Entrepreneur, redefined

In the late 1980s, when I was young and at school, I remember being asked in class what we wanted to be when we grew up.

Among the architects, tradies, scientists and veterinarians, one of my friends said something most surprising: “entrepreneur”.

At the time I was barely aware of what this word meant. It brought to mind figures like Christopher Skase who owned television stations, seemed incredibly wealthy and dodged court by fleeing the country.

It wasn’t until I was fresh out of uni that I began working with a small high-tech business made up of people who worked hard, had fun, created really cool stuff and called themselves “entrepreneurs”.

This redefinition was a revelation to me.

Now, we are in the middle of the entrepreneur revolution. More small businesses are started every year as people move from regular employment at large corporations to more personal lifestyle choices.

The newest generation entering the workforce is also the most entrepreneurial. In a survey by Bentley University, 67% of Gen Ys entering the workforce said they would like to start their own businesses, and in general they expect a much more nimble and changing career.

Today’s entrepreneurs are savvy, connected and independent. Brought up on social media, technology and instant gratification, they use the tools available to run their businesses more effectively than has ever been possible before.

So what makes an entrepreneur as opposed to a small business owner?

I see it mainly as an identification with a set of principles. An entrepreneur  actively wants to grow their business and spends time and energy figuring out how. They are willing to try, and fail, and get up and try again. They show grit, take risks and push through the hard times.

You are familiar with some of the international poster-children of entrepreneurship: Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey.

But local entrepreneurs might be artists, consultants, crafters, techies, tradespeople or professional service providers, but no matter what they do they chase excellence and enjoy the ride.

What is your experience? Do you identify yourself as an entrepreneur?


Air work and ground work

The aeroplane is cruising at 22,000 feet and I’m in the window seat. Far below, I can see towns and roads, and a group of trees. I can make out the highways and rivers crisscrossing the brown land, joining the dots of the cities and bordered on one side by the coast and an endless expanse of sparkling ocean.

I’m too high to make out individual cars, although I can see where they would be going. We’re way higher even than the clouds scattered in tissuey billows.

Up here, I can see a different picture. I can see it all at once, expansive and inspiring as the detail is deleted and the map is clear. It’s so easy to see the start and the end, the connectedness, the big picture.

But I also know exactly what is going on at ground level because I’ve been there: I’ve driven those roads, visited the houses, climbed the trees.

The big picture is vitally important to set direction and know the complete story – and the coalface experience is just as important in order to relate to people and their needs.

It’s the same in business: we need to spend time flying at 22000 feet: setting goals and envisioning our direction for the future. Then we also need to work on the ground, getting our hands dirty, talking to our clients and making things work.

Do the air work and the ground work.

Rookie Success

As she was telling me about her new business, her eyes lit up. She had seen an early success gaining a large client and it had propelled her forward with enthusiasm, proving to her that the business world was exciting and success possible.

But as she’s built up her experience, knowledge, and skills it seems that business itself is getting harder.

It’s like, the more she knows about marketing and sales, the more difficult it becomes.

And she has not had another client like that first one in the 18 months since.

Can you relate? I certainly can. Sometimes it seems like our experience and increasing competence can actually hold us back.

So what is this about?

I attribute the “Rookie Effect” to the way we learn and act.

Once we have gained experience in any one direction, it becomes easier to do things that way again and again. In this way our minds learn to think of that as being the most valuable path. Even if it’s not. Even if there are others we haven’t even tried.

Before we have experience, when we are still rookies, all the options seem possible. We decide on the way forward using the data available to us and what seems most appealing. With a healthy helping of “gut instinct” thrown in.

As a rookie, we know that we don’t know. We are actively seeking, looking and learning.

Innovation requires that we regularly re-evaluate the best options, to make sure they still are the best. Put yourself in a rookie’s shoes again.