The Creator's Code - Book Review by Teresa Jurgens-Kowal

15 Aug 2018 9:00 AM | Tricia Simo Kush (Administrator)
The Creator’s Code by Amy Wilkinson. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks: New York (2015). 228 pages. US$9.98 (paperback).

Most of us have great ideas that we think could turn into great businesses. Just the other day, for instance, I told the blood donation attendant about my great idea to have a manicurist perform her magic during the procedure. Of course, there are some obvious holes in my “great idea”.

Yet, other people can convert ideas into business success. How do they do this and is there a formula for entrepreneurs?

Amy Wilkinson, author of “The Creator’s Code,” says, “YES!”  And she shows us six essential skills in her book. The text is based on interviews with over 200 entrepreneurs who started companies that generate greater than $100M in revenue each year (pg. 9). These include companies like Under Armour, Airbnb, Dropbox, Chipotle, and JetBlue.

The first step is to identify an opportunity that others don’t see. Sounds easier said than done, but the author explains that some people are able to transport solutions from one industry to another. For example, Howard Schultz didn’t invent the idea of a coffee bar. Instead, he saw a unique culture in Italy and transported the community of coffee into the Starbuck’s business model.

Next, successful entrepreneurs seek the future over the past. Wilkinson calls this “to-go” thinking over “to-date” thinking. Research shows that considering what you have left to do to complete a task enhances motivation (pg. 58-59). Retrospective thinking can make us lazy.

The third skill in “The Creator’s Code” is to “fly the OODA loop” (Chapter 3). The acronym OODA comes from a Korean War era Air Force pilot: observe, orient, decide, and act. Success entrepreneurs gather a lot of data (observe), interpret the data (orient), make quick choices (decide), and then implement a plan (act). Feedback from markets, customers, and experiments go back into the cycle as observations to continue learning.

Chapter 4, “Fail Wisely,” describes the next skill in the “The Creator’s Code.”  Creators share one trait: failure (pg. 101). Of course, failure doesn’t feel good, but it does provide learning. Successful entrepreneurs are okay with making low-risk mistakes and are self-aware enough to ask for help when necessary. Creators utilize a “growth mindset” (pg. 128-130, see also the book review on Mindset.)

Next, successful entrepreneurs use opportunity identification and learning from failure to build cognitive diversity. Wilkinson calls this “networking minds” (Chapter 5). As design thinking teaches us, we cannot solve problems in isolation. Collaboration and feedback help us to generate the best solutions (pg. 141).

Finally, the sixth element of “The Creator’s Code” is to “Gift Small Goods” (Chapter 6). In short, the author explains that collaboration, networking, and doing favors for others pays back. The author relays the Christmas card study by Phillip Kunz at BYU. He hand-signed 600 cards and sent them to absolute strangers. He received over 100 return greetings, complete with well wishes for his family, photos of kids and pets, and hand-written message. People appreciate acts of kindness and will repay them.


So, the six elements of becoming a successful creator and entrepreneur are more about behaviors than technical skills. Wilkinson teaches us that we need to identify unsatisfied customer needs, to try and try again, learn from failure, and collaborate with others. How do we apply these skills as engineering managers inside corporations instead of acting as solo entrepreneurs?

I believe “The Creator’s Code” gives engineering managers tools to enhance and empower teams. Corporate product and project management also depends on finding gaps in markets and technologies that match the core competencies of the firm. Success as engineering managers also requires us to “fly the OODA loop,” to fail wisely, and to network minds. Recognizing the strength of those around us and building an entrepreneurial environment can also build success for our engineering and project teams.

I recommend “The Creator’s Code” for engineering and engineering manager who are curious about curiosity and want to understand the traits of successful creators. The stories that Wilkinson presents are intriguing. It’s a quick and easy read – maybe a book suitable for scanning while you lay on the beach this summer!

What skill can you transport from the entrepreneurial world to make your engineering project teams more successful?

Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, PE, CPEM, PMP®, NPDP, is a passionate lifelong learner. She enjoys helping individuals and companies improve their innovation programs and loves scrapbooking. You can learn more about Teresa and her new Innovation MasterMind group by connecting on LinkedIn.

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