressive: the aforementioned Musk, Omidyar and Blakely; Elizabeth Holmes, the elusive wunderkind of Theranos; Peter Thiel; genius inventor Dean Kamen (of Segway and Slingshot fame); Google's Larry Page; MIT's Bob Langer, head of the world's largest bioengineering lab; Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani yogurt; Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky of Airbnb; Kevin Plank of Under Armour; Max Levchin of PayPal, Yelp, Affirm, Glow, and co-inventor of CAPTCHA; David Sacks of PayPal and Yammer; Jessica Herrin of Stella & Dot; the legendary David Kelley of IDEO.
--The ideas: Wilkinson has combed the scientific literature to bring us some gems from psychology, anthropology and neuroscience relating directly to creative success. For example, from psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg: "Conceptual contradiction can lead to creative results." So, hire people with different opinions. Or psychologist Carol Dweck's notion of growth vs fixed mindsets, and how the former leads to a more can-do attitude and entrepreneurial drive. The importance of the "Yes, and..." rule of improv comedy in hatching and developing new ideas. And one of my favorite from the whole book: "Creators become comfortable with being uncomfortable. To fail wisely, they place small bets, set a failure ratio, believe enough to persist, and turn setbacks into strength."
-- The implementation: Wilkinson doesn't just tell you what the principles are; she also gives you eminently usable methods for implementing them. For example, regarding Principle 5, Networked Minds: "To solve multifaceted problems, creators bring together the brainpower of diverse individuals through on- and off-line forums. They harness cognitive diversity to build on each other's ideas. To do this, creators design shared spaces, foster flash teams, hold prize competitions, and build work-related games. They collaborate with unlikely allies." Do you have any idea how much concentrated wisdom those 49 words contain? Amazing.
-- Thoroughness: Amy did 200 interviews with founders and went through 10,000 pages of transcript notes, 5000 pages of secondary data and 4000 academic papers to come up with her stuff. Not sure how she boiled it all down to 6 concise principles (I suspect it involved some secret formula and goat sacrifices), but for all of us, I'm glad she did.
-- Writing style: One reason besides my superhuman reading speed that I could get through this book so fast is that the writing is super-smooth, no snags. Heck, I'm already re-reading it because I know it's an easy read.
In the end, the book is an embodiment of the spirit of generosity that Principle 6 (Gift Small Goods) advocates. Wilkinson does not glamorize rapacious money-grubbers but rather chronicles the work of well-intentioned entrepreneurs out to solve real problems facing humans. Her relentlessly positive tone and pro-sharing attitude can inspire us all to go out there and use these principles to make useful things. As such, "The Creator's Code" is no small good; it's a great gift to all who read it.
-- Ali Binazir, M.D., M.Phil., Happiness Engineer, Entrepreneur; Author, The Tao of Dating
San Francisco, CA