Dave Kinnear 1-On Leadership

What is an entrepreneur?

Harvard Business School defined entrepreneur this way: “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.”– Howard Stevenson

I was reminded of this several times this past month. First, over on LinkedIn, one of the groups I frequent posted this great article from Inc. Magazine. It’s an interesting read.

Entrepreneurship is creating something out of nothing. And of course there has to be a fair amount of leadership quality in the entrepreneur, at least in the beginning. In addition to this article, I was reminded of the “entrepreneurship puzzle” as I worked with a colleague on his business idea presentation for his peer advisory board. That, in turn reminded me of the success gained by one of my UCI mentees in starting his own business. These two gentlemen are very different in training and background. Yet they both have the desire and the drive to build their own businesses – “without regard to resources currently controlled.”

The sometimes puzzling thing about those entrepreneurs who jump into things – like young kids jumping into the summer swimming hole without first looking to see what is there – is what motivates them to do so in the first place. And as Eric Schurenberg mentions in his Inc. Magazine article, Stevenson stated that “The entrepreneurs I know are all different types. They’re as likely to be wallflowers as to be the wild man of Borneo.” I agree. The personalities of the business founders with whom I work are very different. And their reasons for jumping into the entrepreneurship swimming hole varies as much as their personalities. Yet one thing seems to be common – they have an idea for a product or service and they are willing to “do what it takes” to get that idea off the ground and into the marketplace. They don’t seek risk, but are willing to evaluate, mitigate and live with the risk. And some pretty much do jump into the swimming hole without looking – though that is by no means a requirement for success; or failure. A solid, well thought out business plan is always useful when properly understood and implemented.

In this political season, there is much talk about the particular brand of capitalism in the U.S. Who creates jobs? Is it the small businesses and start-ups or the more established firms? Who are the “good guys?” Captains of industry with their out-sized compensation or the entrepreneur earning less than his/her key employees? As usual, there are lots of numbers being quoted to make points on all sides of this argument – an argument which I think is pretty much a moot point. History does not support business being stagnant with the existing players being the only players moving forward. Someone will start a new businesses with disruptive technology and the business scene will again shift to create new opportunities for many – including employment. The questions will always remain, in my view, “How will the workforce evolve to match the new requirements for employment?” Who will start the next “big thing?”

One can imagine that entrepreneurship itself will begin to fill the gap as to how we as individuals can continue to grow our knowledge and skill set through new an innovative ways of learning. All of this will, of course, continue to be painful and we will have the usual suspects claiming that all businesses eventually become corrupt and those who claim the only way to save our economy is to completely turn the business community loose, without constraint. And as always, the truth will be in the middle somewhere. My sense of things is that we almost have it right today. If we keep entrepreneurs in mind as we formulate policies and regulations so that many new businesses can start and fail and flourish, then we will hopefully have the boiling up of change and new services that we need for a vibrant economy. If we continue to learn from the companies who game the system and plug the holes in regulations, then we will avoid some of the excesses creating havoc now and in the future.

The goal is to restore and maintain the consumer’s confidence that there is a level playing field for them and that someone “has their back” when it comes to “fighting” large corporations. The Occupy Wall Street movement is sending a strong message to the captains of industry and politicians alike – they perceive that the playing field is no longer level. The vast “middle class” is finding their stagnated purchasing power and stunted upward mobility is no longer acceptable. We need to remind ourselves that it makes no difference what we might think, as long as the perception is what it is, then that is the reality for a large number of people. We ignore it at our own peril.

So what are we doing to re-think our approach to the business climate? Will the old models and political party dogmas solve today’s problems? I think not. What if we decided that despite economies of scale that we better serve people if we make sure most companies remain “small.” I’m not suggesting government mandate this, but rather that businesses change their models on their own. What if those businesses who might need to be large – telecommunications? Power generation? – found a way to truly serve individual customers as though they really mattered, and found a way for more reasonable executive compensation? Perhaps changes along those lines would go a long way to obviate the need for revolution of the people or intervention by the government. Too much to hope for, I suppose. But then, we could be the change we want to see in the business world and it is the small business, the entrepreneur that is best equip to make the necessary adjustments. That’s a grand idea!