Business disinterest

I took a personality test the other day that told me I was innovative, resourceful, and quite possibly an entrepreneur.

How does that fit? Well, right after college I did found a company to pioneer innovative technologies, which we managed to do using only our wits, earnings from part-time jobs, and second hand computers from rummage sales. Not bad for a test that figures you out by asking whether you often turn down going to parties to stay home and read.

Surprisingly, the descriptions didn’t mentioned anything about business or money, which are often mentioned whenever innovation and entrepreneurship are. And far from being an oversight, they’re spot on.

The word “business” does nothing for me. I don’t read the business section of the newspaper or business magazines. I didn’t go to business school. When someone refers to me as a businessman I reflexively shrug. Yet technically, I am a businessman.

The words “sales” and “revenue” don’t do much for me. I can’t talk about them for more than ten seconds without getting bored. But I have flown to places, sold complex, expensive things and come back with revenue.

As for the word “administrator,” it makes my heart fall to the floor with a cold thud. Yet I head an organization that I helped create.

It’s quite confusing, really. Sometimes I feel like I’m in exactly the right place doing work that’s perfect for me. Other times I feel like an outsider crash-landed in an alien world. But these descriptions of my personality help clear up the confusion. Why am I mixed up in the world of business? Because it’s my personality to innovate.

I like improving things. It hardly matters what. Products, services, techniques, lifestyles, ideas, my self and the rest of society too. I’m gripped by the conviction that everything can be improved.

Of course resourceful people look for ways to get paid to do what they love. Not for the money, but because it means more time spent doing what they enjoy. Well there happens to be a market for innovation. People will pay you for it. So innovators often find themselves stepping into the business world.

In the business world innovators often find they can’t trust their efforts to the companies there, which are all caught up in doing such un-innovative things. But neither can innovators go it alone. So they often form teams; cadres bent on innovation, distracted by little else. And an organization is born.

Innovators are not content to innovate for themselves. If the innovation really is one, it should supplant whatever inferior and obsolete thing it has improved upon. So an innovator even without any training or prior interest in sales can suddenly and passionately sell.

And the money from sales? To the innovator its a quantifiable measure of how innovative an innovation is. If you go around the country merely asking people if they like what you’re working on, what you’re spending your life savings and years of youth and energy on, you’re bound to get polite yeses even from those who don’t value your innovation at all. Those yeses are disastrous and keep you marching toward the edge of a cliff. But people who give you money, or refuse to give you money, for your innovation give you a priceless reality check.

So organizations and money often follow innovation; so closely in fact, that it appears to everyone else that the innovator is primarily after those things. But they are only technicalities, tools, indicators, and side-effects. The business world is full of sayings like, “Cash is king,” and from those sayings the innovator recoils.

All this goes to show why innovators, while having little interest in organizations, sales, revenue, and marketing per se, will sometimes passionately do and create those very things, while at other times feel apathy or disgust for them. It all depends on whether they are serving or hindering innovation.

Most businesses and their activities have nothing at all to do with innovation. Real-estate is about scarcity, speculation, and possession. Insurance is about chance and fear. Accounting is about operations and compliance. Marketing? Most marketing horrifies the innovator. More often it’s used, not to tell the world about a legitimate innovation but to pretend that innovation has occurred. In those cases it’s actually a substitute for innovation. Nor do many companies care. Profit from innovation or pretense they find equally good.

Which explains why businesses vary so much in character and behavior. At the nucleus of some sit innovators consumed with innovation. At the core of others, people consumed with money; sitting perhaps where innovators once did — innovators who have lost interest or been ousted, and are off somewhere reinventing themselves.