Entrepreneurship and entrepreneur are oft-used words in our lexicon, but if one were to ask for its definition, one would receive many different answers.
A few years ago, if you were to ask me for a definition, I would have answered that an entrepreneur was anyone who worked for themselves. If you asked me last year I would have answered anyone who works for themselves by building and/or selling businesses. And although these are both facets of entrepreneurship, they still do not capture the essence of what it is.
en-tre-pre-neur – n. A person who organizes, operates, and assumes risk for a business venture.
Hmmm…looks pretty close to my definitions, the difference being the very specific clause of assuming risk. This is still a very broad definition, however. Given the current use of stock options and the impact of net worth should projects fail, many high level executives and board members at “traditional” companies could be considered entrepreneurs by this rationale. However, my mind fails to make the connection between its picture of these board members/executives (stiff) and its picture of an entrepreneur.
Perhaps the key isn’t what, but how one goes about their business. Let us compare so-called entrepreneurial traits/values against so-called traditional. I’ve read many books and articles dealing with this question and the best description I’ve read is found in the book, The Steve Jobs Way, by Jay Elliot. Elliot is a former senior vice president at Apple, recruited by Steve Jobs early on.
He writes that at entrepreneurial companies, the ideas become the lifeblood of the organization. Repeating Job’s words, “You have to be burning with ‘an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want right.’ If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick out.” Tom Peters puts it a different way, “I happen to believe that innovation comes, not from market research or carefully crafted focus groups, but from pissed-off people.”
Folks would often tell Steve Jobs that they wanted to be entrepreneurs. He’d respond by asking them, “What’s your idea?” Most would have no answer. Having an idea based on an unmet need backed by a passion for said idea are paramount to providing a successful product to market. Apple of today is what happens when an entire company is built with these fundamentals hardwired into its DNA. Apple of the early 1990′s is what happens when a company isn’t.
When Steve Jobs was wandering in the wilderness, Apple became a company more interested in profits than products. The board chose traditional over entrepreneurial. They chose individuals looking for individual opportunity versus the next product to market. Hence, a lack of visionary leadership. Elliot writes of CEOs who have gone through multiple companies but failed to develop one product. “That’s not the exception.” Place this against Jobs who often said of Macintosh, “it will make a ripple in the universe.” He wants to make products that change the world…literally.
It’s not that ideas don’t happen at traditional companies. Ideas are a-plenty. The problem at traditional companies is what happens with them…nothing. The system is set to maintain the status quo. Instead of the person with the idea being given leeway to move forward with resources necessary to give it a shot, the project is handed off, at best, to people who are ill-equipped to capture the nature intended. Or the senior manager takes the idea (and the credit) while the employee gets a pat on the back.
You get the idea.
So, based on this, back to my original question: What is entrepreneurship? I think we know it is a little but more than what Webster dictates. Entrepreneurs are idea-men/women, burning with a passion to fill an unmet need, consummating that passion with a product, taking it to market, in order to change the world in their way.
What’s your definition? Are you an entrepreneur? What’s your idea (be careful…whisper in my ear)?
more to come…
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