May 022012
 
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share the credit

We, Not Me, Will Take You A Lot Further.  Share The Credit.

In the realm of entrepreneurship, as in most endeavors that require a team effort to undertake successfully, a focus on “we,” not “me” will take you much further.  Share the credit.  Share the limelight.

Recently I was reminded of an entrepreneur with whom I used to work, who found it very difficult to use the words “we” and “us” and “our”.  His preferred vocabulary included “I,” “me,” and “my”.  I suppose that would have been OK, but for the fact that he needed the input, cooperation and collective effort of at least ten team members to successfully complete a project (a Merger/Acquisition transaction in this case).  This created a couple of key problems.

First, given that the M&A transactions were quite complex and often involved tens of millions of dollars, many of the team members wanted to be recognized for their contributions and sacrifices (20-hour days at crunch time on a deal) in getting a deal done.  The more the entrepreneur threw around the word “I” and effectively took credit for all that went well, the more certain team members became frustrated and demoralized.  Since deals often lasted several months, even a year or more, as morale slid, mistakes and undermining behavior became more frequent and jeopardized the successful completion of many deals.

Second, and perhaps more important, the more the entrepreneur threw around the word “I,” the smaller he made his company seem in the eyes of current and prospective clients.  It made it sound like the company was just him and his efforts, rather than the collective effort of a well-managed team with an effective leader.  Since the company was often competing against bigger, better-known rivals to win deals, this had the potential to become a major issue in sales and marketing efforts.

In short, this entrepreneur’s desire to take credit for everything and receive personal recognition, rather than allowing his team to feel like an integral and important part of the company’s success, threatened to undermine the organization’s talent base, deal performance, and credibility in the marketplace.

I spent about eighteen months attempting to convince the entrepreneur that it would make sense to give credit to the team, rather than trying to continuously keep himself individually in the spotlight.  When he’d send me documents to review that were loaded with “I,” I’d send him back a message along the lines of “change I to we and my to our”.  When I’d hear him being self-congratulatory in meetings and sales calls, afterwards I’d gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) remind him that he needed to change his vocabulary and use the word “we” more.  I’d emphasize to him that the only way for the company to grow was to build a strong, capable, motivated team.  I’d tell him to share the credit and that there was no way to do it all individually, nor was there much rationale for pretending that was how it was happening.

I’d like to tell you that the story has a happy ending, but in fact, it did not end well.  The entrepreneur had a hard time taking advice and continued to focus on himself and tout how great he was, rather than building up the people and the organization around him.  He had an inability to understand how others perceived his words and actions, and a lack of desire to make much progress on improving in this area.  His case was a bit extreme, almost to the point of being in sociopath territory.

Eventually, this entrepreneur ended up alienating everyone around him who could help him, including clients, prospects, employees, business associates, family members, and finally, me.  I may have been the most “long-suffering” of the lot, as I looked at helping him improve as a personal challenge, but at the end of the day, he was not capable of changing and ended up with his business and the rest of his life in shambles.  It’s been several years and he has not yet bounced back from this experience.  Meanwhile, the team that was around him at that time has bounced back nicely.  They did not suffer from the same “I-centered” personality flaw.

This is a cautionary tale.  If you think you have some of the tendencies highlighted in this article, be careful.  Be honest with yourself.  Seek counsel from credible sources.  Be willing to change, before you suffer a similar fate to that of the entrepreneur in this article.  Share the credit for all that goes well in your business.

I look forward to your thoughts.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Oct 252011
 
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Change the world

Entrepreneur – Do You Want To Change The World?

Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes and are driven by a wide range of objectives.  As I’ve written elsewhere, the emotional reasons for becoming an entrepreneur range from fulfilling basic survival needs to seeking feelings related to esteem, meaning and self-actualization needs.  While there are no hard and fast rules on this, many of the greatest entrepreneurs did not get started seeking fame and fortune; rather, they wanted to change the world.

I never wanted to be a businessman; I just wanted to change the world.  Richard Branson

Do you want to change the world?

At the end of the day, we all change the world even if unintentionally and even if just a little bit.  What sort of change do you want to make happen?  Do you want to do it deliberately or unintentionally?

Remember, you are making changes every day, in your business, in your personal life, in the path that leads to your future.  Or are you?  Are you making changes, or are you just letting life happen?  You have a choice.

Whether you are the CEO of a family business that you had not intended to work in, but inherited when a loved one passed away unexpectedly, or you are a startup entrepreneur seeking to grow your first venture, you are a change agent.  You have the potential to change the world you live in.  Will you make changes intentionally, or will you just let them happen?

Although Steve Jobs said, “Things don’t have to change the world to be important,” he also said:

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me.  Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me”.

Steve Jobs and his team at Apple have changed the world of computing and communications in many important ways.  Although he said that something does not have to change the world to be important, I think he would have agreed that changing the world is important.  Like so many of his fellow ultra-successful entrepreneurs, Jobs was not content with the status quo, nor was he asking others what the future should look like.  He had his ideas and his vision and through force of will and extraordinary creativity, he was going to make it happen.

