Thursday, January 17, 2008

Shuffling paper

Barack Obama is being railed for his candid admissions that he keeps a messy desk, is not good at shuffling paper, and lacks operational experience. Buttoned-up cynics, seeking any opportunity to derail his candidacy, trumpet his comments in making a case that he's not prepared to be chief executive. As ardently supportive as I am of Obama's quest, I've intentionally shied away from talking politics (or religion) here; that said, the contemporaneous pundit mumblings are hogwash.

Executives and operators keep clean desks. They're good at -- most enjoy? -- shuffling paper and churning wheels, dealing with known knowns. They shy away from chaos, contradiction, and confusion, the opportunistic ingredients of an entrepreneurs existence. A friend of mine who's a VC is similar: He's mechanically meticulous, a refined, robotic operator in a profession that's more art (free-form, creative), less science (methodical).

Entrepreneurs are different: They create, working in a grey, ambiguous, messy environment. Entrepreneurs despise paper (-work and shuffling). In general, they're poor managers and operators; they get shit done, but it's the big stuff (not methodical minutiae) that counts. Perhaps that's why most entrepreneurs fail as managers or operators.

To be creative (to succeed as an entrepreneur?), a task can’t be algorithmic (as operators desire). An algorithmic task is one where the solution is straight-forward and clear; a creative task is one sans a clear and readily identifiable path to solution so that a new algorithm must be developed before the task can be accomplished.

Once the algorithm is created and the path paved, operators take over. Entrepreneurs move on and do it again. And, I would hope a simple application of logic would amplify the need for an entrepreneurial and creative -- not paper-shuffling methodical -- leader of the free world.

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