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Opening up the idea
In Germany, in a meeting with a conventional start-up adviser, the would-be founder brings the idea; the idea, so to speak, is simply “there.” In the Laboratory, on the other hand, the idea is questioned, examined, refined. Like a sculptor, a founder can work the raw material and create an intellectual abstraction that reflects not only the concerns of the “artist” more clearly and more precisely, but that also develops a better view of the market. It is important to work out something that’s “a better fit,” something that dovetails with the personality of the founder, something that “feels” better to him or her than the initial idea.
In each case, we try to figure out what will truly engage the participant over the long term: what reflects his inclinations and desires, even those desires of which he might not be fully conscious. The method is akin to Frithjof Bergmann’s concept of New Work, where the question posed is: “What do we really, really want?” Thus the goal is not simply to accept the idea and then address possible steps to implement it, but rather to treat the initial idea as the raw material whose potential still needs to be explored.
are intimations of the capabilities
that lie within us.
They are the heralds of what
we will be able to achieve.
JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
In this sense, the initial idea is only a heading, a first indication of where we can start looking for the ingredients that should ultimately yield an idea concept. I regard it as the modeling clay out of which you can create many forms. Accordingly, it is not uncommon that the discussion with the prospective founder takes a turn which that person does not expect. Although she is often convinced that she is at the end of the idea process and is already thinking about its implementation, I try to get a feel for whether she herself has actually considered the perspectives that have opened up with her idea. Following such a discussion, it is not uncommon that the founder ends up with ideas totally different from those she originally came with. The job of a consultant is not to give answers, but to ask lots of questions, especially questions that open up new perspectives. The founder must find the answers for himself. It has to be his own intellectual baby, not an idea from the consultant or one triggered by the funding guidelines.
In a world of constant change, good questions
are the real scarcity. .
Bad questions assign blame,
change living processes
into black-and-white phenomena,
cement things into clichés,
belittle the complexity of the world.
On the other hand, good questions open things up.
Starting a new restaurant is a textbook example I am fond of using. A potential founder comes with an idea: “I’d like to launch a restaurant featuring Egyptian cuisine.” A conventional business consultant would then ask about everything that’s important for operating a restaurant. For example, the competitive situation, or the founder’s competence in the areas important for running a restaurant. Implementation will be the focus here – to open a restaurant, you need money for decorating the premises, for a decent bar, and for the kitchen. Thus the question of capital comes up relatively soon.
The next problems are finding a good location and suitable staff for the restaurant. Now the founder is preoccupied by three things – his capital requirements, finding a suitable location, and selecting the appropriate personnel. The idea of an Egyptian restaurant now plays only a secondary role. It can be anticipated that the concept of the restaurant, if realized, will at best consist of only a few specific interior design elements; perhaps the chairs will be reminiscent of a pharaoh’s throne, or a few pictures of Luxor may hang on the walls.
In spite of what appeared to be appropriate planning, which considered a variety of aspects, there’s still a high degree of risk in this type of start-up. A lot of capital is required, and much advance preparation is needed, all of which will require financing. In addition, there are high operating costs like rent, interest and personnel. Unless there are a lot of customers immediately, as well as over the long term, there’s a danger that this start-up will end up the same way that many other restaurants have ended up in the past. As far as the likelihood of survival goes, it’s like placing bets in a casino – in both cases, the chances of success are statistically low. I put all my money on Red 19 and fervently hope it wins. If my restaurant doesn’t work out, then I’ll lose all of my own money, my borrowed capital, and all my work will have been in vain. I call this launching a business à la Roulette. Not recommended.