Do you want to change the world in your business?  In your industry?  In some other area of life?  Do you have a vision for what the future should hold?  Do you have the commitment and perseverance to make it happen regardless of what obstacles stand in your way?

Thomas EdisonA trio of Thomas Edison quotes sum up what it takes to change the world:

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

Hell, there are no rules – we are trying to accomplish something.

I have not failed.  I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

Can you come up with the perspiration to back up your inspiration?  Are you willing to disregard the status quo “rules” to change the world?  Do you have the willpower to persevere through 10,000 failed trials?

If you truly want to change the world for yourself and others, you need to redefine failure and not let it affect you in a negative way.  Take Edison’s approach and let attempt number 10,001 be just another data point, if, in fact, it’s not the one that succeeds.  It might be!

If you want to change the world, then you must have a big vision and channel your “inner Bezos, Jobs, Edison” and other entrepreneurial greats, so that you too will have the perseverance and vision to make a difference.  By the way, you may achieve great financial success along the way as well, but if for some reason you don’t, at least you will have changed the world!  If you truly want to change the world, as Jobs and Apple may say, listen more to those who “think different” than those who don’t.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Oct 242011
 
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Emotions rule

Entrepreneur – Let Emotion Be Your Friend

Let me start by saying that early in my life and career, I thought emotion was something to be avoided.  I grew up in an environment where nothing positive seemed to come out of showing or admitting to emotion.  It was frowned upon and generally avoided.  I have since learned how limiting such an approach is and how much it misses the unavoidable reality that most human behavior is driven by emotion and “feelings”.  Hopefully, if you’re not already up on this, I can give you some helpful ideas in this article that will allow you to use emotion to your advantage, rather than have it work against you.

Let me state a basic premise of this article, which at this point I take as fact:  like it or not, emotion will largely dictate your behavior and that of the people with whom you interact.  If someone can prove to me that this is not the case, I’d love to hear from you.  In the meantime, with that premise in mind, let’s dive into the issue of emotion and how it runs human behavior.

We have all heard the saying that people try to either “avoid pain or seek pleasure” in what they do.  This does provide a lot of insight into human behavior, but you need to dig deeper into emotion and feelings in order to understand the more specific behavioral drivers.  At some point, I intend to take you on a much deeper “tour” of human feelings and emotion, but for purposes of this article, we’re going to focus in on a few that tend to be very important for entrepreneurs.  In a previous article on the emotional reasons to be an entrepreneur, I focused in on esteem needs and purpose needs as key drivers of entrepreneurial behavior.  Here we will talk about a few very important feelings in the esteem category, which is perhaps the most important category when it comes to becoming a successful entrepreneur and using emotion to your advantage.

Before we talk further about esteem needs, let’s take a look at a definition of emotion:

“Any strong agitation of the feelings actuated by experiencing love, hate, fear, etc., and usually accompanied by certain physiological changes, as increased heartbeat or respiration, and often overt manifestation, as crying or shaking”. [Source: http://dictionary.reference.com]

I like this definition because it talks about a “strong agitation of feelings” and it mentions certain “physiological changes”.  This appeals to me, as I think it’s important to realize that emotion and feelings lead to physical manifestations, including the resulting actions we take.  Some of the manifestations are automatic, and for others, we have to make a conscious effort if we want to take control of them.  An analogy would be that breathing happens automatically (it’s “autonomic”), but we can take control of it with our minds, if we choose and make a deliberate effort to do so.  This has very interesting implications for us as entrepreneurs.  First, it tells us that although emotion may try to push us in a certain direction, if we make a deliberate effort, we can take control.  Second, it reminds us that all of our prospects, customers and other constituencies run on emotion too, so if we’re providing great products and services that make the right impact on them emotionally, we can intentionally push ourselves toward “top of mind”.

So, let’s talk about a few specific feelings in the esteem needs category.  We’ll focus in on four feelings, two positive and two negative: passionate, respected, frustrated, and disappointed.  If we are talking about managing our own emotions, passionate and respected would usually be considered the two positive feelings, and frustrated and disappointed would usually be considered the two negative feelings.  If we are passionate about something, generally we’re very engaged and willing to work hard, long hours on it, without much loss of energy.  If we feel respected, it helps us feel more confident and more able to make the right decisions and expect a positive outcome.  If we are frustrated or disappointed, we often feel “bad” and may feel like we have failed.  This state of mind can often cause us to second guess our decisions and even rethink what we’re doing at a higher level.  For example, we may even wonder if we’re “cut out for” being an entrepreneur.

If we are talking about the emotions of our clients or prospects, the implications may be the opposite of those discussed above, for at least three of the feelings.  For example, if a prospect already feels respected in their situation and as a result they feel “content,” there may not be much reason for them to seek our products or services.  Going back to the definition of emotion above, there may not be any “strong agitation of feelings” that leads the customer or prospect to take action.

If, on the other hand, the prospect or customer is frustrated or disappointed, hopefully more in general, not with our products or services, there may be plenty of “agitation” that will cause them to take action.  In other words, we could say, without emotion, and usually negative emotion, there typically is not significant motion, or action.  More simply, emotion leads to action.  It’s true for us and it’s true for our prospects.  It’s an important reality when you are trying to elicit or understand action, whether it’s yours or that of others!

