The term “gazelle” refers to the classic entrepreneur of myth and reality, someone who starts a new business venture (or a new way of doing business) and aims for it to explode into a white-hot phenomenon such as Home Depot, Facebook, Jenny Craig, Netflix, Under Armour, and Instagram. The term was coined by the economist David Birch. His identification of gazelle companies followed from his 1979 report titled “The Job Generation Process” (MIT Program on Neighborhood and Regional Change), wherein he identified small companies as the biggest creators of new jobs in the economy.
In 1994, however, Birch revised his thesis, isolating job-creating companies he called “gazelles.” Characterized less by size than by rapid expansion, Birch defined the species as enterprises whose sales doubled every four years. By his estimates, these firms, roughly 4% of all U.S. companies, were responsible for 70% of all new jobs. The gazelles beat out the elephants (like Walmart) and the mice (corner barbershops). When you hear politicians say, “Small businesses create most of the new jobs,” they’re really talking about young and fast-growing firms. They are talking about gazelles.
And so is Amy Wilkinson in The Creator’s Code, based on rigorous and extensive research that includes interviews of more than 200 entrepreneurs who created companies with more than $100-million in annual revenue. (Several now generate more than $100-BILLION in annual revenue.) One of the primary objectives of her research was to identify common attributes that could be coded and then formulated as concepts. As she explains, “Creators are not born with an innate ability to conceive and build $100 million enterprises. They work at it. I found that all share certain fundamental approaches to the act of creation. The skills that make them successful can be learned, practiced, and passed on.” Each is the topic of a separate chapter in her book. Here they are, accompanied by an annotation of mine:
1. FIND THE GAP
Comment: Find the unmet need, the unanswered question, the unsolved problem…and be especially alert for anomalies.
2.DRIVE FOR DAYLIGHT
Comment: Create a distance between you and your competitors by outworking and outperforming them…ignoring traditional boundaries and limitations. Also, constantly challenge your assumptions and premises. Competitive marketplaces change and so must you…but never compromise non-negotiable values such as integrity.
3. FLY THE OODA LOOP
Comment: Observe, Orient, Decide, and then Act faster and better than anyone else does. Also, know what NOT to do.
4. FAIL WISELY [and SHREWDLY]
Comment: Experiment and test constantly, learn and then discard, applying what is learned…and if the result is DOA, bury it.
5. NETWORK MINDS
Comment: Recruit a variety of experiences and skills that offer diverse perspectives; encourage, indeed insist upon principled dissent.
6. GIFT SMALL GOODS
Comment: Share knowledge, wisdom, and resources generously with those who need them and whose efforts have earned your support.
As Wilkinson explains, “The six essential skills are not discrete, stand-alone practices. Each feeds the next, creating synergy and momentum…When a creator brings together all six skills, something magnetic happens. Creators attract allies — employees, customers, investors, and collaborators of all kinds. Customers become evangelists. Employees turn into loyalists. Investors back the company with support that transcends financial returns.”
Larry Schweikart and Lynne Pierson Doti co-authored American Entrepreneur, in my opinion one of the most important books written about entrepreneurism. They share “the fascinating stories of the people who defined business in the United States” from the colonial settlements through early in the 21st century. More than 150 entrepreneurs are discussed and their efforts demonstrate several of the six skills/initiatives/approaches on which Amy Wilkinson focuses. It is important to keep in mind that, if the Fortune 1000 were viewed as oak trees, each of them began as an acorn.
This is what she has in mind when sharing her concluding thoughts: “Creation is at the bottom an act of faith, a commitment to a dream of the future. All of us hold within ourselves the potential to become creators, and the expanding universe of entrepreneurship provides infinite pathways for us to explore – if we dare. Look at the world around you. It’s a world that’s perpetually changing, perpetually being made [or remade anew]. Only you can seize the tremendous power that is yours to be come one of the world’s creators.”
With all due respect to the core components of the “creator’s code” in this book, I presume to add another. Without exception, all of the great entrepreneurs throughout history possessed exceptional courage. This quality is probably what Jack Dempsey had in mind years ago when explaining that champions “get up when they can’t.”