The entrepreneur, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” That is a great synopsis, but it doesn’t go into what’s going on inside. The entrepreneur’s brain is a place full of innovative ideas and is moving roughly a thousand miles a minute. If you are hardwired with the entrepreneurial spirit, congrats! For those of us who didn’t start businesses in middle school, the points below will give you a better idea of how to think like an entrepreneur, and how to leverage it for success.
1. Find your passion.
This may seem like a given, but throwing yourself behind a new business is next to impossible if you don’t believe in what you are doing. A part of everyone wants to go venture out on their own. It’s natural, but you have to find the one thing that makes you tick in order to do it well. This doesn’t have to be an arduous experience at all either. The more you start programming your mind to look around and see where things could be improved, and how you could improve them, the closer you will get to finding your passion project. Engaging with your work breeds a sense of ownership and keeps the fire to succeed going strong.
2. Choose risk. Then risk more.
You didn’t fully commit to being an entrepreneur because you love the path more traveled. Fully committing to being an entrepreneur and launching a business is risky. There’s no doubt about that. However, in order to be a truly successful entrepreneur, you need to make risk one of your constant companions. Big success often comes from big swings, and these happen so often in business that there are four common types of business risk. Learn them, and learn how to risk effectively. My favorite example of an entrepreneurial risk-taker is Bill Gates. He dreamed big enough to drop-out of college and fully commit to the idea that they could put “a computer on every desktop and in every home”, which was a ludicrous idea in 1975. I encourage you next time that you’re making a risky decision, think of what your favorite entrepreneur would do, and use it as inspiration.
3. Identify your tribe.
Look to other entrepreneurs for support and inspiration, especially established ones. A mentor in the entrepreneurial world is as invaluable as seed money. The ability to pick their brains, learn from their mistakes, and run ideas past them is something I would not have been able to start my own digital marketing agency without.
Other successful founders will have the “risk more, reward more” mindset and will be able to really help with your ideas and struggles. Having another set of eyes on an idea or issue can often be the answer to honing a thought or solving a problem, so find your network and always keep expanding it.
4. You only have so much energy, so focus it.
I won’t lie to you—starting off on your own business venture is hard work. It can be exhausting if you let yourself get spread too thin. The ability to focus on the initial idea and passion that made you commit to starting a business is as paramount as finding the idea to begin with. Personally, I wrote down my business idea and why I wanted to do it as a mantra for myself to focus. This might not work for you, but I highly encourage you to find something that does! Have weekly check-ins with a journal to see if your original motivations still stand, and if not, discover how you can adapt your business to fit your evolving plan and act accordingly.
5. Prepare for the climb.
Finding success in business is not easy. It will require many hours, and possible failure. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 20% of small businesses fail within their first year, and 50% fail within the first five years. You will have many moments where you are essentially swimming upstream. Mentally preparing for these tough moments beforehand is extremely helpful, as is knowing what to look for when you’re heading for a rough patch.
6. Keep learning.
It is very easy to start your business venture, get in the groove, and then get stuck in that routine. My personal solution to getting stuck in a certain mindset was to always challenge it by learning something new. Managerial courses; leadership seminars; and books about success stories, challenges, or current trends are excellent ways to get your hands on new thoughts. These resources can also lead to building out your essential network that I referred to in point three. The more people you connect to, the better.
I hope these points have given you a better idea on how to think like an entrepreneur, and I look forward to seeing what you do with them!
“If you could only have 10 leadership books for the rest of your career, which 10 would you pick?”
Proven for at least a few years; no trendy flash-in-the-bestseller-list entries
Sufficient depth so that I could gain new insights each time I reread it
Speaks to timeless principles, rather than tactics which will become outdated
Resonates with me personally (the “2×4-to-the-forehead value”)
I’ve recommended to others, and know they also benefitted
Would be good for the leader of a Mars colony
I’m ruling out biographies
My top 10 books, in no particular order:
The Effective Executive (Peter Drucker) – Prescient when written, still completely relevant. Effectiveness at the personal and organizational level is crucial.