You probably noticed that I left out one feeling when talking about others, and that was “passionate”.  The reality with passion is that it can go either way.  One can be either passionately positive, or passionately negative, depending on the situation.  It usually is accompanied by plenty of “agitation” though, so be on the lookout for passion as something that can either be very helpful or very harmful in what you’re trying to accomplish.

In order to wrap up, let’s take a step back and point out the obvious implications of the analogy to autonomic versus deliberate breathing:  these feelings will occur automatically, but if you are aware of them and willing to make a conscious effort, you can be in control.  For example, use frustration and disappointment as motivators, instead of letting them be “downers”.  Just this realization alone gives you so much freedom!  You do not have to be a prisoner or a passenger of your emotions; you can take control and drive!

Further, when you are trying to connect with others, including your prospects, you can try to do so on an emotional level, knowing that motion (action) starts with emotion.  There is no shortcut, and your attempts to connect with people on an emotional level must be sincere, but just as Aristotle’s “ethos, pathos and logos” indicates, once you make an emotional connection, it’s much more likely that your logic will be listened to.  That is worth repeating in a slightly different way:  if you go in with your logic without making an emotional connection first, you’re not likely to get anywhere, either with yourself or with others you seek to influence.

We only covered four of hundreds of feelings here, but we covered enough that you should now know to make emotions your friend.  Seek them.  Don’t shy away from them.  If you take this step, I assure you that you will be pleased with the results, both in your own esteem needs and in your ability to influence your key constituencies.  To paraphrase some lyrics from the Rolling Stones, as an entrepreneur, you need to learn to come to your own “emotional rescue”.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Oct 202011
 
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Emotional reasons to be an entrepreneur

Emotional Reasons To Be An Entrepreneur

During the course of my 25-year plus career in entrepreneurship, I’ve coached and interacted with several thousand entrepreneurs, ALL of whom had one or several emotional reasons that drove them to set out on their own.  Here I will discuss several emotional reasons people choose to become and remain an entrepreneur.  I will map those emotions and feelings to a structure with which you are probably already familiar:  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  We’ll start at the bottom of the pyramid and work our way up.  In case you need a refresher, here is the structure.

Emotional Reasons To Be An Entrepreneur

Physiological and Security Needs

These are the basic survival needs we have as humans.  In order to survive, we must have air, food, water, and shelter, at a minimum.  Similarly, if we cannot stay safe physically, we are much less likely to survive for any length of time.

Some people become an entrepreneur simply because they need to earn money to satisfy these basic survival needs.  In some cases, there is no deeper reason; it’s just about survival.

Love and Affiliation Needs

It sounds counter-intuitive to say that someone would become an entrepreneur in order to satisfy love and affiliation needs.  These needs require interaction with other people and entrepreneurship is often seen as a “lone wolf” endeavor.  In fact though, there is a great deal of camaraderie among entrepreneurs.  Even though they often are individualistic by nature, there is a certain mutual respect that exists among those who are willing to strike out on their own, against the odds.  I have found many great friendships and professional relationships among the entrepreneurs with whom I’ve interacted and continue to interact.  They are my people.

Esteem Needs

I guess it’s logical and not at all surprising that in my experience at least, this is the main driver of entrepreneurial behavior.  Most entrepreneurs I know want to be perceived as unique and special.  I realize that this is true of most human beings, but for an entrepreneur, this need is often magnified.  They don’t want to be part of the crowd.  They want to make a personal statement in everything they do.  They are usually very proud and confident people, with a lot of drive and very strong desire to be respected for their achievements.

Purpose Needs

Next to esteem needs, I see purpose needs as being the biggest driver of entrepreneurial behavior, at least in my experience and observation.  Many an entrepreneur is asking the bigger questions about the purpose and meaning of life.  This is not true for all entrepreneurs, of course!  However, at least among the entrepreneurs with whom I spend a lot of time, there is a tendency to ask some existential questions and put quite a bit of time into seeking the answers.  This leads many entrepreneurs to explore spirituality and to seek opportunities to make contributions, beyond just the financial, to “the greater good” of society.  This is particularly true of those who have already become successful financially and have satisfied many of the other needs on the pyramid.

Self-Actualization Needs

Self-actualization, which is the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy, has been used in many different ways in psychology.  From my perspective, it refers to reaching one’s full potential.  In the context of all the needs discussed in this article, it would mean reaching your maximum potential in each of the areas on the pyramid.  Obviously, this would have different meaning for each individual.  Thus, self-actualization is different for each person, as would be how that person’s entrepreneurial activities contribute to reaching their “full potential”.

It’s important to realize that we are all driven by emotions.  As I’ve written elsewhere, decisions are made based on emotion, then justified by logic.  In all cases where you are trying to understand human behavior, whether it be in purchasing decisions, or in why someone chooses to become an entrepreneur, follow the emotions and the feelings and you will find the answers.  Human beings, including and perhaps especially, entrepreneurs, run on emotions, just as a television runs on electricity.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Oct 142011
 
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Entrepreneurs don't NEED university

An Entrepreneur Does Not NEED University Education

I get asked a lot if an entrepreneur needs a college degree or university-level education in certain areas, in order to be successful as a business owner.  My answer to this question is:  No – of course not!  The list of entrepreneurs who have been extraordinarily successful without college degrees is “a mile long”.

