Entrepreneurship as a skill
We’re used to think entrepreneurs are these audacious lone riders going about changing the world in amazing ways. And there’s certainly that “breed” out there.
They pursued these incredible (until they achieved them) goals that changed things dramatically (Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg).
However, they all have a few things in common: ideas that had to become reality, resilience in the process, unending (not uneven) motivation, strong desire to be hands on, and an educated sense towards risk (not foolish). They also had significant hardship and failures that would knock out most of us for good.
If that’s the definition of what an entrepreneur is, then there are only a few on this earth who fit the bill.
1. Entrepreneurship isn’t a career, it’s a skill.
Entrepreneurship is a skill, not a career. Instead of thinking that you must create a world breakthrough with an unicorn company (yes there are proponents of that model, and it’s great if you do), think of entrepreneurship as a skill. It’s a skill you can develop, improve, become an expert at and use across multiple careers: starting a business, working as a freelancer or consultant, being part of a team at large or small company.
The first time the root of the word entrepreneurship was first recognized around 1762 and was associated with:
“one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise;”
“Enterprise” is a synonym for business, project, initiative, campaign, etc.
So every time you are in a position where 1) you need to organize resources, 2) you assume the risk of an endeavor that solves a problem or a need, and 3) pursue a profitable outcome, you exhibit entrepreneurship as a skill.
“I actually think every individual is now an entrepreneur, whether they recognize it or not.” — Reid Hoffman
Today’s economies, communities, and organizations (“ECOs”) call for a different kind of “professional.” You have to bring value beyond repetitive and routine tasks that artificial intelligence is so keen on taking over and perfecting.
More than ever, creativity and innovation are what defines successful professionals, especially due to the pace of change across industries (digitization in conjunction with connected devices / internet of things, automation / artificial intelligence).
Going back to our example of people who have changed the world, it’s clear that they have mastered innovation. They’ve taken creative ideas into the realm of reality, and made the outcomes available for others, and by those means improving their lives.
“What is great about entrepreneurship is that entrepreneurs create the tangible from the intangible.” — Robert Herjavec
Because ECOs realize that it’s impossible to thrive in the new economy without a strong focus on innovation, they have started fostering environments and relationships that encourage entrepreneurship.
Country economies — Estonia decided back in 2012 that it wants to be an international entrepreneurship hub. The proven “startup nation” model of Israel is a reference in terms of a country’s focus on innovationas a modus operandi. More recently, the French president publicly stated it wants to France pursue entrepreneurship as a means of regaining (perhaps) some of its lost
Communities — there are plenty of examples in the US and across the world. Just browse through Google for Entrepreneurs’ Communities program section or Bloomberg’s beautiful analysis of unlikely cities that will power the US economy.
Organizations — companies trying to find ways to collaborate or acquire startups in the hope that some of their agility, thinking outside the box, and innovation rub off on them. Eventually targeting a boost for their in-house innovation and problem-solving.
Beyond this (only) tactical response to market conditions, successfully taking on entrepreneurship as a skill requires a different “why?”.
2. Why entrepreneurship as a skill?
Either you run a startup, work for one, or for an established company, the skill of entrepreneurship is different than say Project Management or Microsoft Excel skills. Yes, you might say that, for instance, both curiosity and never settling for less could be good contenders. But what motivates us past discovering new things, nice returns and any the adrenaline thrills of risk?
I believe that there are two aspects which can fuel your entrepreneurship skill. These ultimately have a lot to do with your own purpose or “raison d’être” : genuine care for others and legacy — leaving behind something or someone better than when you found it.
Genuine care for others
“From my very first day as an entrepreneur, I’ve felt the only mission worth pursuing in business is to make people’s lives better.” — Richard Branson
— It can very well be for your loved ones, customers, your colleagues, or the world. But a genuine care for others is what inspires us to risk failure and loss. The fear of not doing all (im)possible for the people who you care about is greater than the fear of losing face. Fear, paradoxically, acts as a catalyst for risk-taking endeavors.
The same genuine care for others has a lot to do with solving a problem or a need. It’s easy to be passionate in our attachment to an idea, but a lot harder to be passionate in our commitment to solve a problem.
“An entrepreneur is not a person who starts a company, but he is the person who actually solves a problem.” — Naveen Jain
Not solving a problem will lead you to waist a lot of energy on something that no one wants or has a need for. This is why it’s crucial that you have quantifiable data that validate your assumptions into real issues.
“By working to ensure we live in a society that prioritizes public safety, education, and innovation, entrepreneurship can thrive and create a better world for all of us to live in.” — Ron Conway
— It’s interesting how popular super hero movies are today. We all want to dream of the impossible and to imagine that in a different life, context or universe we would be remembered as someone who saved the world. Sorry to bring you back to earth but super heroes are as real as CGI.
The great news though is that you can tackle some of the possible and impossible things in the real world. And I’m an advocate of starting small. For instance, start with yourself by challenging any level of status quo (i.e. no more messy desk, start a morning habit, excercise 3 times a week, fast food only once a month, read books, etc).
Once you’ve had a few small successes, these will set you up mentally to be able to tackle larger challenges.
Now think about what are the things or people you would want to know you’ve helped improve? Is it a project you are part of, your own startup, a company that you work for that seems to be stalling or convincing yourself to grow out of your comfort zone?
Whatever it is, it will inspire your entrepreneurship skill: manage resources, take risk to solve a problem or a need, and strive to be profitable in the process.
Heads up though. Caring genuinely about people and the desire to leave a legacy are not going to protect you from failure, rejection, suffering and even loneliness.
“To some extent, being an entrepreneur is a lonely journey.”—Chad Hurley
We’ve all heard this before: without doing, there’s no failure. As you pursue to develop your entrepreneurship skill, you’ll notice that there’s no clear or guaranteed path to success. And that’s because others haven’t been there yet. That sets you up for some bumps in the road that you may not have foreseen during the dreaming and planning stages.
“An entrepreneur must deal with more uncertainty than a professional with a well-defined role.” — Peter Thiel
You’ll hit walls in the form of insufficient resources, people who can’t or don’t want see as far and as well as you do, unexpected negative results despite all the preparation and work you have put in.
A very good friend taught me one of the most valuable lessons of entrepreneurship: what we think of as the end due to failure isn’t necessarily the end. It could very well look like it, but most of the times it isn’t. Take a day or two, mourn for your failure, but cut it short. That should be enough time to help you think about what went wrong and how you might avoid it the next time.
“As an entrepreneur, the pressures of a startup can be enormous, but it’s rarely life or death.” — Ryan Holmes
On the other end of the spectrum, in contrast to failure, is the sweet taste of success, knowing that you’ve helped someone or something improve, or even the world! You may not go down as another Nobel laureate (or you could!), but you’ve made your mark somewhere.
Whether you’re working for others or yourself, and you’re motivated by genuinely caring for others and want to create a legacy, I want to congratulate you! You’re exhibiting the entrepreneurship skill.