Something from nothing: How to see what others do not Featured

8:00pm EDT June 30, 2013
Dustin S. Klein, Publisher and Vice President of Operations, Smart Business Network Dustin S. Klein, Publisher and Vice President of Operations, Smart Business Network

Legend has it that in 1505, shortly after Michelangelo’s David was placed at the main entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, Pope Julius II marveled at its brilliance and questioned the artist about how the masterpiece was created.

As the story goes, Michelangelo responded, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Whether this conversation actually happened is anybody’s guess, but the exchange provides a glimpse into the mind of a genius who could see what others could not.

Today, similar visionaries populate the landscape. In the business world, they often manifest themselves in the form of entrepreneurs.

One of the greatest skill sets that entrepreneurs possess is the ability to balance calculated risk-taking with a dogged pursuit of ideas they believe will succeed. This is combined with a passion for the solutions, products and services being offered, and a keen understanding of the marketplace. Entrepreneurs have a very good sense of what people will or will not buy, and are willing to continuously tweak their solutions to adapt to changing needs, wants and desires.

But draw back the curtain a bit more and you’ll find that an entrepreneur’s real mystique lies elsewhere. It is his or her mysterious sixth sense used for noticing gaps in the marketplace that others fail to see. It is the ability to understand the gap and develop effective solutions that fill it.

Thirty years ago, who could have predicted how ubiquitous smartphones would be?

Sure, if you watched episodes of Star Trek in the 1960s you noticed those nifty communicators that Captain Kirk and his crew used. They not-too-surprisingly look like the early flip phones of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But today’s smartphone — essentially a pocket computer that packs so much power — required a different kind of vision, much like Michelangelo seeing the angel in the marble.

Most of the savviest entrepreneurs I know go through life looking at what will be once you remove everything that doesn’t belong. They see opportunities to create markets where markets do not or have not existed. Their efforts, and vision for what could be, fuel the economy and create jobs.

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, however. Even the best ideas often fail. Depending on which source you believe, as many as nine out of every 10 new business start-ups won’t make it to year three.

Two other factors play critical roles in bringing what you see to life — timing and people.

Having the right idea at the wrong time can doom even the most passionate of efforts. And if you don’t surround yourself with smart and capable people who complement both your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll either swiftly run out of bandwidth or be unable to effectively execute on the ideas.

All of which brings us back to the idea of vision.

How important is vision and this mysterious ability to see what’s not there?

It is the true crux of success. Vision is knowing what’s needed for the right market at the right time at the right price point. It is understanding through which channels the solutions need to be delivered. And it is recognizing how to best amplify an idea so you can reach as large an audience of potential consumers as possible and maximize revenue opportunities

Michelangelo summed up his artistic philosophy simply:  “Every block of stone has a statue inside it. It is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

As entrepreneurs, the question is therefore straightforward:  How will you discover the next great business idea? And more important, can it have as lasting an impact as David?