As someone who spent a lot of time and money on college, it pains me to say it, but you don’t NEED a university education to succeed as an entrepreneur.  I emphasize the word “need,” because although I don’t think a college education is a must for entrepreneurship (it is for some other professions, obviously), I do believe it can be helpful in many ways.  For me at least, the most important thing learned in college was a broader perspective on how human beings have approached life and conquered particular challenges in the PAST.  That said, there’s no reason you cannot learn those things on your own, and further, as entrepreneurs, we’re really mainly interested in the FUTURE.  The past can provide guidance, but you should not believe that the future will be exactly the same as the past.  Rather, as an entrepreneur, you must condition yourself to create the future, and if past “realities” stand in the way, you find a way over, under, around, or through them.

I have written elsewhere that, in my observation and experience, five key character traits to succeed as an entrepreneur are the following.  Let’s look at them in the context of what a university education provides.

  • Perseverance:  Yes, you can learn to persevere in a college environment, but you can also learn it on a farm, on an athletic field, in the military, or on your own in a multitude of scenarios and environments.  Perseverance and the ability to tap the strong willpower that we all possess, come from inside.  Your experiences in earning a college degree can help you further develop these skills, but you can learn them just about anywhere else too.
  • Goal Setting:  If there was a goal-setting course somewhere in my college education, I must have missed it!  Everything I’ve learned about goal setting, I have learned on my own, from experience, from coaches, or in seminars.
  • Tolerate Uncertainty:  I’m not sure going through college really helps much with tolerating uncertainty.  College, at least in my experience, tends to be a very structured environment, where you are told which courses you need to take to obtain a certain degree.  There’s usually flexibility in some of the curriculum, but generally speaking, there’s a lot of imposed structure and not much uncertainty.  An exception may be if you pledge a fraternity or sorority, but that’s another story, and you don’t need to go to college to join groups that “put you through the ringer” to become a member.
  • Strong Desire To Succeed:  Having a strong desire to succeed is something that comes from inside.  You can help yourself nurture this desire by setting goals that really fire you up, but in the end, this desire comes from within you and cannot be taught at college.
  • Different Definition Of Failure:  Again, college is a very structured environment, unlike that of entrepreneurship.  In college you get a grade from A to F.  True, you can either pass or fail, the binary nature of which is more parallel to what you see in the world of entrepreneurship, but again in college it’s occurring in a protected and structured environment.  There’s little reality in a protected environment.  Some professors do a great job of mixing “real life” scenarios into the education process, but by and large, the university environment is its own little world.  Quite frankly, that may help with the issue of having a “different definition of failure,” where it’s not expected that every test and every person be 100% successful right out of the gate.  There needs to be room for “many small failures” and course correction along the way; that’s how entrepreneurship works best.  The utility of college on this one could go either way, depending on the particular student, the particular university, the particular course of study, the particular professor, etc.

Let’s add five other key “things” that are very helpful in your quest to be a successful entrepreneur, and let’s also look at those in the context of a university education.

  • Basic Understanding Of Finance And Accounting:  These can certainly be learned in the university environment.  You don’t need a college degree to understand them though.  In fact, the key issues can be learned in a long weekend, or even less, if you’re already comfortable with numbers.
  • Being Able To Differentiate Opportunities From Ideas:  A good course in new venture initiation at the college level will get you pretty much all you need to know about how to filter through ideas and determine if they’re opportunities.  Again though, you can learn how to do this easily without ever stepping foot on a college campus, or taking an online college course, never mind obtaining a diploma.
  • Knowing How To Sell:  You may learn a bit about selling and persuasion in your college experience.  It won’t likely have anything to do with the courses you take though; rather, it will happen in the many social interactions that occur during college.  There are university courses on negotiation and sales, but they also exist outside the college environment and tend to be much shorter and more focused.
  • Networking Well:  Learning to network well is something most people do by trial and error.  It can help to have a mentor or two, whether it’s in a college environment or not.  You certainly don’t need a college degree to be good at networking.
  • Knowing How To Market:  Marketing is as much art as science.  It’s very helpful to learn the theory behind it, which you can do in college, at your job, on your own through self-study, or in your entrepreneurial experience.  In the end, marketing is about testing, testing and more testing.  You need to understand how to run the tests and how to interpret the results, then run the tests again.  How you learn this, is up to you.

So, what do you think?  Do you NEED a university education to be successful as an entrepreneur?  If you agree with what I’ve said in this article, the answer is obviously:  “No”!  If you have a university degree or are pursuing one, I’m not saying it’s worthless!  The way I look at it, just as athletes who are considering pro sports are wise to have a university degree “in their back pocket” as a form of insurance, so are entrepreneurs.  Like pro sports, entrepreneurship is a highly competitive endeavor with significant uncertainty regarding how long you’ll be able to do it and what your ultimate level of success will be.

