It was a great privilege to share a room with Annabel Karmel and James Caan this week for our session on The Best Advice I Ever Got at Ad Week Europe. The idea was to re-visit one of the key themes from our Influencers series in an offline setting - and this provided a great opportunity to get under the skin of what it means to be an entrepreneur.
You wouldn't necessarily expect two very successful people to lead on the importance of failure. But if there's a common theme to both James's and Annabel's stories it's that failure is a constant factor in business life: you can't afford to run in fear of it; in fact, it's the way that you address it and manage the risk of it occurring that makes you a success. Both have suffered setbacks; both have learned from them - and crucially neither has lost their nerve for challenging convention as a result.
Annabel made a really good point that lots of people think you have to be an inventor to be an entrepreneur. In her view, you don't. What makes you an entrepreneur isn't inventing or even re-inventing the wheel; it's realising there's a gap in the market where you can do something better than it's being done right now - and having the courage to do something about it. Nails Inc, Avent baby bottles and The White Company were great examples of this; and so is Annabel's own business.
Technology of course, brings a host of opportunities for doing things differently. James Caan talked about the need for businesses to embrace change - and indeed for the advertising industry to help its clients see the possibilities rather than run from them. He talked about his initial concerns that LinkedIn would undermine his recruitment company, Alexander Mann; and how these proved unfounded when our network helped information flow more efficiently - and actually increasing profitability for his business.
James's role as the chairman of Start-up Loans, which is channelling government funding to young entrepreneurs, clearly means a great deal to him. And it made me proud to hear him talk about the role LinkedIn can play in connecting young entrepreneurs with the advice and support that they need. For me, this echoes the concept of the Economic Graph, a theme that our CEO Jeff Weiner often talks about: the idea that LinkedIn can become a digital map for the world economy, connecting people, jobs, skills and opportunities - and supporting start-ups of the type that James is helping to get off the ground.
I came away from the session with a big sense that businesses are very human affairs. Annabel's story of how the loss of her young daughter led to her writing her books and starting her business is a very sad and very moving one. I'm sure that amongst the young entrepreneurs that Start-up Loans supports there will be lots of people driven by very personal stories as well. It's connecting individuals together that often provides the spark that can ignite an idea and turn it into a business. Both our panellists talked about surrounding themselves with the right people, learning from others and having the courage to keep asking until you understand. Annabel told a great story about a piece of advice that James Caan had actually given her: when you have an idea, don't go up to people and just ask what they think about it; instead ask them why they think it will fail. That way you'll learn something really useful.
As best advice, that feels like a great way to sum up the session: confronting the fear of failure head on, having the courage to go ahead but having the connections (and the right questions to ask them) to make things work.
Thanks again to both my panellists for a really inspiring session.
Watch the full session here.
THE BEST ADVICE I EVER GOTby advertisingweek