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Spinning Into Control: Improvising the Sustainable Startup By Amiel Kornel, Author, Venture Capitalist and Startup Expert

  (February 25, 2018)
Spinning Into Control: Improvising the Sustainable Startup By Amiel Kornel, Author, Venture Capitalist and Startup Expert

Popular theories of entrepreneurship fail to acknowledge the critical and natural role played by skillful improvisation in venturing, argues startup investor, and business advisor Amiel Kornel, author of “Spinning Into Control: Improvising the Sustainable Startup."

     In his new book, Mr. Kornel seeks to help anyone who has become stymied or lost along the winding road to startup success. “Spinning Into Control," published by Palgrave Macmillan, encourages these venturers to master essential skills, often overlooked, that will sustain their entrepreneurial journey.

     “Most advisors and investors I know emphasize building businesses scientifically," Mr. Kornel explains. “They stress adaptive ‘lean' planning to iteratively test hypotheses through structured experimentation, and design thinking to methodically generate ideas for solving problems or identifying opportunities. Everyone has been promoting a scientific approach to venturing."

     Yet the scientific method is insufficient. Mr. Kornel notes. What's lacking, he says, is the element of artistry that fuels the entrepreneurial mindset. This under-appreciated fusion of science and art unleashes creativity in powerful ways. Improvisation, when skillfully applied, can deliver momentum and stability, moving the venture forward toward fruition.

     There is no shortage of how-to books with ‘manual' in the title, and articles promising ‘The 7 or 6 or 10 key traits of successful entrepreneurs', which breed an infectious optimism all too often quashed as startups fail. Mr. Kornel builds a persuasive case for an alternative theory that while grounded in the natural way great entrepreneurs operate resists reduction to a simple recipe or method.

     Mr. Kornel, a venture capitalist who has coached hundreds of entrepreneurs, believes that disciplined planning, lean management, and commitment alone are no guarantee of success. The limited resources of a startup actually demand knowing when and how to ‘wander' among alternative market opportunities and product concepts, as well as to ‘tinker' - artfully recombining ideas, designs, media, software, and materials on hand. Mr. Kornel coined the term Venture Craft to describe how experienced entrepreneurs naturally explore and craft enduring products, services and ventures. These venture craftsmen harness and redirect the energy of startups that might otherwise spin dangerously out of control toward failure.

     His new book combines tales of real-life venturers - both modern and historical - with practical tools to help entrepreneurs more resourcefully incubate new businesses. The stories of entrepreneurs like Sun Basket's Adam Zbar, Minecraft's Markus Persson, Y Combinator's Paul Graham, and Metacode Technologies' Joel Schatz are woven throughout the book, along with examples from beyond business, including legendary ocean-racing sailor Isabelle Autissier and acclaimed gypsy-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Mr. Kornel shows how meeting challenges in a broad variety of fields rife with uncertainty often relies on loosening the coupling between command and control, a prerequisite of skillful improvisation.

     In researching “Spinning Into Control," Mr. Kornel also spoke with scores of successful craftspeople - from a French luthier, an Austrian cabinet-maker and an Israeli textile designer to a US investigative journalist. Regardless of their respective trades, each of these expert artisans intentionally and continuously improves their capacity to improvise new products and strategies with limited resources.

     “Similarly," says Mr. Kornel, “just about every experienced entrepreneur I know improvises. They craft their ventures; they don't engineer them. And like any craftsman, they naturally blend art with science. At the heart of the art are skills that rely on improvisation. Yet as investors and coaches, we fail to help them master these arts, to improvise more skillfully."

     “Spinning Into Control" serves as a companion to more traditional books on
entrepreneurship and helps venturers tap into their natural gifts, paving the way to greater professional satisfaction and success. The book provides actionable insights about using improvisation to improve results. Mr. Kornel delineates improvisation into three distinct, practical skills: wandering, tinkering, and conversing. He urges every entrepreneur to be mindful of and work on improving each of these skills. “Entrepreneurship can be a challenging road," he concludes. ‘Spinning Into Control' is a smart navigational tool for starting and sustaining the successful enterprise more naturally."