That said, many would say that such college degrees have now become commoditized, and except in specific circumstances, don’t really offer you much “insurance” or differentiation in the job market.  It’s your life; you’ll have to be the judge of course!  But if entrepreneurship is your focus, you have every opportunity to be successful whether or not you have a college degree on your wall, or in your closet.  I would not change or trade the time I spent in college, but that’s not because it taught me to be a good entrepreneur.  It’s for a host of other reasons.

In my own experience, I created a great network of friends and business contacts during my time in college, which has been very beneficial to me throughout my entire entrepreneurial career.  Also, given that I focused a lot of my college activities in the area of entrepreneurship, I had some great mentors and some great entrepreneurial growth and learning experiences during my college years.  This did not happen because I was in college though, or because I ultimately earned a couple of degrees; it happened because I’ve always made sure that wherever I was, I was making progress toward my goals of improving myself as an entrepreneur.  Wherever you are and wherever you’ve been, you can certainly do the same!

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Oct 132011
 
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Entrepreneurship can be lonely

Being An Entrepreneur Can Be Lonely

As much as I love being an entrepreneur, it can be a lonely endeavor.  My time as an entrepreneur, since I was a young kid, and my time working with entrepreneurs over the course of my career, have taught me that being the one in charge can make you feel very alone.  Sometimes it feels like you’re on an island.  Whether you’re an entrepreneur in a one-person company or a CEO in a larger company, if you are the final decision maker, it’s easy to feel like it’s you against the world.

Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news on this.  First, the bad news:  it’s not likely to change.  If you’re the person upon whose shoulders rests final decision making authority, it’s virtually impossible not to feel sometimes like all the pressure is on you and you’re on “an island”.  Now, the good news:  there are tons of other entrepreneurs and CEO types out there who feel exactly the same way!  So, while it’s often unavoidable that you will feel alone in your role at your own company, there are plenty of other people who are in exactly the same boat.  That’s good news, because if you can find ways to link up with them, you can share your war stories, feel less alone, and learn from and support one another!

Let’s talk about some ways of linking up with other entrepreneurs and CEO types.  Here’s a quick list.  It’s not meant to be all-inclusive, but I hope it will give you some ideas.  The options range from free and not time-intensive, to relatively costly and much more time-consuming.  The options typically are not mutually-exclusive, so select whichever ones you like and give them a try.  Depending on a variety of factors, including your personality, your schedule and your objectives, certain options will be more appealing to you than others.

Here are some ways to link up with and interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs, locally and online:

Social Media

  • Twitter:  Search on hashtags, such as #smallbiz #startup #entrepreneur #sme #ceo and others that are relevant to the persons with whom you’d like to interact.  Send out your own tweets and others will react to you as well.  Also, look for tweet “chats” that occur periodically on particular subjects.  It’s true that Twitter is only 140 characters and you can’t say much in a tweet, but you can include a URL link and you can use the brief Twitter interaction as a bridge to further communication via phone, email or other media.
  • Facebook:  I used to view Facebook as a huge “time sink” and to a certain extent, I still do.  It has an enormous number of users though, and thus, cannot be ignored.  Also, with the advent of Pages and with the exceptional utility of Groups, it can be a great tool.  Just be sure to stay focused on your objectives, in this case, interacting with other entrepreneurs and CEOs and don’t get sucked into a lot of the “shiny object,” time wasting activities that such a platform also offers.
  • LinkedIn:  This is the social network that tends to have a very high percentage of business people and professionals.  Like the others, it also has groups, so it can be a great place to interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs.  It can also be extremely useful for finding and maintaining contact with former colleagues and acquaintances, which represents another way to combat the loneliness of entrepreneurship.
  • Other networks:  There are a ton of other social networks and platforms!  I try to stick to a short list though, because otherwise you could end up spending far too much time on these sites and activities.  I encourage you to explore others, then pick a few that give you the most bang for your buck, and for your time.

Local Networking Groups

  • This is an area where, again, you could end up spending way too much time, without a huge amount of benefit.  There’s the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and dozens more.  The best idea here is to experiment with a few groups, but don’t commit to any until you understand what the investment of time and other resources is, weighed against the benefits you are receiving.  In this article, we are talking about trying to overcome the loneliness of being an entrepreneur or CEO.  Sometimes these groups can help with that, but many times they don’t attract the caliber of people you’re looking for; it really depends on the particular group and its composition in your location.  If you don’t find a local group that serves your needs, then start one!  Find other entrepreneurs and CEOs of a caliber that matches what you’re looking for, and get together with them on a regular basis to exchange war stories and lessons.  It doesn’t have to be formal.  Remember, you’re not looking for rewards or recognition from such a group; you’re looking for people who can understand the unique issues and situation you face, who can interact with you and offer advice, in a symbiotic relationship.

