To echo Shakespeare’s ironic take on greatness: some people are born entrepreneurs, some achieve entrepreneurship, and some have entrepreneurship thrust upon them. The last group cannot be entrepreneurs as they cannot take risks but execute orders and are contented with abiding by the conventional rules. On the other extreme, we find the gifted horde who are the rare philosophers in action, from whom we get our inspiration. But the goldmine for entrepreneurship trainers, incubators and start-up accelerators are the second group, those who can achieve greatness, meaning those who can become entrepreneurs. That is where the potential is, but it needs to be honed and lifted out of its state of torpor, using the inspiration as the main tool.
We need to learn from the gifted crowd to be able to harness the skills of the tribe of achievers. Gifted entrepreneurs are poets- they dream the world, they draw the landscape and ride wild horses to conquer it. They are driven by a vision and spend all their time chasing it. What others see as mere boring objects, they see as products to be transformed and sold to everybody.
Gifted entrepreneurs are driven. Some twenty-four centuries ago, the very young Alexander the Great dreamed of becoming a Homeric hero and shot like a meteor uniting Greece and conquering, on his way to grandeur, Turkey, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Persia. He was the epitome of the entrepreneur (military in this case) using the drive inside him to inspire “teams” and lead them to the peaks of greatness and success. He saw big and was even plotting to conquer Rome and Carthage before he died of Malaria at the age of 33.
Gifted entrepreneurs think less of the profit and more of self-achievement. It’s all about themselves, they are selfish in a way, but their egoism inspires others to be as successful and create revenue and profit. They may, like Ghandi, live on goat milk, because what matters for them is whether the Earth shakes under the thudding of their frail and sometimes naked feet. There is a greater good to their actions that only they can see.
Challenges for the gifted entrepreneurs are part of the landscape. They never expect life to be a plain field. They are like mountaineers who factor in danger, stress and risk in their daily activities and ways. They not only believe in Seneca’s saying that “difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body,” but believe that the essence of life is to be challenged. As Ray Davis says that “a challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.” The gifted entrepreneurs never bow, they are more inspired when challenged. Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Jack Ma, J.K. Rowling, and various others were shaped by the dire challenges they encountered growing in dire settings.
Facing challenges entails a risk-taking attitude. Calculated risk in entrepreneurship is now an accepted concept. Yes, they need to know where they go, but they don’t mind when the road is hidden by a tall forest or visibility is dimmed by a thick fog. They follow Faulkner’s philosophical dictum that “you cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Those who can become successful entrepreneurs need to learn from these larger-than-life-figures, the gifted mythical achievers, in life, politics and business. Young entrepreneurs should make the lessons of these great heroes work for them, fit in with their dreams, their lives, their ideas, their characters, their skills and their temperament. As there is no quick fix, there are also no magical recipes but only tips young achievers can use by working hard on themselves and on their business:
1. Dare to dream
The dreamers in life and business often skip details of how to get there because it is often better to envision big strides than to be bogged down in little things. The best of the class are those who envision success at the end of the road but try to fix the details while getting there- they “walk the talk” without losing sight of the big picture. It’s a dialectics of the Now and the Future: the Future Vision determines what we do Now, but the Now does not have a sense if it doesn’t contribute to shape the dream.
2. Be driven
You are not just a simple manager, you don’t just plan, organize work, and staff, but you lead, inspire and motivate. You need to work on yourself to fathom out what motivates you most. A childhood dream, a love for a hobby, a passion for poetry, a love story, the sound of a tune that lifts you into higher levels, a dear relative’s words, and so on. Memories, words, images, feelings that drive you and give you a sensation that you can do miracles. Make them drive you in your work, lift you up and make you forget the dreariness of hard work and toil. You are on another level. You are driven.
3. The feeling of success is better than success itself
It’s good to make profit: that is the essence of business. But that is only one battle. The war is won when the brand reputation grows, or you become an industry leader setting norms and controlling price tendencies, or you become a reference in talent training and retention. Some years may be bad, profit-wise, it does not mean you are not successful but that the road to success is not paved with soft carpets. Succeeding is a feeling that you are overcoming challenges that come in the way of your achievement, even in times when revenue is at half-mast.
4. Challenges should make you, not break you
Julie Zhu said that “teams that fall in love with a problem have more successful outcomes than teams that fall in love with a particular solution. Knowing that a problem is worth solving continues to be motivating even when a team does not come across a solution.” Problems could be a source of motivation, challenges are opportunities to harness creative forces and to mobilize intellectual resources to overcome them.
5. Life is an adventure and so is business
Those who risk nothing live on just something. Risk scares people because it is a step into the unknown. Be a savvy risk-taker and try to get as much information as possible, make sound guesses and factor in what the others do or don’t. Look at the environment of your business, see how it is changing or evolving. Development theorists call the hypotheses you make about the environment “critical assumptions.” Ask yourself: “What needs to change or stay the same for my strategy to work?” You are taking risks in assuming changes or non-changes in the environment. Your strategy is a form of risk too- you assume that if you achieve certain intermediary results, your grand objective will be attained. Risk is a calculated leap into the future! It is also a mode of life for successful entrepreneurs.
The achieving culture that David MacLeland preached some seventy years ago is now a reality in so many countries. The vanguards for this culture are the achievers, those who get inspiration from the gifted tribe and set objectives, seek information, take risks and persuade the world that their product is the best. Those exist in all cultures, they just need to be given the right tools and tips and the right space to thrive and make their communities prosper.