Tinkering involves the craft aspect of honing a new product or venture. “This is the part where you recombine ideas and resources in novel, interesting ways. It is, essentially, growing technical intelligence," Mr. Kornel observes. Steve Wozniak tinkered endlessly to perfect the first Apple computer. Long before him, Stradivari tinkered with minute variations of materials and form to create musical instruments still venerated hundreds of years later. Tinkering is just as critical today for entrepreneurs, makers and hackers.

Wandering denotes exploration, or venturing: “It's important as a way to gain market intelligence," Mr. Kornel states. “Take a look at different avenues and accept that you'll feel disoriented; this can be a good thing, the necessary first leg of a journey that will get you reoriented." Ocean-faring explorers of centuries ago were essentially wandering entrepreneurs, ‘merchant adventurers' in search of new routes to bring valuable goods to market. First monarchs and then trading companies formed by syndicates of wealthy investors functioned as venture capitalists to fund entrepreneurial undertakings.

Conversing: There is no substitute for meaningful, face-to-face human interaction, Mr. Kornel insists. “Mastering conversation is a non-trivial challenge." Through active listening and open dialog, entrepreneurs can grow and mobilize social intelligence. “When you're building a company, social capital can be more important than financial capital. You're trying to change the world, and the only way you'll get that edge is through well-leveraged relationships." And an ability to hear and observe emotional hot-buttons of target customers and partners can help uncover authentic market opportunities and breakthrough product ideas.

“Spinning Into Control: Improvising the Sustainable Startup"
Author, Venture Capitalist and Startup Expert Amiel Kornel


"As a venture capitalist, board member, and startup advisor, Amiel Kornel has seen plenty of startups win big - or die trying. Spinning Into Control shares with you everything he has learned about how an entrepreneur can combat the chaos that's characteristic of nearly every startup, and put his or her company on the right path. "
Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe entrepreneurship columnist; and Co-Founder, Innovation Leader

"Amiel provides a compelling contrast to mainstream guides for entrepreneurs. He charts a course for, primarily, the founder as product visionary. He acknowledges that, for many startups, the path to success is winding, and often recursive. But it's also a voyage of discovery and improvisation with, one always hopes, a fruitful ending. The book deeply resonated with my own experience as venture investor and serial entrepreneur. Recommended reading alongside more conventional treatises."
Alex Osadzinski, Managing Director, Relias Learning; and active angel investor
             Formerly, entrepreneur at Sun Microsystems, Be, and Vitria, and VC at Trinity Ventures

“Amiel Kornel has been playing every role in the startup world for thirty years. Here he shares what he's learned-that while principles-‘lean', ‘minimum viable product', etc.-can be useful, the successful entrepreneur is a resilient artisan, never in equilibrium, always learning, even (or especially) from failure. The book teaches the skills, and the mindset, of benefitting from the many sources of feedback available to the startup. Not only does the advice ring true (the book contains plenty of examples) but it will be especially useful to new entrepreneurs who fear that not getting it right the first time is doing it wrong."
Chris Meyer, Founder and CEO, Nerve; and author of best-seller BLUR, Standing on the Sun,            

“Anyone involved in realizing startup projects - from independent, bootstrapping entrepreneurs to managers of corporate venture accelerators - will discover actionable insights that help them hone their craft. While much has already been written on entrepreneurship, Spinning Into Control breaks new ground by calling on founders to blend art with science. With empathy for the hard work of venture incubation, it spotlights the one skill most required, but often least developed, in the venturer's toolkit, namely improvisation."
Bill Hill, Founder and CEO, MetaDesign San Francisco; and member, Board of Advisors,
                Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology

"What a fresh and natural look at what it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur. This book will help educators like myself teach ‘real-world' entrepreneurship - as a craft that mixes both art and science. It also will enable a better understanding between all parties in the startup ecosystem. Kornel's book informs founders, funders, advisors and corporate partners about the essentials of successful venture craftsmanship."
Brett Bonthron, Digital Transformation Partner, Salesforce;
                            Adjunct Faculty, University of San Francisco School of Management

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