Sunday, August 29, 2010

Planets, Aristarchos, Ptolemy, Copernicus and Entrepreneurship

The power of discovery
I just came across this interesting news of one more step forward in the discovery of earth-like planets elsewhere in our galaxy. The increasing frequency of news like this supports the idea that we are getting close to proving once more that our plane is not only "not the center" but is also not unique, in which case various "other life" considerations inevitably follow.

The Greek philosopher Aristarchus of Samos had already figured the "not center" idea in 43 BC; he was ignored for 1500 years and even today is hardly given any credit.
Aristotle and Ptolemy with the flawed but more intuitive idea of Geocentricism (earth at the center of the universe), and with a better "sale pitch" got and controlled mind-share for 1500 years.
Copernicus and Galileo eventually sold Heliocentrism (sun at the center of the planets), a v2.0 of Aristarchus ideas, with better "showmanship" (drop balls from the Tower of Pisa and incarceration for heresy) to win the  mind-share race.

Centrism and Entrepreneurship
Humans would seem to have an instinct to imagine ourselves unique as much as permitted by ignorance, dogma and lack of facts. Possibly there is a survival value in brains intuitively "provincial" since it would limit the amount of data to be dealt with at any given moment: worry about immediate local threats (tigers), less about future and distant ones. With that trait, individually, we can intuitively and locally develop the notion that what we do is unique.  In reality however, we just have not looked for and found our competition.

For innovators and entrepreneurs, the remedy of this blind spot is getting out (talk to customers, talk to others in the same industry) and looking (search the blogosphere, academic research and industry press). Investigation will make us discover "another planet" like us, our competition. Loss of the myth of our uniqueness will require a radical change, a new perspective just as human psychology was impacted by the Copernican revolution. Finding our competition will demand a far less self-congratulatory and more guarded state of mind (i.e.we found the tiger, now what?).

Some more lessons from Aristarchus
Just as it happened to old Aristarchus, as an entrepreneur and innovator you may well have the right answer to "the question", but the market may not be  ready for it (e.g. there is lots of that happening now in the new green energy business!).  Pursuit just the same.

Recognize the possibility that the market will eventually accept your answer, but it may be in a version 2.0 advanced by a more compelling salesman.  The antidote is to strive to become a better salesman.  Meanwhile speak ( and twitt) loudly and consistently  "around" the established thinkers (the Aristotle and Ptolemy of your day).  Don't give up, the mind-share race is won one brain at a time.

Strive to find a way to stay in the game that is not totally dependent on the disputed idea you are championing. Staying power (most often enabled by capital) is the answer to the challenge. If you go out of business pursuing only the unpopular idea you will not survive to the day when reality will prove you right beyond dispute.

Marco Messina


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