The 80/20 Principle (Richard Koch) – Once you get this you’ll see 80/20 everywhere, and use it to maximize the value of your time and energy. Though the world is becoming 95/5, the principles still apply.
The Fifth Discipline (Peter Senge) – Thinking and Deciding in systems is an essential skill for leaders in complex situations.
Warfighting (US Marine Corps) – The best book on strategy, with applications in the corporate and non-profit world as well.
Proverbs (King Solomon) – 31 chapters of principled insights about moral relationships.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Robert Cialdini) – The classic, research-based text on what moves people to change behavior. Leaders are always in the business of shaping the behavior of others to get results.
Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger (Peter Bevelin) Leaders must leverage proven mental models for assessing situations and making decisions, because the gap between cause and effect has destroyed many leaders.
The Prince (Machiavelli) – The oft-maligned but classic text on ruling. Geopolitics and Realpolitik are factors in a complex world of global business.
The War of Art (Steven Pressfield) – Leadership is grounded in self-leadership, and anything you create is going to require a battle. Procrastination, fear, and self-doubt are only defeated when we create our work and share it with the world.
Complete Plays of William Shakespeare – Every person you will ever work with is in at least one of his plays. The Bard paints vivid pictures of the strengths and foibles of man.
These have all stood the test of time and multiple readers. I could happily reread each one every year and confidently learn from them. Collectively they speak to the think-decide-communicate responsibilities of leaders in every generation. Added joy: none of them have leadership in the title!
Selecting just 10 was difficult because I treasure so many books. I would be hard-pressed to limit myself to just 10 biographies of leaders! There are many good books on leading change and communication, but none good enough to displace a book on my top 10 list.
In the Fiction category, I have three additional recommendations because fiction often speaks to us in ways non-fiction can’t deliver:
The Lord of the Rings – classic big story with multiple examples of great and poor leadership
Ender’s Game and Dune – how truly smart people think about complex situations
Of course, there are many great books I’d recommend that almost made the top 10. Man’s Search for Meaning and Durant’s The Lessons of History are classic, as are Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.
A handful of excellent books are published each year. Let’s see how Start with Why, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Ray Dalio’s Principles, Tribes, Drive,Execution, Team of Teams, Made to Stick, The 48 Laws of Power, LeadingChange, Deep Work, Ego is the Enemy, PrimalLeadership, On Becoming a Leader, Team of Rivals, Leadership and Self-Deception,The Personal MBA, Lean In, The Effective Manager, The Truth About Leadership, Extreme Ownership and others fare in 20 years.
What leadership books would you pick for your top 10?
“Are your beliefs based on facts?” 34 of 37 people I asked recently responded “yes” immediately.
I’d advise you not to believe them.
Here’s the test: When shown facts which are different, or contradict what someone calls the factual basis for their beliefs, do they change their beliefs?
Often, they won’t. Those beliefs have become so important they are part of the self-narrative. Those beliefs, in short, have become the foundation, rather than facts.
Beliefs drive behaviors, especially decision-making. These beliefs may or may be strongly connected with underlying facts. Beliefs are the lens and framework by which all else is regarded. This is why people with different beliefs can reach completely opposite conclusions from the same set of data. This is the underlying reason why individuals focus on data which reinforces their belief, while completely ignoring data with contracts their belief.
The most likely situations where beliefs are changed when new facts are presented are those where there is weak personal association or identity with a belief. I believe India has the worst traffic in the world, but if you give me new data about traffic in another country I will probably change my belief. If you present new data about the health effects of gluten I might change my beliefs about bread, though I really like bread. Don’t waste your time showing me data to support a political candidate with polar opposite views to mine.
In a quiet place, take a moment to be honest with yourself – recall instances where you didn’t change your beliefs when you had different facts. I guarantee those instances were related to your profession, a political or religious view, or something deeply important to you.
Leaders are almost always engaged in change initiatives. How people – you, your team, your organization, your customers – perceive and interpret information is closely connected with fundamental beliefs.
Present relevant new data and facts to people as part of eliciting change. But do so with the full, sober understanding that you may be facing powerful beliefs that discount your facts as irrelevant. It’s unlikely that you are leading an organization where facts always rule beliefs.
