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21 How an Entrepreneur Imagines the World

I hang around with lots of small business owners and not all are what one would call entrepreneurs. In fact, many are simply people that happen to own a job that pays the bills.

hillcountryhack via Flickr CC

Don’t get me wrong, these are good people, really good people, but calling them entrepreneurs sort of muddies the distinction.

So what is the difference? What are the character traits that one possesses or actions that one endeavors that qualifies them for this often misused label?

I’ve been asked this question repeatedly and until now not come up with a distinction that captured it adequately.

That is until I found myself in the kitchen with my wife.

I think describing the very different ways that my wife and I approach cooking can best capture the difference between how an entrepreneur and the rest of normal civilization view the world.

My wife enters the kitchen, cleans up any lingering messes, imagines a meal, looks up a recipe, acquires the ingredients, carefully measures, mixes and serves the meal all the while cleaning up as she goes. This is, of course, a perfectly logical approach to eating and entertaining.

I, on the other hand, enter the kitchen, figure out what we have on the shelves, ponder combinations of things I like, decide how these things could be combined to make what I hypothesize would be something good to eat, taste, test, add, mix, add more, revel in the odd discoveries, pivot based on what I learn and whisk what seems reasonable onto the plate of anyone I can convince to eat. And, somehow every single pot and pan available gets pressed into service and dirtied.

My wife imagines a future meal based on what she knows and I imagine a future meal based on what I discover as I go, and that I think is as clear a distinction of the entrepreneurial mindset as I can illustrate.

Entrepreneurs don’t learn by thinking, they learn by doing.

I had occasion recently to spend some time with Ned Hallowell, M.D., Ed.D., a child and adult psychiatrist, New York Times bestselling author and leading authority in the field of ADHD.

Hallowell will tell you that an extremely high number of entrepreneurs share many of the same traits as the ADHD patients he has treated over the years. The primary difference is that they’ve been able to channel what is, for some, a debilitation into an asset.

Hallowell’s research and treatment of persons with ADHD is shedding entirely new light on the power of this trait.

In the words of Dr. Hallowell, “In my opinion, ADHD is a terrible term. As I see it, ADHD is neither a disorder, nor is there a deficit of attention. I see ADHD as a trait, not a disability.”

And there, perhaps, you have it – entrepreneurship is a trait, that unmet, untended or unleashed could be considered by some a disability – or you could imagine a world where you discover only by doing.

19 It’s Time to Purge the Word Entrepreneur

There’s a long-standing debate in business circles about the difference between the use of the term entrepreneur vs. small business owner. The issue centers on the notion that if you’re an entrepreneur you care about high growth and if you’re a small business owner you’re somehow destined to struggle to make ends meet while working your fingers to the bone.

jeff_golden via Flickr

I think it’s one of the silliest distinctions we accept in business and I’ve actually stopped using the term entrepreneur because I think it confuses more than explains.

I suspect there will be those that challenge what I’m suggesting here and that’s okay.

I don’t have anything against people calling themselves that, but the word entrepreneur has become tainted with this view of a person with a big idea, prepared to take on massive risk in an all out effort to go big or go home. For me, it’s just become a silly notion.

You can view your business as an entrepreneurial high growth machine and still work your fingers to the bone with little to show for it and you can create a little lifestyle small business that pays your handsomely and affords you the time to take in the world. So, what’s the distinction now?

I believe there are really only two kinds of small businesses – healthy ones and unhealthy ones.

A healthy business is not just about high growth. It’s about the owner’s decision to commit to a pattern of leadership through constant innovation and a unique way of being and doing that fuels their definition of growth. This is what I call a fully alive business.

Businesses that are lifeless and unhealthy are those that are simply led with the intent of managing and controlling what already exists and that’s the view of the small business that many who strive to be called entrepreneurs want to avoid.

So, you see, the only real difference between one business and another may lie ultimately in how the owner views the business.

The key to creating a fully alive business comes from the audacity to put innovative pressure on the organization at all times. That’s the real  job of business owner.(Okay they have a lot of other jobs too, but that’s the one with the big payoff.) The only question is whether or not they realize and accept that role.

Success through a model of massive growth requires the chaos and doubt that constant innovation creates just as surely as the choice to control growth in an effort to stay true to what you want out of life may suggest another very specific pattern of decision making through innovation.

Either way, the business becomes fully alive through a focus on innovation, not simply on hyper growth.

I guess I’m suggesting that to bring a business fully alive you must bring a little chaos or order will eventually take over and suck the life from the organization. That’s the view of a healthy business, that’s the view of healthy growth in any fashion and that’s what I mean when I talk about the potential of a fully alive small business.

So I wonder if by clinging to the notion of the word entrepreneur, rather than simply embracing the idea of a fully alive business in all shapes and sizes, we are limiting our view of the remarkable opportunity owning a small business really has to offer.

