Sunday, January 09, 2005

Why don't some entrepreneurs get it? (Book Review: Monturiol's Dream)

Some inventors just don't get business. They are perhaps more artists than craftspeople, driven by something they feel is bigger than themselves. Narcis Monturiol was such a man, and Monturiol's Dream is his bittersweet story.

Be warned: this is a pretty exhaustive book. That's good, because there's something for everyone -
  • a very full life story of the individual,
  • fantastic contextual background of the Barcelona of the 1830s to 1870s (to the present, actually)
  • rigorous detail on how early submarines worked (actually quite interesting!)
  • a fly-on-the-wall view of radical communism, 1860s-Spanish-style
  • many salutary business lessons on dealing with investors
As you can see, a lot to read, and a lot for me to talk about. But I'll limit myself to addressing the last point - dealing with investors.

It doesn't need to be investors in the traditional sense - I guess the modern word would be stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders in your life? Are you paying attention to their needs?

Monturiol didn't, and it was part of his downfall. He had the perfect vision in his mind; he was the archetypal scientist or artist, driven, absolutely propelled by the possibilities he's working with.

Of course, in a later age, Monturiol might have done very well working in an academic science institution. He had the idea, but he had to prove that his submarine could either win war (he abhorred violence) or make stacks of money (he was a radical communist). Tough call.

At first glance, Monturiol seems very similar to Captain Cook. They both saw immense possibilities, immense improvements to be made on the status quo. But Cook didn't just look at the idea, he also looked at all the steps along the way. Monturiol saw obstacles as just that, obstacles that he hoped would disappear soon.

Monturiol and his friends worked incredibly hard to create two brilliant, ahead-of-their-time submarines but in the end he had to watch his machine torn apart for scrap by a government that couldn't see the here-and-now.

Which all goes to prove that the idea is never enough, and neither is hard work.

To really get where you're going, you need to know who else needs to be on board. You need to know what they need, and work out how they're going to get it.


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