This column originally appeared on Fredo Pareto.

Eating Christ and Grinding Meat

Unless you were dipped in Catholic holy water as a babe, then you might have been old enough to remember your first visit to a Catholic church. I was. There’s a choreography that noobs don’t understand, that I didn’t understand. 

When the priest signaled communion, the entire place went into motion, overlapping, single-filing and then looping. My wife and father-in-law, both life-time Catholics, knew exactly how to eat and drink the Christ, but I did not. In a bustling sanctuary roughly the size and solvency of Home Depot, there I was, marooned on aisle nine, with no clue how to join in. It was like the path meat travels once inside a meat grinder: choreography to insiders, chaos to noobs. 
 
Every novel rhythm begins this way. Then, in time and repetition, chaos looks more and more like choreography. 
 
Now, I’m going to give an entrepreneur’s take on chaos and choreography—mine—so let me be clear that this is where we part ways with my Catholic church story. MC Escher said of humans, “we adore chaos because we love to produce order,” but as a first-timer at Catholic church, I neither adored the chaos nor desired to produce order. I just desired lunch and for people to stop looking at me on aisle nine. 
 
Let’s come up with a new illustration for chaos. How about a blank, white canvas? When the possibilities are endless, it’s as probable to achieve nothing good as it is to achieve something good, because you can’t really know whether you’re on the right path until you happen upon the right path. To begin anew is to accept chaos and the risk of never graduating beyond it. 
 
What kind of a person accepts that kind of risk? Hint: don’t say “entrepreneur.” Like the ethnic label “Hispanic,” the occupational label “entrepreneur” lacks instructive meaning apart from the variety underlying it. 
 
There are two competing definitions of “entrepreneur,” and in order for one to be correct, they both must be correct. One version is that of the risk-taker, the artist, the visionary. The other version is that of the planner, the executor, the analyst. It wasn’t until I became a full-time, failed entrepreneur that I really understood this co-dependency, that one by itself just isn’t good enough. 
 
Sure, one could argue that being just one of these still qualifies you as an entrepreneur, but the low-hanging counter to that argument is probably the arguer’s own track record. Is that arguer a successful entrepreneur? Probably not. Did he try, though? Maybe. But that’s not really the point of talking about what it means to be an entrepreneur, is it? We want to succeed, not just be smart but poor. 
 
That brings me to this disclaimer: I do not yet consider myself a successful entrepreneur…just a guy who tries hard and thinks-out-loud even harder. 

And here’s what I’m thinking: it takes art to begin, but chess to win. 

(FYI, imagining the combination of art and chess on a timeline left to right, I think I’m somewhere right of center; I’ve pretty much nailed art but have a lot to learn about chess.) 

Art 

Entrepreneur-artists stand out for their eccentricity and apparent naivety. They embody quotes like: 

“Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible. I think it’s in my basement…let me go upstairs and check (Escher).” 

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man (Shaw).” 

“The earth is round, not flat (some Greek dudes and then Columbus, probably).” 

To me, Steve Jobs is the quintessential entrepreneur-artist. He didn’t cut off his ear and mail it to an ex, but he did do some crazy stuff for crazy reasons. I wouldn’t say that he, at times, suspended rationality; I would say that he, at all times, subscribed to a different brand of rationality than everyone else. It was his own eccentric brand, one in which form and function were one and color trumped thrift (if you don’t know: Jobs famously spent millions painting Apple’s manufacturing facilities handpicked colors over and over again). 

The entrepreneur-artist is a tragic hero in the Greek sense. If he fails, we all say, “If only he had heeded our advice and stopped doing that one thing we all clearly knew would doom him.” If he succeeds, we all say, “I don’t know how he did it, nor did I see it coming, but he clearly knew what he was doing—must be a genius.” 
 
But did he know? Or did he just believe, and then eventually get it right, or find the luck that evades most? 
 
When asked, one painter described his process as “telling a story to which you don’t know the end.” To me, that’s the tautological definition of an entrepreneur-artist: 

  1. You believe something no one else believes. 
  2. This belief is purely faith-based. 
  3. The outcome of your work is uncertain. 

The conviction of your belief is based on your own original analysis, consisting in part of data, inferences and synthesis. 

 
Imagine three napkins, one for each part of your analysis. On one napkin, you compile data, on another, your inferences from that data based on your experience, and on the last, the visual part of your art, your novel synthesis. You combine things no one has combined before, and this is what the rest of the world will see. The first two napkins are footnotes in support of the third, your argument. Your startup matters because [your synthesis] and can do something no one has ever done before because [your synthesis]. 
 
Importantly, though, your belief is faith-based, unless/until you prove it, and entrepreneur-artists, by definition, precede proof (that’s my view, anyway). 
If you need me, I’ll be boning up on my chess game, watching the paint dry.