Did you expect the world is fair with facts, especially your facts, and will come to the same “rational” belief you have? Better change your belief, because the facts don’t support it!
“I am constantly in meeting hell,” my friend shared with a tone that I perceived as part exhaustion and part despair. “I spend 30 hours a week or more in meetings in which we do nothing useful. We take turns talking but nothing gets decided, and we retread old topics again and again. I’ve tried skipping the meetings, but then my boss gives me a lecture about being a team player and needing to be part of the conversation.” He sighed and summarized again, “I’m in meeting hell.”
“Too many meetings!” is a frequent complaint.
I suggest we say, “Too many bad meetings,” then work to make meetings better.
Beginning with upcoming meetings this week…take a hard look at the meetings which you control or facilitate and take steps to improve the ROI.
Meetings are very expensive. A weekly 12-person one-hour update meeting for US professionals is nearly $100,000 of labor cost over a year, counting the opportunity cost that the meeting participants could have been doing something else. Four “town hall” meetings of a 1000-person division could cost $600,000 in people time. How much do you need to sell of what your organization produces to cover that?
At the individual meeting level:
Document agendas ahead of time – set expectations
Expect people arrive prepared with cogent information
Set distracting electronics on stun – keep focus on meeting topic
Start on time, end on time
Use meeting time to discuss what is shared in advance
Make decisions, and track follow-through with clear accountability
Schedule shorter meeting times
Be the meeting participant you expect others to be
From the organizational view:
Kill useless standing meetings that have outlived their purpose
Consolidate related meetings
Don’t rely on meeting participation to get major ideas distributed
Consider time zones when scheduling global teams
Consider options like “No meeting Thursday” to preserve individual working time
Provide coaching to key people to improve meeting quality
Examine the meeting metrics, pick an improvement target, then work to hit that target
(If you’ve read this far you might be thinking, “I already know this stuff.” Please act on what you know.)
The goals of this article are to (1) irritate Agile purists and MVP advocates, and (2) provide pragmatic, you-can-do-this ideas to improve your product creation or service improvement.
There are certainly situations where your organization should work hard to implement formal scrum teams, LEAN program exercises, and follow the detailed consultant scripts for Lean Startup efforts. It’s hard work up front, but the returns will come later.
There are even more situations where you can pragmatically use elements of agile to your advantage. These may be useful in almost any project, but are especially useful when the problem is known but the solution isn’t figured out yet – or when you are time-constrained. Agile approaches allow you to iterate to a solution, getting feedback all the way.
Let me work through the mind-map illustration of these elements, and why they’re useful.
Transcendent purpose – all projects do better when the big Why questions are answered, and there is clarity about what success looks like. One friend of mine successfully tells groups, “This is a ditch, and that’s a ditch, and here’s the road.”
Frequent dialogue with customer(s) – Instead of assuming a one-and-done set of requirements and expectations, arrange for ongoing conversations. Seek feedback early, multiple times in the middle, and at the “end” about deliverables. Structure the work in terms of units of capability, parts of the device, part of the process, etc.
Expect results in short, focused sprints – Think in deliverables. Don’t say “we’re working on it” unless you also say, “and will deliver the next part on X day.” Arrange for people to have focused working time. Get the political aircover you need to arrange for full time, uninterrupted work from key people for 3 days or 10 days. Bring them pizza, let them go to the restroom, but otherwise they are only working on your project. It’s amazing how much more can be accomplished this way. In fact, most of them will be very pleased with the opportunity to work differently than their usual distracted pattern.
Orchestration – Even without the formal scrum morning standup meeting, you can begin and end each day with a brief team update so everyone knows what has been done or will be done next. Get the team to talk about how to make the project fly.
Team dynamics – Small teams work best, and arrange for people to be face-to-face. Each person has specific skills and unique assignments. Each person should have something to contribute each day, for each deliverable. Use the Amazon rule that 2 pizzas should be sufficient to feed the whole team. Make sure you have the right skill sets for the project. You’re counting on the team dynamics to be 1+1 = 15, because that’s the source of the creative solution.
