By Nicola Tyler, an EO South Africa – Cape Town member, and CEO of Business Results Group
I define an entrepreneur as someone who designs the future and brings it closer to the present. I didn’t come up with that line over night, it took a while for concept to evolve and crystallize.
I’ve been in business for 15 years, and operated as an independent consultant for two years prior to that. I’ve not known a day in almost 17 years when I’ve woken up and known where my next dollar would come from. It’s a high-risk business, consulting. You can be up one day, and down the next. One year your field is in fashion, and the next it’s out of fashion. It keeps me on my toes and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Much of my work today involves facilitating strategic conversations with large and medium sized organizations. I was fortunate to work with and be trained by Edward de Bono in the tools of lateral thinking, so I find that I can easily bring new thinking and innovation into my facilitated workshops. Entrepreneurship frequently comes up as a theme in corporate dialogue. “We need to be more entrepreneurial!” executives frequently exclaim. “People are not business focused, we need more entrepreneurs in this business”.
I often challenge this view saying that entrepreneurs are often NOT what corporations need, it’s what the world needs. Real entrepreneurs leave corporations to start their own business. It’s hard to ‘hire’ an entrepreneur because they aren’t looking for a job, they’re looking for a client. And, entrepreneurs can be quite disruptive to a business if they are not given free rein to run a unit and, most of all, a budget. Entrepreneurs constrained by business processes and policies is a bit like caging a tiger – eventually you will have to let it back into the wild, which presents a host of other problems like staff retention and growth.
To balance this view I invite participants to have a conversation about “what is an entrepreneur in your business?” Typical responses are “someone who can have an idea and implement it”; “someone who knows how to commercialize an idea” and “people who have ideas and get them implemented – profitably”. No question, those are great skills to have in any corporation, but are they the real entrepreneur? I think not. I believe that what businesses want is intra-preneurship – people who generate ideas, for a salary, and stay in the business to implement them. Entrepreneurs LEAVE organizations, intra-preneurs stay.
After years of listening to conversations and comments like these I evolved my own definition of an entrepreneur as someone who defines the future and brings the future closer to the present. If that opportunity doesn’t exist within a corporation, these people leave to start their own business. My view is that the world needs more entrepreneurs, but corporations need more entrepreneurial thinking. Maybe in there is the seed for a whole new consulting model.
I discovered I was an entrepreneur when I wanted to make more decisions about the future of my employer and couldn’t get the position to be able to do that – it meant I would need to have the owner’s job, and he wasn’t going anywhere at the time. So I left. The journey and path has been long and windy (windey as in wound up, not windy as in blown away) and given that it’s been 17 years I’ve had lots of opportunities to reflect and learn. I’m a bit stubborn that way, I think I could have learned faster if I didn’t feel compelled to figure everything out for myself. So, to speed up your own process of entrepreneurship – if you are new or a veteran at the game, here’s a few lessons I’ve taken out of the past years
1. Have faith! I’m not talking Sunday Services. I am saying have faith in yourself, your idea, the future, others. If you are passionate about your idea keep going – persistence pays off in the end. Don’t give up if your idea is your passion! Believe, move, act – the money will follow.
2. Don’t expect everyone to love an ideas. Ideas by nature are different, and most people find that challenging. Anything different is difficult, its human nature to resist change. Just make sure that your idea has a real market. New markets are expensive to develop, great ideas that serve an existing customer needs are winners. Find solutions for customers, don’t try to be too clever!
3. Know what you’re not good at. Surround yourself with people who are brilliant at those things, and reward them for it. Try to resist the temptation at being good at everything, especially in the beginning. Great companies and brands are built by teams. Leaders and owners often get to bask in the glory when its working, and fall into the shadows when its not. Your team will require acknowledgement, don’t make it all about you – its not.
4. The lonely climber is the only one who sees the view. Take your people with you, its more rewarding when you can all see what you were working toward. Everyone wants a little success, the opportunity to grow and develop. When you share your vision, other people will be more willing to climb the mountain with you. Take them, show them the view from the top, and don’t be afraid if they leave. Inspiring leaders are talent magnets, more will come.
5. You haven’t lived until you’ve jumped off the pier! Jump! Don’t expect anyone to catch you. When you jump, there’s no safety net. It’s just you and the universe looking for a way to connect. When you jump you learn how to fly like the rest of us. Being an entrepreneur is a risk, jumping takes courage, but you know you have succeeded when you feel like Peter Pan – you just learned to fly with the rest of us.
I would not change learning to fly for anything in the world. I have encouraged loads of people who have come in and out of my life to jump – it’s a common anecdote for me. I love to see other people fly – it’s more fun when there’s company. EO, for me, was like flying into a whole new flock of birds….like I grew bigger wings. It’s been a very (pardon the pun) uplifting experience. Thank you to all EO’ers whose paths I have crossed and continue to cross – keep flying!