Mastermind Groups

  • “Mastermind” groups are typically informal alliances among entrepreneurs with similar interests, often in the same or similar industries.  In reality, such groups have been around for a long time, but only recently has the name “mastermind” caught on.  Their purpose tends to be similar to that of the formal peer groups you will read about in the next section.  The idea is to get a bunch of very capable entrepreneurs together regularly, usually by phone in the case of masterminds, and work through current and reoccurring issues that confront the group members.  It boils down to peer support and is often slanted a bit more toward the technical side of your particular industry, but in reality, over time relationships build and as bonds and shared experiences grow, it helps to combat entrepreneur and CEO loneliness issues as well.

Formal Peer Groups

  • There are CEO groups out there, such as Vistage (http://www.vistage.com), which for a fee will connect you with other CEOs in similar circumstances, so you can have formal interactions to support one another and share ideas on solving specific problems.  Such organizations are not inexpensive, however they can be excellent tools for getting you the answers you need, from credible sources, in a very efficient manner.  The formal interactions of Vistage members usual take place in-person and thus are typically relatively local in nature, but they have recently launched a new service called Vistage Connect (http://www.vistageconnect.com), which has more of an online interaction focus.  My understanding is that the service is less costly and also offers the opportunity to interact with other entrepreneurs and CEOs from around the world, not just those in your geography.

So there you have a few options for seeking out other entrepreneurs and CEOs with whom you can interact in an effort to not feel as lonely, particularly when you’re faced with tough decisions that you do not feel like you can share with others at your company.  This way, you still may feel like you’re on an island at times, but at least now there will be other entrepreneurs and CEOs there with you!

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

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Sep 292011
 
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entrepreneurship - science or art?

Is Entrepreneurship Art Or Science?

I have heard and participated in this debate for as long I’ve been involved in entrepreneurship.  I have friends and colleagues who will argue until they’re “blue in the face” that entrepreneurship is either art or science.  In an effort to answer this question, if you observe entrepreneurs and particularly those who have been successful, you quickly realize that there is no “right” answer.  Sometimes entrepreneurship looks more like art, sometimes more like science, and sometimes, it looks like an equal mix of the two.

Before going further, let’s define “art” and “science,” so that we’re all on the same page.  In the online Merriam-Webster dictionary (www.merriam-webster.com), there are several definitions of both “art” and “science”.  I have chosen one definition for each – see below – so we can look at them more closely in the context of entrepreneurship.  Note:  I also included the definition of “scientific method” to make the “science” definition clearer.

Art:  The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.

Science:  Knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.

Scientific Method:  Principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.

So which of these sounds more like entrepreneurship to you?  If you’re more of an engineer or “scientific type,” you’ll probably lean toward science and the scientific method.  If you’re more of an artist (or “poet”), you’ll probably lean more toward the art definition.  One talks more about imagination and creativity, the other more about data and “hypothesis testing”.

In reality though, regardless of which side of the spectrum you gravitate toward, if you’ve had much experience with entrepreneurship, you’ll realize that most businesses are part art and part science.  How much of each is involved typically has a lot to do with the type of business and the particular entrepreneur or entrepreneurial team involved.  It also is often correlated with the stage of the venture.

In early stage ventures, there often is not a lot of “hard data” available, thus there tends to be a lot more “art” and intuition needed to keep the business moving forward in a positive manner.  This reality brings us back to the saying that venture capitalists and other early stage “risk capital” investors would almost always rather put their money into “an A team with a B idea” than “a B team with an A idea”.  Why is that?  Because at the early stage of any venture, there’s not much certainty about the correct direction to take and a more intuitive or “artful” management team is needed to navigate through dangerous waters.

This is not to say that those “intuitive” and “artful” entrepreneurs will not be using the “scientific method,” nor is it saying that they’re lacking strong left-brain, analytical capabilities.  To the contrary, such “A team” entrepreneurs and managers often have very strong analytical capabilities, and moreover, they usually have a track record of experiences that allow them to naturally mix art and science, frequently without even realizing it.  Such “A” entrepreneurs have usually been through several early stage ventures and have seen the good and bad results of both “artistic” and scientific approaches to various early stage venture issues and scenarios.  The good ones are then able to rely on pattern recognition and apply their previous experience through an “intuitive filter” and lead the venture through challenges and opportunities.

One of my colleagues at Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs used to call it moving from the intuitive to the intentional.  I’m not sure it’s necessarily a “progression” from intuitive to intentional; rather, I think it’s a progression from intuitive (art) or intentional (science), to intuitive and intentional.  No matter how scientific or proactive an entrepreneur would like to become in growing and leading their venture, and no matter in which business lifecycle phase they may find themselves, situations frequently arise where there is no certainty regarding the “correct” answer and intuition must play a key role.