51 Give Yourself Permission to Suck

When I was growing up I decided I wanted to play the guitar. I loved music, appreciated songwriting and wanted to be able to play and sing. As anyone who has ever tried to learn an instrument or anyone that’s lived with someone trying to learn a musical instrument can attest, at first you’re going to be really, really bad.

jeffmcneill via Flickr

But, if your desire to play is significant and you push through with practice, eventually, something magical can occur. Now, I never practiced enough to expect to rise very high in my musical career, but I did advance to the point where I could earn money, tips and drinks by playing in the bars in the town where I attended college.

The point is, if you want to achieve any level of success in your business one of the things you must do is give yourself permission to be bad at the things you don’t know how to do.

I encounter business owners frequently that tell me they are bad at this thing or that thing, or they fear they can’t master this important skill. The thing about holding back or caving in to fear is that it zaps your passion and kills your art.

There are so many things you must do in order to build a business and with most of these things you’ll have no idea how to do them properly and no experience to draw upon other than what you witness around you.

If you succeed in business at all at times it’s because you push through, fall down, and get back up to assess what you’ve learned.

The thing is though, many business owners just flat ignore some of the steps they must take in order to move their business forward with momentum because they don’t think they know enough about how to do something, or they don’t think they like that kind of work, or someone told them they’re no good at something.

If you’ve ever felt like your business is stuck and you keep bumping up against some unseen force that won’t let you move forward, look no further than yourself. The enemy is you and your unwillingness to do the things you must even though you’re afraid you’ll fail.

I’m not really trying to give you a pep talk here, this is straight on practical advice. You’re going to suck at many of things you need to do and that’s okay, that’s how you get to where you’re going.

There’s a chapter in the wonderful book Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott titled Shitty First Drafts. Lamott describes a process of writing that involves getting something down on paper, without analysis, knowing that it won’t be very good, but also knowing that it’s the only way to get to the second and final draft. Unless you’re willing to write something very bad, you’ll never get to something beautiful.

When I realized that in order to build the business I wanted to build I would have to write every day, I just started to write. I had never really written this way and I was very bad at it. I didn’t want to be bad at it, but I gave myself permission to because it was the only way I was going to get somewhere I wanted to go. (Your ego has way of helping sometimes because I probably didn’t think some of my first works were as bad as they really were.)

When I realized that in order to build the business I wanted to build I would to have to get up in front of audiences and speak, I just started to do it. I had never done it before and I was very bad at it. I didn’t want to be bad at it, but I gave myself permission to because it was the only way I was going to get somewhere I wanted to go.

I’m by no means a great writer or a great speaker, but I’ve stuck with both long enough to get to the point where they are essential elements of my business and brand because I knew they had to be.

So far no one has been injured or killed by my doing either and that’s the point. Give yourself permission to be bad at doing the things you want and need to do and you might find that your art flows more easily.

So, by this point you might be saying, “But I don’t know how to get started with . . . ” – blogging, accounting, analysis, speaking, selling, hiring, SEO, or any other of a myriad of necessary activities I’m no good at.

That’s part two – How to be really, really good at everything you do.

27 The Power of the Embedded Entrepreneur

teachingJust the other day I did an interview with a columnist working on a story about people starting up a business venture while still employed. My take as an employer is that those individuals have a moral obligation to perform to that best of their ability for their current employer, however, my view is that every business should look at their employees as entrepreneurs, embedded in their business.

And by this I mean that they should encourage, teach, and empower them to act entrepreneurial, even as they perform the functions of their given job title. My belief is that entrepreneurial thinking and action leads to making decisions that are about getting results for the customer and the business in ways that traditional job training often stifles. (It might help to review my article – 7 Uncommon Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs)

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27 7 Uncommon Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs

geometryI’ve hung out with thousands of entrepreneurs over the last few years alone and I can tell you, they’re not who you think they are.

So much of the popular literature on entrepreneurs portrays them as some sort of gut wrenching risk takers walking out there on the bleeding edge daring to tread where most fear. And a few of those do exist, but more often than not, those are the ones who fail. What I’ve found is that successful entrepreneurs possess and grow a handful of traits that are rarely mentioned and certainly aren’t found in textbooks on the subject. I’m not sure if these traits can be learned to tell you the truth, but I do think it’s helpful if they’re understood.

In my opinion people who naturally possess the following traits are more likely to succeed as entrepreneurs.

Curiosity – I’m not aware of any MBA programs that teach this, but it’s such a wonderful trait in business. To want, no, need to know what’s next, how something works, why people aren’t buying, or how to do something just a little faster is a trait I look for in any potential employee and one that successful entrepreneurs are almost plagued with. (Insatiable curiosity is often encumbered with boredom of the routine.)

Risk Averse – This one throws people, but successful entrepreneurs are not any more wired to take risks than most, but they are wired to spot opportunities and possess the confidence that something, perhaps not what was originally envisioned, can be made of the opportunity. They are often better at letting something that’s clearly a bad idea go, limiting the ultimate risk.

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1 Free Guides from SCORE

SCORE, “Counselors to America’s Small Business,” is a offering two free workbooks to the first 1,000 people to sign up.

The two workbooks are comprehensive guides to starting and structuring a business, and are great resources for any entrepreneur. To get your free copy of How to Really Start Your Own Business and How to Really Structure Your Own Business, visit the SCORE Web site, and click on “How-To Workbooks Giveaway.