Navigating When There Is No Map

map1“There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”  - Jeff Bezos on the purchase of The Washington Post

Jeff Bezos wrote the above words the day he bought the Washington Post to the amazement of not only the online world but the traditional newspaper world.  Simply put, he said there is no game plan or road map on innovation.

I think Bezos is one of the most underrated and misunderstood founders of our generation.  He very well could be looked at as THE definitive entrepreneur of the 21st century (in strong competition with Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.)  I say this even though Amazon is already 15 years old with a market cap north of $130billion, making Bezos one of the wealthiest people in the world. Yet I don’t think they/he has made anywhere near the impact they/he will make in our world.  Like it or not it’s only going to get more Amazonian as the decades go on.

My perspective above comes from how Bezos thinks – specifically how he has a long term perspective on new business models and innovation.  Regardless of business unit or product, the quote I opened up with stands above and beyond anything else I have recently read surrounding entrepreneurship.  In fact, I believe all entrepreneurs working on anything new or different need to embrace the mantra of navigating when there is no map.

Let’s breaking down the statement into chunks to see what else we can grab from it.

There is no map and charting a path ahead will not be easy

Almost too obvious to mention, there is no road map or directions to follow when you are innovating.  If you are doing something novel or new in a market, you are by definition innovating.   Yet, it seems as if some entrepreneurs (myself included) yearn for THE answer to all their confusion and frustrations when they are starting out, as if someone has the magical answer.  The fact is THERE IS NO ANSWER.  Or better said, NO ONE KNOWS THE ANSWER YOU ARE LOOKING FOR, so stop asking.

Why?

No one knows because most likely you are the first to encounter this specific problem, thus no map or charted path is available for you to lean on.  The first step of innovation is acknowledging you don’t really know the exact path and you will be blazing your own trail. Yep, it’s not easy to be a leader just as it couldn’t have been very comfortable for Lewis and Clark during their epic journey west.

We will need to invent

So if no one has your answer, what do you do?

You invent it.

Since no one has gone before you and you are encroaching upon uncharted territory, you need to muster up  the courage to invent your answer.  Then you also must have courage to trust your answer and trust it is the right step forward at that specific time.  Some entrepreneurs – especially rookie first-timers – have difficulty knowing when to trust their gut and when to seek and act on the guidance and advice from others.  But I will argue you aren’t really an entrepreneur (OK, an innovator to be more specific) if you aren’t willing to have the courage to create your own map and to trust yourself with your own answer.

and we will need to experiment.

One of the best ways to earn your own trust is to acknowledge the answer won’t be the first thing you act upon – it will be a series of things.  Embracing the fact that charting your own map will involve experimentation, failure and course correction goes along way to ease the uncomfortableness of uncharted territory.  Our first ideas are only there to get us going in the right direction, but will never be the only turn we make.  There will be right turns, left turns, wide turns, U-turns and maybe even parallel parking for a short period.

The point of all of this is to identify how one of our generations greatest entrepreneurs thinks and to illustrate how you can think the same way as well.  I think Jeff Bezos is a genius, but not in the way you might think about genius.  His genius – and one you need to see as well – is in simplicity and honesty with himself and others.

Believe me, a simple mind frame like this on complex subjects such as creating a whole new market segment makes all the difference.

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