So, in the end, entrepreneurship will always be part art and part science.  What changes, based on the entrepreneur or entrepreneurial team, the particular venture, the lifecycle stage, and so on, is the required balance between art and science.  Make sure that in your entrepreneurial life and ventures, if you tend to be too heavily weighted toward the artistic or the scientific, you find a way to arrive at a balance that makes sense.  Depending where you are on the spectrum, this may involve bringing in more “professional managers,” who by definition are usually more scientific in their approach, or it may involve bringing in more creative and intuitive types.  Of course, there will never be a perfect balance, but some businesses and management teams are so heavily weighted toward one end of the spectrum, that they are exposing themselves to the risk of being “blindsided,” for lack of orientation and competence toward the other end of the spectrum.  Find a balance; don’t allow yourself or your business to be blindsided.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Sep 182011
 
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Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

A question I get quite frequently is, “Can entrepreneurship be taught”?  It’s a tough question and the answer is highly dependent on how you define “entrepreneurship,” so let’s start there.  If you look in Webster’s dictionary online (http://www.merriam-webster.com), there is no separate definition for entrepreneurship, but here’s the definition you find for entrepreneur:

One who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.

Frankly, I find that definition a bit lacking, as it’s very dry and does not embody any of the spirit or mindset it takes to be an entrepreneur.

If you take a look at first the definition of entrepreneur on thefreedictionary.com it’s similarly unexciting and dry, but a bit further down there is another definition that is more in line with the way I think about entrepreneurship.  That definition is:

The owner or manager of a business enterprise who, by risk and initiative, attempts to make profits.

This one appeals to me a bit more, because entrepreneurship is all about taking initiative, and the motivation for taking that initiative and assuming the related risks, is usually to make profits.

We could wordsmith the definitions of entrepreneur and entrepreneurship all day long, but the definition above should be sufficient to allow us to think more about the question at hand: Can entrepreneurship be taught?

The short preview of my opinion is that I believe certain aspects of running a business can be taught very well; however, the “entrepreneurial mindset” is difficult to teach and correspondingly tough to learn, but for the most part, it is possible.  In order to look at this aspect of the mindset a bit further, let’s review my list of the 5 Key Character Traits To Be Successful As An Entrepreneur.  Though I acknowledge that this is not an exhaustive list, in my opinion, the five key traits are as follows:

1.)  Perseverance

Having been in the entrepreneurship game for more than 30 years now, I have learned that, without a doubt, if you don’t have perseverance, you are highly unlikely to achieve any meaningful level of success as an entrepreneur.  Although you may plan and do your best to predict the future, I haven’t met anyone who can do that with 100% accuracy.  Therefore, there are going to be unforeseen challenges and you will need to persevere in order to overcome them.  The good news is that, like many of the key characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, this one can be learned — you don’t need to be born with it.

2.)  Goal Setting

I’m not sure this is one that I would always have included on this list, but over time, I have learned that the ability to set goals correctly, monitor progress toward those goals, adjust course as necessary, and make sure they are completed regardless of the obstacles you encounter, is critical to the success of most entrepreneurs.  The alternative is to not set goals, but where does that leave you?  As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.  Setting goals and keeping them on your radar on a regular basis can also help to keep you motivated and on track when times are tough.

3.)  Tolerate Uncertainty

One thing most successful entrepreneurs I know do very well is to tolerate uncertainty.  They are comfortable and very often stimulated in situations of uncertainty.  Unlike many other traits, this is one that may be difficult (but still possible) to learn — to some extent, you’re either born with it, or you’re not.  Those of you who have sought certainty and predictability in your careers and elsewhere in your lives may find it very challenging to be in the relatively chaotic world of entrepreneurship, particularly at the early stage of a venture.  In your case, you would be wise to associate yourself with others you know who perhaps have more of a tolerance for those situations, so you can lean on them a bit when the inevitable chaos and uncertainty arrive.  You may also want to take a role in the venture that allows you to deal with some of the tasks that are a bit more routine and predictable.

4.)  A Strong Desire to Succeed

Most of the great entrepreneurs I know have an extremely strong desire to be successful in everything they do.  They are usually quite competitive, sometimes to an annoying degree and sometimes regarding tasks that, at least on the surface, don’t seem very important.  This drive to succeed is what pushes them to be the pioneer, to take the proverbial arrows, while others are content to sit back and fall into a routine.  If you don’t have such a strong desire to succeed, this may be another one that is a bit difficult to learn — but I do think it’s possible.

5.)  Different Definition of Failure

Hardly any entrepreneurs in the history of time have achieved great success without a failure, usually many, many of them.  Sure, a few have done it, but some people have hit the lottery as well.  It happens, but it’s highly unusual.  Much more common among successful entrepreneurs, are stories of repeated failure — sometimes 10, 20 or more failures — then what appears to be a sudden success that came out of nowhere.  The reality is that it did not come out of nowhere; it came from the ability to learn and course-adjust, based on previous approaches that did not work.  As with achievement in most disciplines, mindset is everything as an entrepreneur.  This is best illustrated by a comment made by Thomas Edison, when someone asked him if he had failed on a particular experiment.  His response was to the effect, “no, I just eliminated another way that does not work.”

