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Entrepreneurs Are Contrarians Who See Opportunities Others Call ‘Worthless, Impossible and Stupid’

Originally published on on October 15, 2013

2 Reasons To Read Worthless, Impossible and Stupid:

Busts the myths that to be an entrepreneur you need to be innovative, young, or an expert
Tells new, unique stories of entrepreneurship you’ve never heard before
Background of Author Daniel Isenberg

Author Daniel Isenberg is a Professor of Entrepreneurship Practice at Babson Executive and Enterprise Education and the founding Executive Director of the Babson Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project (BEEP). He has 11 years teaching at Harvard Business School, Columbia, Technion, INSEAD and Reykjavik. He has a combined thirty-one years experience as an entrepreneur, consultant, entrepreneurship educator, venture capitalist, policy advisor, and angel investor. He was recently an adviser to the White House on starting up StartUp America.

Daniel Isenberg has a very unique definition of entrepreneurship that he uses as the basis for the stories he tells us in this book. Here is his definition:

…in this book, I present entrepreneurship as the contrarian perception, creation, and capture of extraordinary value. ~Daniel Isenberg

The author tells us he has two main goals for the book. First, he hopes that this book will catalyze entrepreneurial aspiration and help more people choose the path of becoming an entrepreneur. Secondly, he hopes to clarify the murky concepts of entrepreneurship by reframing the phenomenon in terms of value creation and its capture, rather than business ownership per se.

This book is not a how-to recipe for doing entrepreneurship, but rather, a book of inspiring stories of entrepreneurs that will kindle any dormant aspirations you may have.

Reviews of book: Worthless, Impossible and Stupid, by Daniel IsenbergThe book will also challenge assumptions you may have held by providing answers to these questions:

Do you need to be an innovator to be entrepreneur?
Do you need to be young to be an entrepreneur?
Do you need to be an expert to be an entrepreneur?
Does entrepreneurship have any negative social consequences?
Does value creation need to be “extraordinary” to be considered entrepreneurial?
Outline Of Worthless, Impossible and Stupid And What You’ll Gain From Each Section

There are four main parts to this book. Each part contains several interesting entrepreneurship stories—stories you likely have never heard before.

Part 1: Who Is An Entrepreneur? Three Myths
Part 2: Running Away From The Crowd (Why entrepreneurs and their ideas seem crazy to others)
Part 3: When Adversity Meets Reward (the good and bad of adversity)
Part 4: Making Sense Of It All (summary on perception, creation, and capture of extraordinary value)


Part 1: Who Is An Entrepreneur? Three Myths

In this section you will read several unique stories that shatter the myths that entrepreneurs must be innovators, young, and experts in their field. This will provide you much needed relief of mind if you happen to not be one of those three. The author concludes that there may be nothing meaningfully typical about entrepreneurs. They certainly don’t need to be young, innovative, or experts in order to create extraordinary value.

Part 2: Running Away From The Crowd (Why entrepreneurs and their ideas seem crazy to others)

In this part you learn why entrepreneurs inherently go against the crowd. Here you find stories of companies that others considered worthless (Sea To Table), impossible (PillCam), and stupid (Tough Mudder).

Part 3: When Adversity Meets Reward (the good and bad of adversity)

Adversity can be either good or bad for entrepreneurship. Daniel Isenberg argues that some heat is necessary to weed out ventures that would never make it long-term. The initial heat keeps these ventures from getting too far and wasting the limited resources available to start-ups in a region. However, some heat is bad, such as the heat that comes from an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is not ideal. Below are the six domains of such an ecosystem. Deficiency in any of these systems can create an unnecessarily adverse type of heat for all entrepreneurs in a region.

Part 4: Making Sense Of It All (summary on perception, creation, and capture of extraordinary value)

In the last section, Daniel Isenberg explains the implications and challenges for entrepreneurs and policy makers when viewing entrepreneurship according to his definition. Some of my favorite quotes from this section include:

“Opportunities are not fruit waiting to be picked…a market need, pain, or want without a person to address them is not an opportunity. Opportunities are the interactions of personal capabilities and some characteristics of the objective situation. One without the other is insufficient.”
“Thinking in terms of the optimization of risk instead of risk taking or risk mitigation helps synthesize these two important aspects of how extraordinary value is created. Risk optimization is a continuous accordion-like process of alternatively “de-risking” and “re-risking” the venture as the activity focuses on the creation of actual value.”

Final Comments

This book was very interesting to read in that the stories contained in it are very unique. It’s likely that you have never heard these before. Daniel Isenberg doesn’t resort to the typical story about Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg. It was helpful to me in that the stories showed I do not need to be young, innovative, or an expert in a field to consider becoming an entrepreneur. This removes some of the biggest blockages to thinking about being entrepreneurial.

One flaw I find with the book, which isn’t really a flaw but rather a controversy, is the definition that Daniel Isenberg gives to entrepreneurship. In demanding that an entrepreneur is one who has completed the circle of creating extraordinary value, it becomes a very high bar to reach. But, perhaps one should not set out to be an entrepreneur but simply try to create as much value as possible. If the value you eventually create never reaches the mark of extraordinary, then one cannot claim to be an entrepreneur but could be happy nonetheless with their work. It seems to me to be impossible to know just how much value in total can be created from any untested business idea, so, one can never know if the path they are on will ever lead to becoming an entrepreneur even if they do everything perfectly. Also, Daniel doesn’t put any numbers on exactly what is considered “extraordinary”. However, the book is definitely worth reading to determine for yourself if you agree with the author on the definition he gives for entrepreneurship.