Josh Linkner, a venture capitalist who's business partners with Dan Gilbert and, as of a few months ago, a Detroit Free Press business columnist, took time from being fabulous to post a curious musing on the Freep's site.
I'm curious because Linkner's column appears Sundays in the business section. When he popped up next to the other Freep columnists on Friday morning, I had questions.
Linkner's name bubbles to the surface whenever we start talking about the startup biz revolution in Detroit because he's a New York Times bestselling author and a regular Forbes contributor. ("What Works In The Bedroom Works In Detroit" is one of his finest, most heart-tugging Forbes contributions.) During a time when we had few business leaders on a national stage, Linkner had lightning in a bottle and ascended quickly.
But he also fits the mold of the White Entrepreneurial Detroit Guy meme, a jargon-speaking, seemingly naive suit-type with an unusually rose-colored outlook of Detroit's future that, most of the time, fails to address present conditions. We've dissected the meme over and over and over again and yes, we've established it's not just 1. White guys or 2. Entrepreneurial guys but it's always 3. Clueless guys.
While The Detroit News, The Huffington Post and Deadline Detroit have all addressed the meme in some measure or another, the Free Press, the region's most-read publication, has been silent until now — I think? Linkner's latest piece seems to dance around the conversation but not address it. I'm not going to put words in his mouth, but you be the judge.
Innovation is routinely met by fear from those that the advances disrupt. Bold thought-leaders are attacked by parasitic naysayers who would rather criticize than create. For every courageous doer, there are two-dozen finger-pointing detractors, eager to toss a wet blanket onto progress.
When you feel the assault of abrasive critics, your instinct may be to cave. To give a "little" ground. To settle. To allow your most potent ideas to become watered down. The problem is, by giving even an inch you embolden the naysayers. Your effort to diffuse the situation has the opposite effect. In fact, it only strengthens your adversaries.
I think in layman's terms this means, "big ups to all my haters!"
What's dangerous about Linkner's assessment is that, besides the cringe-worthy use of the world "embolden," is this idea that someone should be immune to criticism rather than using it as a source of improvement. If there's nothing else that we've learned from discussing the white entrepreneurial guy, it's that criticism gives way to conversation. If there wasn't criticism of Jason Lorimer's Model D column that led to the meme, who knows what issues may have gone unnoticed.
To brush off criticism out of fear of "settling" can build up a false sense of empowerment. When you've got no one to put you in check, how do you know when you've done something wrong? The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Whether this is a response to the meme's discussion or not, I think those continuing to buy whatever Linkner's selling should probably take a closer look at what he's saying — that is, if you can cut through the buzzword bullshit.