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Josh Weinstein

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Captain Planet, Empedocles, and lessons on Entrepreneurship

Posted: 05/03/10 05:27 PM ET

I should be gearing up for the launch of our brand new RandomDorm.com this Thursday, but I've had an epiphany...

There are significant parallels between entrepreneurship and Captain Planet.

Yes, the Captain Planet.

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As we all know and love, Captain Planet was a cartoon series about green entrepreneurship and preservation-- highlighting the importance of both individual initiative and international cooperation. Many entrepreneurs, seasoned (Steve Blank Jason Fried) and green (Matt Mireles and Carter Cleveland), educate about and inspire the journey involved with turning entrepreneurial vision into something with a significant, positive impact on the world around us. I highly recommend that you check out their material, as they and their materials are truly inspiring and helpful - as I know from personal experience.

This being only my second time posting to this blog, I want to draw attention to the fact that despite the awesome insight of the wayfarers listed above, they have all failed to make one of the most crucial linkages of all...

None of them have outlined the components for a successful Earth-changing missionary and mission through the lens of Captain Planet!

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I mean, isn't it obvious? The four classical elements and the binding force, as articulated by the Greek sage Empedocles (490 - 430 B.C.), comprise the powers of the Planeteers. The Planeteers are a team of teen entrepreneurs imbued with personified elemental characteristics - Earth, Fire, Wind, Water and Heart - that are metaphors for the core components of true entrepreneurial spirit.

In my opinion, the force that Empedocles believed to bind the four elements - "love", in the power of Ma-Ti (Heart) - is the most important of the five Planeteers' powers. Not only is Ma-Ti the last one to combine his power to form the title character, but "love" - zeal, drive, motivation, passion - offers endurance and dedication to Planeteers and entrepreneurs in their respective quests. By contrast, Empedocles suggested "strife" was a force that could disconnect elements. While this latter force is a necessary evil in the rollercoaster ride of the Planeteers' teenage angst and entrepreneurial ventures, it is absolutely critical to preserve optimism, even in times of great distress. It is because of this love that Planeteers and attendees of a group like Founder Therapy are ready, willing, and able to ride the rollercoaster.

The four classical elements are represented by the other Planeteers. Kwame - Earth - is the leader of the group, as he understands the lay of the land and maintains clarity. Wheeler - Fire - fights for the cause with his street-smart assertiveness. If Wheeler and Linka - Wind - took the Myers-Briggs, they would undoubtedly find they are almost polar opposites as she is calm, cool, and collected - underscoring the importance of shifting and balancing emotional or strategic gears. The source of restoration and sustenance - Water - is represented by Gi who offers scientific knowledge, particularly in the realm of computers (shared with Linka). They didn't have iPads in ancient Greece, but they did have lots of slate.

With their five powers combined, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Plus, Captain Planet shows up, and bam...deus ex machina! (luck is also an important factor, the writers just made Captain Planet's powers all-inclusive).

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Even Empedocles' (invalid) speculation that vision is achieved by synergy between our cognitive and physical powers and external objects, offers a lens through which we can further explore Captain Planet's relevance to an entrepreneur. In the case of Captain Planet, an external problem is identified at the onset of each episode and the appropriate set of skills is leveraged to resolve the crisis. This is equivalent to the entrepreneur's desire and attempts to resolve a clear pain point - external or internal. In a vacuum of perfection, the protagonists of neither the former nor the latter case are necessary, but our cartoon counterparts and we live in a dynamic and slightly imperfect world. Consequently, Gaia - the show's incarnation of the personification of Earth and ancient Greek goddess thereof - summons the teen green entrepreneurs and the world calls on us to have the vision to identify key issues and steps to resolve them.

Seeing the problem and charting a course towards change are only the first steps in actualizing vision, though. CD Baby founder Derek Sivers' articulation of how "ideas are worth nothing unless executed" several years ago is an excellent reference point. The entrepreneur (and Planeteers) are likely to experience a departure from the aforementioned map of idea to end goal. There are many reasons for this, to name a few: as one minor villain is overcome another problem awaits on the next episode, the problem itself may change, a key Planeteer or ability may not be available, and a more efficient path or perfect solution may be found - intentionally or unintentionally.

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Over the past several months, I've experienced much of the aforementioned teachings of the great sages - Empedocles and Captain Planet's writers. Ma-Ti is the youngest Planeteer, and as a young first-time entrepreneur, my 'love' was tested constantly and has fortunately been able to offset my lack of the other powers and overcome 'strife.' I quickly realized that zeal alone is not enough. Fortunately, I've been able to surround myself with others who bring these powers to the table and help me cultivate them (albeit a bit slowly) including, coincidentally, one of my best friends - Shahed Serajuddin, who has prior experience and has been managing many elements of GoodCrush behind the scenes. The burgeoning NYC start-up ecosystem, as detailed by Jenna Wortham, is also a tremendously powerful force in shaping both my personal growth and the company's - the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. The vision and charting the steps to execution I outlined in my earlier post, Creating GoodCrush, and it is clear that there are pain points that GoodCrush has and hopefully will continue to help alleviate along with its sister site RandomDorm. Our success on the execution front remains to be seen over a long period of time - it is not easy to quickly save the world if you aren't a cartoon. Nonetheless, I can definitely attest to the constantly changing, exciting, ups-and-downs and tweaking that is the entrepreneurial journey that I hope you will embark on.

I've realized that key lessons on entrepreneurship can be understood through an Empedoclian deconstruction (or recreational watching) of Captain Planet. The take-away message from the show is that we need to have passion and vision, build the above characteristics within yourself and/or find good teammates, and execute well. Regardless of whether or not you and I currently have these in place is somewhat irrelevant as entrepreneurship is a constant cycle of learning and practice. Captain Planet fans or not -- when it comes to changing the world, the power is ours!

 

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