Summarizing: Find the right people, arrange for focused working time together free from other responsibilities, and foster teamwork which leads to creative solutions. Worry more about those three factors, and much less about whether you are following textbook agile.
Look forward to telling people the story about how the team generating an amazing result in far less time than anyone thought possible!
In this season two finale, I talk with Liz Wiseman about her book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. It is one of my favorite leadership books of all time, so I naturally wanted to bring her on the show to discuss some of its main ideas. We also discuss her journey to becoming a top leadership expert, passion and the correct way to view it, who diminishers are and how to best handle them, and much more. You can listen to our conversation below:
Cats have a hunting strategy.* They move openly to the edge of their prey’s comfort zone, then freeze. The prey will initially be on guard, but still knows that escape is possible. The cat becomes an unmoving part of the background. When the prey relaxes – as it will eventually – the cat pounces. The prey will only survive if they react fast enough in the final split-second of attack. This hunting strategy is effective because the prey is hardwired to pay more attention to recent changes.
You and I blissfully go through life ignoring nearly all the sensory input we get. We’re very selective in our focus. Test this: During the past 10 minutes have you thought much about your heartbeat and breathing, the temperature of the air, the pressure on your feet or legs, or the color of the wall next to you?
We’re deeply wired to monitor for life-threatening risks, but there is a limit to how far out in time and space that you measure – that’s your “risk perimeter.” Your brain is fervently focusing only on changes that look like risks within your risk perimeter. Everything else is treated as safe noise.
Most of us have difficulty with the gaps between cause and effect. Devouring the second slice of pie makes my mouth happy now, but I will pay the price later. My father used to tell me, “It’s never pay me now or pay me later. It’s always pay me more later.”
We’re often surprised when a problem appears and we realize it’s been there all along. We missed the early signals because it didn’t look like a risk at the time, or we didn’t understand the connections between cause and effect.
How many difficult situations and wicked problems have you encountered and thought… “Why didn’t I/someone act on this earlier? It was right there in plain sight!” How many twisted, now-unsolvable-deal-with-the-consequences events are hovering nearby? Examples: national debt, unfunded pensions, serious-yet-preventable medication conditions like heart disease, automation eliminating whole classes of living-wage jobs, bitcoin consuming 2% of the global electricity supply and growing, nations edging to war….
Typical responses to these situations:
“Yes, it’s a problem for somebody but not me right now. I have MUCH more urgent things going on that I have to deal with NOW.”
“I see that it’s going to be a problem, but it’s not MY problem. I can’t do anything by myself, so I hope somebody is working on a solution.”
“I will worry about that later. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Leaders can’t undo the past, but they are responsible for looking at trends and managing consequences for the future. Learn from the cat hunting strategy:
Enlarge your risk perimeter, to give yourself more time to anticipate threats.
Enlist others in dealing with de-risking actions earlier.
Prioritize energy going into important work, not just urgent work.
Leaders are influencing far more than you realize most of the time. The math is inexorable.
I have a friend, a retired but lonely widower, who works as a Walmart greeter. He tells me that every shift he gets the opportunity to brighten the day of 600-1000 people.
I interviewed a scriptwriter for a TV series. He’s had a few small successes. “Even the series which only lasted half a season were seen by a million people. I hope I made them think, or laugh. That’s not nothing.”
We tend to underestimate 2nd and 3rd level connections. As I write this, I have 2073 connections on LinkedIn, but there are 626,339 people who are the first connection of those 2073 people. I had 14,800 people on a mailing list at one point for a side-interest of mine. Based on survey data, I estimated they were teaching 950,000 to 1.4 million people in a given month.
Think over the years. Consider your supervisors and mentors from years ago…how much are you influencing people based on what you learned (good and bad) from them? Some of those individuals have indirectly influenced tens of thousands of people.
What influence could you have over the next 3 generations in your family? What stories (and the embedded lessons) will they repeat in years to come?
We tend to underestimate the cumulative effects of many small interactions. Water beats rock in the end. “The soft word turns away wrath.” Each one of us is shaped by the many small interactions of the weeks and months and years.
You ARE a leader. You’re influencing MANY people.
What can you do today (today!) to be a better influencer?