Entrepreneurs are a strange breed and largely misunderstood. Some people believe that all small independent businesses are automatically entrepreneurial. Not true. Many small businesses just plod along, day after day, following whatever formula got them to where they are, and never straying into new or uncharted territory. The companion belief is that entrepreneurs don’t exist in large, publicly-held corporations. Also not true. Witness Apple Computer that started from small, humble beginnings, grew to be a corporate behemoth, yet is still very entrepreneurial. Simon Sinek, one of our favorite authors and speakers, says that entrepreneurs are problem-solvers. While that’s true, it’s not entirely helpful if we’re trying to distinguish what separates entrepreneurs from the rest of business people because all of us in business are problem-solvers. As evidence, just try to think of a product or service that you’d buy if it didn’t satisfy a want, fill a need, or solve a problem. To learn more about what it takes to be an entrepreneur (and to learn if you’ve got what it takes), please continue reading below.
“The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.” ~ George Bernard Shaw
At their best, entrepreneurs are emotionally connected to their business. An entrepreneur doesn’t start the business on a whim or because he believes he can make a lot of money with it. He starts it for a higher purpose. She has a problem to solve, or maybe it’s a problem for a friend or family member. Regardless, she sees this problem and wants to find a solution. But after a thorough search, he concludes that the product or service that would solve his problem simply doesn’t exist. Undaunted, our intrepid entrepreneur decides to create the product or service she needs herself. It’s a sort of defiant challenge to the marketplace whereby the entrepreneur is saying, “OK fine. If no one else is willing to solve this problem for me, I’ll figure out how to solve it myself.” That’s where the emotional connection is forged. The entrepreneur is creating something, not for the fun of it and not for a big payday, but because there’s a significant problem that needs to be solved.
Unfortunately, many small companies that start out as entrepreneurial enterprises don’t stay that way. Having found the solution to a problem that got them into business in the first place, they simply continue to churn out the same solution to the same problem, year after year, without looking for new problems to solve or finding new solutions to old problems. That’s not what real entrepreneurs do. Real entrepreneurs realize that true entrepreneurship is a journey, not an event. It’s endlessly looking for problems to solve that no one else is addressing, and it’s constantly looking at solutions that are already in place and trying to figure out how to make them even better, more efficient, and more cost-effective.
Simon Sinek tells us that there are three questions that every organization needs to answer about itself.
- What do we do here?
- How do we do what we do here?
- Why do we do what we do here?
Most organizations can comfortably answer the first two questions, but many struggle with the third. It’s particularly difficult for a larger, older, well-established company to stay in touch with its roots. The founders knew “why” they brought the company into existence, but unless successive generations of leaders and managers have kept the company’s “why” alive, it probably fades from the corporate memory. And when that happens, we’re left with “We do what we do because that’s what we’ve always done.” That’s not the sort of inspirational stuff that propels us out of bed in the morning and makes us look forward to another day of “doing what we’ve always done.”
Apple Computer is a good example of a company that has kept its “why” front and center throughout its entire existence. In the early days of the personal computer, they were these quirky little boxes that weren’t of much use unless you knew how to work in DOS, which most people didn’t. Even mighty IBM produced a PC but wrote it off as a toy that would never have any real commercial value. Then along came Steve Jobs who saw personal computers as a way to give the masses access to the same sort of computing power that until then had been reserved for the big mainframe computers of Corporate America. So Apple’s “why” became “to give power to the people.” And Jobs achieved that by eliminating the complexities of DOS and substituting menu-driven, point-and-click technologies that transformed the personal computer into a user-friendly, intuitive device that almost anyone could use.
So what is an entrepreneur?
- Someone who brings creativity and innovation to problems that are not being adequately addressed by anyone else.
- Someone who brings creativity and innovation to the concepts of “continuous improvement” . . . who is always looking for ways to improve upon the solutions to yesterday’s problems.
- Someone who understands why the company does what it does and has an emotional connection to that “why.”
What do you say? Are you that guy?