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Avoiding Regret: the one thing missing from innovation, creativity and our love affair with entrepreneurship

September 5, 2018


Entrepreneurs face a major responsibility when they are creating a good or service.


Most people work in a company or organization but didn't create it. For them, they inherit and work to improve upon what was created by the founder(s), the entrepreneur(s). And think about this:  have you ever said something you regretted?  You spoke too quickly or were upset or excited and you said something that made you cringe later?  That is what can happen to entrepreneurs. They can create things that either they--or the world--regrets later on.


What an entrepreneur and her team create, as a culture and a product and an operation, will (hopefully) continue for years to come.  Most think a lot about the specific features, pricing and communication strategy, but what about the broader impacts on society?


Consider the case of famous American inventor Thomas Midgley who invented leaded gasoline (we later found out that lead is a neurotoxin especially dangerous for children) and Freon (we later learned that chlorofluorocarbons like Freon destroy the ozone layer).


During his time, Midgley was regarded as one of the most brilliant scientists of his day.  And indeed, he helped thousands, perhaps millions, of people get access to refrigeration and the automobile.  But like a Frankenstein story, his creations turned into environmental and human health monsters of the 20th century.  And his final creation later in life when suffering from a severe illness and disability, which was meant to help him out of bed, actually led to his own death (but I'll let you learn about that elsewhere).


One observer has said:


"Midgley displayed an absolutely uncanny instinct for doing what we now recognize as the wrong thing, and then for building those things into multimillion-dollar industries
that would take generations to dismantle."


It's easy to look back and say..."well, that was dumb." Or we might say..."but we understand the science now. Those were the dark ages."  But the challenge for the entrepreneur continues. Consider Jeff Bezos and the heat he is taking for how his distribution center workers are treated. Or take the humble K-Cup and the case of entrepreneur John Sylvan...


READ THIS article in The Atlantic about entrepreneur and K-Cup inventor John Sylvan. He deeply regrets--and more importantly for the point we are exploring here, he didn't foresee--the enormous waste that would result from his "innovation."  Why didn't he think about it?  Why didn't the investors, the lenders, his co-partners? And what about Green Mountain who purchased K-Cup.  The financial analysts, accountants and lawyers didn't calculate the social cost of the waste, the impact on brand and reputation as a risk to future cash flows?