01/29/2009 06:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

I Suck ! Confessions of an Entre Manure


Entremanure (n.) - someone who generates really shitty new company ideas.

In the fall of 2003, I began toying with the idea of creating a group of top-executive networks. Launched in early 2004, World 50 is now regarded as one of the most influential executive forums in the world (with help from Bono, Greenspan, Redford, Lance, Magic and many others). The company was launched with just $400 in investment capital (I used my credit card to buy paper to print invoices), and in 2007 I sold the company for more money than I thought I might make in my lifetime. I owe this unlikely success to dozens of remarkable people, extraordinary timing, and a healthy dose of luck.

But it was also a damned good idea.

Fast forward to 2009. I officially left World 50 several months ago, and now wherever I go the first thing people say to me is "what are you going to do next?" This question certainly can create a sense of urgency (especially when it's your wife who's asking). What am I going to do next?

And then, it hits me. An original idea. Something totally fresh. An exciting new market to penetrate. This could work. It could really work!!

So I spend weeks doing research. I put a plan together, and even come up with a catchy name for my new company. The old excitement begins to swell up inside me. I schedule a series of meetings with influential people - "the successful entrepreneur unveils his next exiting new project!" The music grows in the background. The curtain goes up...

Then every influential person I talk with informs me that I am an idiot. "A few years back, this might have been stupid but possible - now, it's just stupid."

I spent most of last week in New York attending such meetings, a tour of self-inflicted intellectual humiliation. By the time my final meeting had ended, my idea had been shot down as ridiculous by no less than a dozen people I deeply respected.

I poured myself into a cramped middle seat and began my flight home, emotionally exhausted. But then, out of nowhere, I was struck with a strong sense of de je vu. I have been here before.

Looking back, World 50 was not always such a great idea. Conceived in early fall 2003, I had spent the next 4 months having the original concept summarily dismissed as awful. But I didn't stop thinking, and I didn't stop soliciting other's reactions. I absorbed everyone's input, no matter how negative, and each time tweaked my idea for the company. By early 2004, "that's a terrible idea" had progressed to "you know, you might be on to something. Have you thought of this?" I further refined my idea and pitch. By the summer, nearly a year after the original spark, I had finally birthed a damned good idea.

Ideas that take flight often do so from a runway of failure.

Put another way, you must be comfortable failing if you are ever to achieve something extraordinary. Such is the cadence of creation: 1) you're wrong, 2) you might be right, and let me tell you why, 3), you are right. How can I join the cause?

This approach is also necessary for anyone who wants to dramatically (and safely) change his or her life direction. I have spent much of the last half decade researching what factors allow ordinary people to break free from their current life trajectories and accomplish amazing things. I have found that in nearly every case, each followed a path of discovery through failure. They didn't jump off a cliff on a whim. Rather, they began safely experimenting with new directions in their lives. At first, most encountered minor failures, discovering that they lacked the passion or skills for a certain new direction. So they course corrected, and ultimately unlocked their true potential.

Failure is the most important step in discovery, and opening yourself up to it is the key to identifying new directions for your life.

My flight from New York landed as the sun was setting, and I made my way home. Then...a new spark! The concept that I had missed all along. "I've got it!" I said out loud. Out of confusion, a new kernel of an idea. Out of rejection, the knowledge of a new path. Out of failure, the seeds of something I was convinced could become great!

That is, of course, until the next person explains to me why I am an idiot.

How has failure opened your eyes to new directions?