November 20, 2007
News & Opinion: Excerpt from Beat the System
The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Beat the System: 11 Secrets to Building an Entrepreneurial Culture in a Bureaucratic World by Robert W. MacDonald.
The 11 Simple Secrets
Being an entrepreneur is simply living a business life as it should be led.
Mention the word entrepreneur and most folks conjure up an image of a wild dreamer who goes into business by the seat of his pants and risks all to make some elusive pipe dream come true. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The word entrepreneur was gifted to us by the French (along with wine, mayonnaise, and arrogance). It comes from the French word entreprendre, which simply means to undertake or to set out on a new mission or venture. As you can see, nothing in that description harkens any visions of high-stakes gambling or wild-eyed schemes to turn a buck.
Sure, there are those over-the-top entrepreneurs who perpetuate that swashbuckling image. Guys like Sir Richard Branson exude the sort of swaggering, risk-taking conduct that the term entrepreneur usually evokes. Branson, of course, is the founder of Virgin Records and an eclectic stable of pubescent virgins: Virgin Atlantic Airways, Virgin Mobil,Virgin Blue,Virgin Cola,Virgin Express,Virgin America, and so on.
One minute Branson's risking millions of dollars founding a new company, and the next he's risking life and limb setting a world powerboat record or attempting a transglobal hot-air balloon flight. I can almost see Brad Pitt reprising the Branson role now.
Will the Real Entrepreneur Please Stand?
The image of the entrepreneur as a daring adventurer who recklessly gambles with his life and fortune is grossly inaccurate. Historically, we think of such luminaries as Henry Ford,Thomas Edison, and J. Pierpont Morgan as the epitome of the entrepreneur. More contemporary figures include Steve Jobs, the Apple entrepreneur; Bill Gates, the tycoon of computer operating systems; or Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx. These are the kind of entrepreneurs that management consultant and author Peter Drucker had in mind when he said "an entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity" (Innovation and Entrepreneurship, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993).
These business entrepreneurs and others like them had strong beliefs about a market opportunity and were willing to accept what others viewed as a high level of personal, professional, or financial risk to pursue that opportunity. They all understood that the real risk for a true entrepreneur is in not taking the risk of success because the true risk is in not risking. It would be a mistake to limit our concept of the entrepreneur to these business giants. The true entrepreneur is not defined by the size of the empire, but by the style of the emperor. By that I mean that you can be an entrepreneur by running a mail room just as much as by starting a FedEx. An individual managing a computer department can be just as entrepreneurial as Bill Gates. The guy who owns a gas station can be just as much of an entrepreneur as the guy who started Ford Motors.
A true entrepreneur is not determined by the measure of his or her results, but by how those results were attained. Being an entrepreneur is more about attitude than aptitude. There have been some very talented business managers who failed because they failed the test of entrepreneurialism. (We call them bureaucrats.) Likewise, there have been some people with very little apparent talent who achieve remarkable success as entrepreneurs. (These types are usually abysmal failures in a bureaucratic world.)
Entrepreneurialism is a way of living life, not a way of managing life. The real entrepreneur has a certain spirit, an elan and an approach to issues that is just different. And that is the key. In a system that demands sameness, the entrepreneur is willing to be different. Only by being different can things be made better. That is the philosophy at the heart of being an entrepreneur.
Taking this approach, a more useful definition of an entrepreneur might be this: "An entrepreneur is an individual with the experience to recognize an opportunity, the inherent instinct to visualize its fulfillment, and the courage to reach for it. An entrepreneur is, by nature, a leader who has the talent to clearly, simply, consistently, and relentlessly communicate his vision to employees and to others; one who can motivate others to be successful because they believe it is in their own best interest to do so. And it is." Although I used the masculine tense in this definition, an entrepreneur can be male or female, young or old.
Using this definition, then, "an entrepreneurial culture consists of a group of individuals who have suppressed individual interests in an effort to achieve group success because group success will advance their individual interests."
These are pretty solid definitions but the devil is in the details -- the actual practice of instituting an entrepreneurial culture in your job, your department, or your business. The good news is that entrepreneurs are made not born. The better news is that anyone with the right desire and commitment can achieve success as an entrepreneur. The secret to being a good entrepreneur lies in the simplicity of the concept. In reality, it is easier to be a successful entrepreneur than a bureaucrat. The entrepreneur acts with instinct and good common sense, while a bureaucrat has to know and follow the strict rules of the system.
The key to becoming an entrepreneur lies in the implementation of basic concepts and, as the title of this book suggests, there are only 11 simple secrets to learn to make it happen. But there is no need for you to carry out this task with the precision of a military field manual. The secrets are simple to learn, but don't let their simplicity fool you:
- Secret 1: Build parallel interests.
- Secret 2: Be an architect of the future.
- Secret 3: Be decisive, multifaceted, and ethical to a fault.
- Secret 4: Know the risk -- measure the reward.
- Secret 5: Communication -- be a shower not a teller.
- Secret 6: Power to the people.
- Secret 7: Become a trust builder.
- Secret 8: Sharing wealth increases wealth.
- Secret 9: Be constant, consistent, and concise.
- Secret 10: Treat important people like important people.
- Secret 11: Do simple things -- simply do them.
Learning These Secrets
The important thing to remember in putting these 11 practical secrets to work in your life and in your business is to remember that together, they present a cohesive philosophy for being an entrepreneur. When I say philosophy, I mean that these secrets are a way to think and behave, and as such, it's extremely difficult to distill them into a series of steps the would-be entrepreneur can invoke like a some-assembly-required Christmas toy.
The reality is that these secrets do not stand alone. They are interdependent. It's not like you can accept five of the secrets and ignore the others. This really is an all-or-nothing proposition -- a little like constructing a building. Each of the beams used in a building are strong and, in and of themselves, important. However, no single beam or even several are enough to support the building. They all need to be used and put in their right place. When in place, they support each of the other beams. Using the secrets to build an entrepreneurial culture is much the same.
Copyright (c) 2008 Robert W. MacDonald. All rights reserved.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.