Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Entrepreneur

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A couple of months ago Brad Feld wrote a great post about Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  I’d read the book a couple of times as a kid, not thinking of it as any more than a story about a seagull that broke the rules to achieve his dreams.

After reading Brad’s post, I vowed to read the book again through my older, more experienced eyes.  I’ve now (re)read it twice & am riffing on Brad’s post, hopefully you will find it useful…

Jonathan reminds me a lot of another of my heroes, Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s book The Fountainhead.  Both are self-contained beings driven by a vision to constantly push the envelope of what’s possible, regardless of conventional wisdom, alienation, or the seeming impossibility of their quest.

I’m going to pull some direct quotes from the book and relate them to what I consider the driving forces of entrepreurialism:

“Why is it so hard to be like the rest of the flock, Jon?” – By definition, entrepreneurs see things that others don’t, are driven to make them reality and are willing to do whatever it takes to see their vision through regardless of what others think.

“Jonathan Seagull exploded in midair and smashed down into a brick-hard sea.” – Throughout the book Jonathan experiments, fails (often painfully) , recovers and tries again, core skills that any entrepreneur must get comfortable with on the long road to success.

“A falcon’s short wings.  That’s the answer!” – Great entrepreneurs tune into their inner voice, thinking through possible paths to success, then iterating through them until they find an approach they think will work and experimenting until they get to success.

“Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull’s life is so short…” – Having lived in the corporate world for a long time I came to learn that these three elements are core, unsolvable problems with the hierarchical system, ones that are finally (and frighteningly) coming to light as that world devolves and the flat, networked world begins to replace it.  Conversely, the flat, networked world that is emerging eliminates this as people follow their dreams and only work with others that share them.

“One school is finished and the time has come for another to begin.” – For those of you still living in some form of the hierarchical world (corporate, academic, or government), it is time to rethink, either how you can rebuild your role (perhaps as an intrapreneur) in that broken world or whether it is time to take the leap into a new one as an entrepreneur.

“For each of them, the most important thing in living was to reach out and touch perfection in that which they most loved to do…” – This one speaks for itself, if you are not spending every waking moment of every day doing something you are wildly passionate about, you are missing out on the best that life has to offer.

“Instead of being enfeebled by age, the elder had been empowered by it…” – I strongly believe that every entrepreneur has a duty to use what we have learned on life’s journey to mentor those that follow us, as we were mentored by those that went before us.

“You need to keep finding yourself each day, that real, unlimited Fletcher Seagull.” – Insatiable curiosity is one of the core traits of an entrepreneur, being a lifelong learner an essential entrepreneurial skill.

Echoing Brad’s advice, I’d recommend taking time to read this book, with one addition – do it somewhere outside of your conventional work environment.  The first couple of times I picked it up, tyranny of the urgent got in the way.  The two times I was successful in both reading and absorbing it were outdoors, where the constraints are gone and your imagination can run free…