So, let’s take a look at each of these traits in a bit more depth at it relates to “teachability”.  In the case of perseverance, perhaps the most important trait, let’s say it can be learned but cannot be taught.  A coach or other third party may be able to help you push your way through difficult situations (i.e. persevere), but the drive to do so must come from inside.  Another person can teach you how to set goals correctly.  They can also teach you and encourage you to monitor your progress toward those goals and to course-correct along the way.  A third part cannot teach you to have a personality or mindset that tolerates uncertainty well, at least not easily.  Your risk and uncertainty tolerance is something you’ve developed over a lifetime, so it’s not easy to change.  It’s possible, but only with concerted effort and incremental progress, mainly on your part.  A coach or mentor can encourage you in this process, but the desire to change will need to come from within.  If you are to develop a strong desire to succeed, that too will have to come from within.  Again, outside parties can encourage you, however, the desire will have to come from you, and it will likely be based on how important your goals are to you.  You need to set goals that really get you “fired up”.  You can redefine your definition of failure and this is something that can be taught.  It may take some time, but it is vital to your success as an entrepreneur.  If you are going to look at every small bump in the road as a failure and allow it to cause you to get off track, rather than learning from it and moving on, entrepreneurship is going to be a very tough road for you.

In summary, in my opinion, many aspects of entrepreneurship, include some parts of the “entrepreneurial mindset” can be taught and learned.  For all aspects though, the desire to learn and continue becoming a better and more successful entrepreneur will need to come from within.  You will need the drive to succeed that leads to the willpower to overcome obstacles and “make it happen”.  If you don’t have, or can’t muster this drive and willpower, no amount of teaching or learning is likely to allow you to become a successful entrepreneur.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

Don’t miss an issue of Company Founder! Subscribe today.  It’s free.  It’s private.  It’s practical information for entrepreneurs and leaders interested in taking it to the next level.

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Sep 052011
 
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Entrepreneur – Be True To Who You Are

It took me a while to figure this out, but now I see it as a truism.  You must be true to who you are.  I think this is particularly important as an entrepreneur, as when you are charting new and different paths, there will never be a shortage of naysayers.  You must be true to who you are so that you will have an inner confidence that allows you to look beyond the negativity and press on in the direction of your goals and dreams.

I’ll give you an example in my own case, which was one of my early indications that it was futile for me to fight my entrepreneurial tendencies.  I had been an entrepreneur since a very young age, had done very well with it, and most importantly, loved every minute of being my own boss.  Yet, when I finished undergrad, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to go work for a large company.  As if that wasn’t enough, I went into a staid, high-end consulting environment.  The pay was good, the nice offices and prestige were abundant, and I was miserable.  In fact, I don’t remember a time in my work life when I felt more like a fish out of water!  I watched the work being piled on and the partners making excellent money.  I felt like an indentured servant.

At the point when I started “sharing” my work with other people at my “lowest on the totem pole” level, everything started to go seriously downhill.  One partner comment I remember:  “It’s not your job to delegate!  You need to do the work we give you.”  My response, “But he doesn’t have any work on his plate and I’m inundated.  Don’t worry; I’ll make sure it’s correct.”  There were many mildly humorous incidents like this.  I lasted just seven months, then left, probably shortly before they asked me to leave, to take a job with a small, entrepreneurial software company, where I felt much more at home.

It was a good learning experience for me.  I learned that I was not cut out for a large corporate job and all the realities inherent in such an environment.  I’ve had quite a bit of success in advising such companies, but as an outside advisor, not an employee.  I went through a phase, probably before maturing a bit, of thinking that one environment is better than the other, or said more directly, that entrepreneurship is better than working in corporate.  However, with time, I have come to realize that it’s not what’s better or worse.  In reality, we need both.  It’s about what works for you.  You have to be true to who you are.  My Dad spent over thirty years with the same large company, and if you asked him, I don’t think he’d tell you he regrets it.  I maxed out at seven months in such an environment.  Is one of us right and the other wrong?  I don’t think so.  You just have to be true to yourself.

So thus far I’ve talked about being true to yourself mainly when choosing between entrepreneurship and corporate.  Now let’s talk about it in a bit more depth, assuming you’ve taken the entrepreneurial path.  You must also be true to who you are as an entrepreneur.  What do I mean by that?  Well, you can take a lot of paths as an entrepreneur.  You can sell professional services.  You can open a convenience store.  You can develop proprietary technology, assemble an A-level management team, raise venture capital, and try to take your company public or sell it to a strategic buyer.  In other words, there is a very wide range of possible ways to pursue being an entrepreneur.  Before you start your venture, you should take some time to think about who you are as a person.  Consider what you like to do.  Take into account what skills you bring to the table.  Think about whether you want to work with a team or grow something yourself.  In short, you need to figure out what type of business you want to start up.

As you consider these questions, be true to who you are.  Start a business that makes sense for you.  It may not be what others recommend.  They may not even “approve”.  Who cares?  It’s your business.  You will be the one who has to run it, day in and day out.  Make sure that it suits you!  It will be your “blood, sweat and tears”.  If you start a business to try to please other people, trust me, you will never be happy doing it.

First, make sure you understand the difference between an idea and an opportunity.  Once you screen your business ideas and identify true opportunities, all else being roughly equal, choose the one that you feel the best about.  Once you’ve identified business opportunities that truly have a chance of succeeding, go with your heart!  Remember, you will spend a ton of time working on your business.  Make sure it’s something you enjoy.  Be sure it’s something that suits you at a visceral level.  Be true to who you are and you cannot go wrong.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com.

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