I sat with aspiring young entrepreneur William Do the other day, and I asked him why he wanted to become one. Our conversation went all over the place initially, and then landed in a place I found familiar, as it is one I seem to revisit every few years.
In 2010 I posted: “Audacity is ignoring the obstacles, and just doing it.” And then in 2012 I posted, “Knowing no limits (audacity), isn’t as good as knowing your limits and working to exceed them (courage).” As you can see clearly, this is coming from two different versions of myself as embodying two different attitudes. It’s a seminal question I like to ask a lot — the difference between audacity and courage — especially now in the design and venture space because I realize that entrepreneurs are all-audacity. They have to be. Otherwise they can’t convince others that they are absolutely right, and that the others “out there” are absolutely wrong.
I first got interested in this question about five years ago when Paola Antonelli asked me on stage what the difference is … and I had a really lame answer. So I guess to make up for that, I keep wondering about the difference. I read a book on samurai and their notion of “a warrior” — the primary thesis of that book was that a warrior has courage, which means that they knowingly go into battle with a clear view of all the dangers that can come upon them, and have prepared in every way possible to take on danger. So audacity is a really different concept — it means *not* acknowledging all the dangers that come before oneself, and maybe not even fully preparing for the situation. In other words, it’s a kind of noble stupidity … which when successful becomes the stuff of legends.
New entrepreneurs start with audacity, and then along the way have to find courage. When they cross the chasm to courage, they then end up in one of two places: burnout or complacency. The latter is the bad route, of course. The former, however, isn’t in my mind. Maybe “burnout” is a bad word — perhaps “failure” is a better word. Because failure is how one learns, and if they’re lucky can renew oneself a la John Gardner. Along these lines, I felt super-energized in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing when all his words spread all over the word, my favorite being: “Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell but got back up again.”
So, in conclusion, audacity is a powerful thing. It lets you think you can break some record out there. It’s impossible. The four minute mark cannot get beaten for running a mile. And then someone does it. Even though it’s highly unlikely. For that reason, I am a believer that there are many designers in the world out there who can find the audacity to enter the venture world. I’ve seen a few Roger Bannisters in these neck of the woods, and believe there are many more to come.
Thanks to William for reminding me to think in audacious terms :-). -JM