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Josh Linkner: An interview by Bob Morris

Josh Linkner

Josh Linkner is the New York Times bestselling author of Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity, named one of the top 30 business books of 2011. He is the CEO and Managing Partner of Detroit Venture Partners, a venture capital firm rebuilding urban areas through technology and entrepreneurship. Josh is also an Adjunct Professor of Applied Creativity at the University of Michigan.

Josh is the Founder, Chairman and former CEO of ePrize, the largest interactive promotion agency in the world providing digital marketing services for 74 of the top 100 brands.

Prior to ePrize, Josh was the founder and CEO of three other successful technology companies. He has been named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, the Automation Alley CEO of the Year, and the Detroit Executive of the Year. Josh’s writings are published frequently by Fast Company and Forbes and he’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, and on CNBC. Josh is also a professional jazz guitarist performing regularly in jazz clubs throughout the United States.

Most importantly, Josh in on a mission to make the world more creative.

Here is an excerot from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

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Morris: Before discussing Disciplined Dreaming, a few general questions. First, which of the skills you have developed for playing jazz have proven to be most valuable to your business initiatives? Please explain.

Linkner: Business today is all about improvisation, which is the essence of jazz. Perhaps in the past we could just follow the operating manual and do what we were told, but today the world is too complex and fast. Today it’s all about real-time innovation and creativity. Individuals may get hired based on their resumes, but they’ll get promoted and reach their dreams based on their ability to create. In that context, being a jazz musician was the best MBA I could have ever received.

Morris: When and why did you found ePrize?

Linkner: I launched ePrize in 1999. At the time, the whole world was focused on internet ADVERTISING (Yahoo, Google, etc). Meanwhile, the category of promotions was a large part of the marketing mix but largely dormant online. Rather than following the herd and launch yet another online advertising company, I decided to zig where others zagged. I decided to break free from conventional wisdom, and launched the first internet promotion company in the world.

Morris: What do you know now that you wish you knew then?

Linkner: That mistakes aren’t fatal; they are merely the portals of discovery. Also, it’s better to over-pay for A-level talent early on (even if you can’t afford it). They will drive exponential value and help you win faster.

Morris: What prompted you to found GlobalLink New Media in 1995?

Linkner: I had a degree in advertising, was a life-long tech geek, and loved design. When I first saw the internet, I knew I found my home. I realized that while only 2% of companies had a website at that time, it wouldn’t be long before EVERY company had one. Someone needed to design, built, and host them so I seized that opportunity.

Morris: Years ago while interviewing Andy Grove (then Intel CEO and author of Only the Paranoid Survive), he convinced me that C-level executives should lead their organization as if it were in a turnaround mode, whatever its age, size, and nature may be. What do you think?
Linkner: I’m a big fan of Andy’s. His point is that winning companies must always be in a state of reinvention and growth. They must always stay hungry and foster urgency and innovation. Couldn’t agree more.

Morris: Presumably you are constantly interacting with business executives who are with client companies, who comprise an audience to which you speak, and who contact you with feedback. Here’s my question: To what extent (if any) have their greatest concerns changed during – let’s say – the last 3-5 years?

Linkner: In 2008 we suffered an economic catastrophe, and the rules of the game fundamentally changed forever. A few years ago, you might hear a leader talking about doing things “the way we’ve always done it.” No more. Today, nearly every industry is in the midst of massive upheaval. Today, we live in a world of dizzying speed, exponential complexity, and ruthless competition. Leaders today realize they need to innovate, and their chief concerns now focus on fostering creative and innovation within their organizations.

Morris: As you reflect back on your life thus far, who have had the greatest impact on your personal growth and professional development?

Linkner: I admire mold-breakers. People that bust free from traditional thinking and change the game completely. Steve Jobs. Charlie Parker (jazz saxophonist). The Groupon guys. Seth Godin (author) People who dare to be different and end up creating something truly different and remarkable.

Morris: You have asserted that creativity “is what will separate the winners from the also-rans in the emerging world of business – and life.” How so?

Linkner: Today, nearly every competitive advantage of the past has been commoditized. Creativity is the one thing that can’t be outsourced. The one thing that can separate a company, team, or individual from the competitive set. Today, precision execution is merely the ante to play. Sustained differentiation can only come from breakthrough creativity.

Morris: Here’s a two-part question: To what extent are creativity and innovation different? What do they share in common?

Linkner: Innovation is a subset of creativity. Innovation often deals with product launches and is often relegated to the C-suite or to heads of R&D departments. Innovation requires creativity, but creativity is something that is much more broad. It applies to people at all levels of an organization. Today, we all are responsible for delivering “everyday creativity.” Small creative acts that add up to big things.

Morris: In your opinion, what will be the single greatest challenge that business leaders will have to face during (let’s say) the next 3-5 years? Any advice to offer?

Linkner: Building creative cultures, and working with purpose to unleash the creativity of their teams. Creativity is the most valuable natural resource in any organization, yet it is often a resource that is largely untapped. The leaders that prioritize and invest in creative cultures will be the Wall Street darlings of tomorrow. In fact, they’re the darlings of today (Facebook, Groupon, LinkedIn, etc).

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Josh Linkner cordially invites you to check out the resources at

Bob Morris is an independent management consultant based in Dallas who specializes in accelerated executive development. He has interviewed more than 100 business thought leaders and reviewed more than 2,200 business books for Amazon. Each week, we will add to the Networlding Business Bookshelf abbreviated reviews in which he discusses a few of his personal favorites. You can contact him directly at

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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