Jim Collins, author of one of my favorite business books, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t, was interviewed in the 30th Anniversary Issue of Inc. Magazine last month. The entire article is a good read, but one question in particular stood out to me:
How do you define entrepreneurship?
I take a broad view of it. The traditional definition — founding an entity designed to make money — is too narrow for me. I see entrepreneurship as more of a life concept. We all make choices about how we live our lives. You can take a paint-by-numbers approach, or you can start with a blank canvas. When you paint by numbers, the end result is guaranteed. You know what it’s going to be, and it might be good, but it will never be a masterpiece. Starting with a blank canvas is the only way to get a masterpiece, but you could also blow up. So, are you going to pick the paint-by-numbers kit or the blank canvas? That’s a life question, not a business question.
Asking yourself that life question has a lot of benefits, even if you don’t become an entrepreneur. Starting a company or seriously considering starting a company forces you to ask a lot of important life questions about yourself. For many people (myself included), it’s the first time you do something that doesn’t garner full support from your friends and family. You have to learn how to cope with people doubting you, which forces you to really ponder the question even further, and to be honest probably leads to some major life questions that are outside the scope of this blog. Dale from Corporatepreneur is going through it right now as he takes a 3 month leave of absence from his job, and I went through it when I quit my job.
Going through this is a great thing. It’s a great way to learn about yourself and the people you surround yourself with. I’ve had people who – for whatever reason – have seemed to distance themselves from me since I left my career. I have other people who I have become much closer with because they can identify with me and support my decision, even if it’s not something that they would do. And then some other friends and family have only warmed up to the idea once they’ve seen the success we’ve had. All of this has helped me truly identify the people I want close to me in my life, and those relationships have really flourished. It also gives me the confidence that no matter what types of things I pursue throughout the rest of my life, I’ll have a close knit group of people who will support me…and I hope they feel the same way about me of course.
And then there’s the business side of it of course. You face a different kind of adversity. There aren’t the same sort of rules that there are in academia or in the corporate world. People will try to take advantage of you, sometimes even outright steal from you. Sometime soon I’ll post up the story of how we’ve been gamed for thousands of dollars by fraudulent chargebacks, and what we’re doing about it.
The best part of having situations like those arise is that you see what you’re made of and what the other people around you are made of. When we find these things out, no one pouts or whines about it. No one points fingers. We pick up the phone and call our lawyer or our insurance company and we come up with a plan of action. This shows a maturity that not everyone has. We are able to step back and see the big picture, what’s really important, and not get caught up in pointless and petty acts.
Very early on you learn how to take a different approach to valuing your time because it’s the greatest asset that you have. For the first time in my life I learned to say no. Opportunities increasingly come our way every day, and for the most part aren’t good opportunities for our business. I (almost) always respond to these people, I’m (almost) always nice about it, and I always wish them good luck, but I’m quick and firm in my decision and I generally don’t continue the conversation past one email (arguing with people after they’ve made a decision generally doesn’t impress them, in fact I view it as a very disrespectful and impolite response).
By choosing the blank canvas, I found what I wanted to do for a career. And having a career that you love is a huge step in figuring out the rest of your life.