Value creation, swagger, and arrogance

Certain artists understand entrepreneurship and value creation better than many business people.

Nick Cave is in that group. He writes one of my favorite email lists, and this is an excerpt from a recent letter:

I just wasn’t that talented. I couldn’t play an instrument as well as most other musicians, I was a less than capable singer, and my songwriting was in no way as strong as that of some of my contemporaries. I was acutely aware of these shortcomings, and felt set apart from that world.

Having said that, I was also aware that there was a force at work inside of me that other musicians didn’t seem to possess, at least not to the same degree. This also set me apart, and caused me no end of trouble. I had, without any supporting evidence, a shameless and pathological belief in my own awesomeness.


A central tension exists in my advice: I think you’re smarter than the market you serve.

Your core motive needs to be service, but I really do believe you are smarter than those you serve because you’re an outsider, and can see things they can’t. You may not be more intelligent than them, but you’re structurally smarter.

You’re (hopefully) not consumed by their day-to-day concerns, so you can see their strategic opportunities more clearly.

You have skin in the game, but freedom to speak truths they can’t.

You’re (hopefully) conversant in their lingo, empathetic to their aspirations, and deeply informed about their context, yet you’re not blinded by their dogma and myths.

There’s a tension between a desire to serve and the swagger of knowing you’re smarter than those you’re serving.

Can ferocity and humility coexist in the same person?