Are successful entrepreneurs made or born? We’d need to start with an understanding of what an entrepreneur is. They’re all over the map, which makes the question particularly difficult to navigate. There’s the 14-year-old girl who hitches a ride ...

The four elements of entrepreneurship

Are successful entrepreneurs made or born?

We’d need to start with an understanding of what an entrepreneur is. They’re all over the map, which makes the question particularly difficult to navigate.

There’s the 14-year-old girl who hitches a ride to Costco, buys 100 bottles of water for thirty cents each, then sells them at the beach for a dollar a pop. Scale that that every day for a summer and you can pay for college.

Or the 7-time venture-backed software geek who finds a niche, gets some funding, builds it out with a trusted team, sells it for $100 million in stock and then starts again.

Perhaps we’re talking about a non-profit entrepreneur, a woman who builds a useful asset, finds a scalable source of funding and changes the world as she does.

The mistake that’s easy to make is based in language. We say, “she’s an entrepreneur,” when we should be saying, “she’s acting like an entrepreneur.”

Since entrepreneurship is a verb, an action, a posture… then of course, it’s a choice. You might not want to act like one, but if you can model behavior, you can act like one.

And what do people do when they’re acting like entrepreneurs?

1. They make decisions.

2. They invest in activities and assets that aren’t a sure thing.

3. They persuade others to support a mission with a non-guaranteed outcome.

4. This one is the most amorphous, the most difficult to pin down and thus the juiciest: They embrace (instead of run from) the work of doing things that might not work.

As far as I can tell, that’s it. Everything else you can hire.

Buying into an existing business by buying a franchise, to pick one example--there’s very little of any of the four elements of entrepreneurial behavior. Yes, you’re swinging for a bigger win, you’re investing risk capital, you’re going outside the traditional mainstream. But what you’re doing is buying a proven business, not acting like an entrepreneur. The four elements aren't really there. It's a process instead. Nothing wrong with that.

All four of these elements are unnatural to most folks. Particularly if you were good at school, you're not good at this. No right answers, no multiple choice, no findable bounds.

It's easy to get hung up on the "risk taking" part of it, but if you’re acting like an entrepreneur, you don’t feel like you’re taking a huge risk. Risks are what happens at a casino, where you have little control over the outcome. People acting like entrepreneurs, however, feel as though the four most important elements of their work (see above) are well within their control.

If you’re hoping someone can hand you a Dummies guide, giving you the quick steps, the guaranteed method, the way to turn this process into a job--well, you’ve just announced that you don’t feel like acting like an entrepreneur.

But before you walk away from it, give it a try. Entrepreneurial behavior isn't about scale, it's about a desire for a certain kind of journey.

       

Justice and dignity, the endless shortage

You will never regret offering dignity to others.

We rarely get into trouble because we overdo our sense of justice and fairness. Not just us, but where we work, the others we influence. Organizations and governments are nothing but people, and every day we get a chance to become better versions of ourselves.

And yet... in the moments when we think no one is looking, when the stakes are high, we often forget. It's worth remembering that justice and dignity aren't only offered on behalf of others.

Offering people the chance to be treated the way we'd like to be treated benefits us too. It goes around.

The false scarcity is this: we believe that shutting out others, keeping them out of our orbit, our country, our competitive space—that this somehow makes things more easier for us.

And this used to be true. When there are 10 jobs for dockworkers, having 30 dockworkers in the hall doesn't make it better for anyone but the bosses.

But today, value isn't created by filling a slot, it's created by connection. By the combinations created by people. By the magic that comes from diversity of opinion, background and motivation. Connection leads to ideas, to solutions, to breakthroughs.

The false scarcity stated as, "I don't have enough, you can't have any," is more truthfully, "together, we can create something better."

We know it's the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing.

       

Fake wasabi

Most sushi restaurants serve a green substance with every roll. But it's not wasabi, it's a mix of horseradish and some other flavorings. Real wasabi costs too much.

The thing is, if you grew up with this, you're used to it. It's the regular kind.

And that makes it real. Real to us, anyway.

Creatures don't like change, up or down. We like what we like.

The regular kind.

       

Before you design a chart or infographic

What's it for?

A graph only exists to make a point. Its purpose is not to present all the information. Its purpose is not to be pretty.

Most of all, its purpose is not, "well, they told me I needed to put a graph here."

The purpose of a graph is to get someone to say "a-ha" and to see something the way you do.

Begin there and work backwards.

[Only slightly related: I'll be in Orange County for an evening event on February 15. Details are here. Hope to see you there.]

       

The witnesses and the participants

Every history student knows about the tragedy of the commons. When farmers shared grazing land, no one had an incentive to avoid overgrazing, and without individual incentives, the commons degraded until it was useless.

We talk about this as if it's an inevitable law, a glitch in the system that prevents communities from gaining the benefits of shared resources.

Of course, that's not true.

Culture permits us to share all sorts of things without having them turn into tragedies. People are capable of standing up to the short-term profit motive, we're not powerless. We can organize and codify and protect.

It requires us to say, "please don't," even more than, "not me." Culture can be the antidote to selfishness.

In fact, it's the only thing that is.

       

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