“Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night – Act 2, Scene 5)
Great companies don’t happen by chance. They don’t sprout up like flowers in the garden of the marketplace. They germinate and are cultivated by exceptional individuals who against all odds succeed. And you do not need a business degree to become a great entrepreneur.
The Nature Of The Entrepreneurial Challenge
It’s sometimes said a markets are analogous to a sea with organizations sailing these seas as ships. A management degree prepares individuals for living and working on large ships. It helps one to serve as the crew of this vessel, either at working level or in the officer ranks. Among millions serving, a very small number of lucky, highly motivated individuals ascend into the captain’s chair (CEO). These are very large crafts, with best technology, with a large number of individuals in the crew, sailing well-defined navigation paths, finding fish where they were found before.
Contrast this to an entrepreneurial company that starts out with a captain but no crew. The founder sails a small, leaky boat with a sail full of holes though unfriendly, treacherous seas. The captain of this unsafe vessel hopes to find a large school of fish somewhere, but navigation maps aren’t accurate and he’s dead reckoning the best course. This captain must keep finding fish, plug the leaks, stitch a better sail, hire a crew, and build a better boat — all at the same time.
The Problem With Business Education
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” — Abraham Maslow
We see an intense focus with management in all aspects of the entrepreneurial start-up. There is a natural preoccupation with raising money, customer acquisition, the business model, and often the business plan.
Yet in strength, there is also weakness. In the single-minded focus on management or technology, we see neglect of other vital areas that should not be ignored. Successful entrepreneurs must manage, but must be more than a manager.
What has been forgotten? Essentially, great individuals found great companies. It’s Job 1 for entrepreneurs to evolve themselves into a Great Entrepreneur while they are building the business.
Principle 1: Understand that You are an Unfinished Work
To become a great entrepreneur, you must keep evolving, growing, changing. Great Entrepreneurs are:
- Self-aware enough to know their strengths and weaknesses,
- People follow them because they are transformational leaders,
- They model the successful, they strive for self-mastery,
- and do not stop until they becomes wise.
To be a Great Founder, you never stop making improvements in yourself. It’s continuous personal improvement now and forever. I remember a saying by Abraham Lincoln who once said, “I do not think much of the man who is not better today than he was yesterday.”
One might ask, why should the primary focus of the Founders be on improving themselves? Shouldn’t it be about the business, the technology, the money? It’s a good question. When I got the MBA, it was an article of faith that it’s all about the organization. Still is actually. And if you want to be a caretaker executive in a multinational corporation this makes sense.
But I’m assuming you want to be a Founder of something that will last a long time. OK, this is an assumption on my part. Some you just want do a quick harvest of the business, walk away with a small amount of cash and a story for the grandkids. Or maybe you’re going for the quick cash from investors who are then going to take control of your business after a Series B or C.
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Become an Entrepreneur Case 1: Ludwick Marishane: A Bath Without Water
This is a great example of what it takes to be successful. You will note, this is not about sitting in a university classroom cooking up a business plan.
One might say that a management degree allows you to play a well-defined role inside the box of bureaucracy. The entrepreneur, though, faces an environment of chaos and uncertainty, with worry, anxiety and fear constant sailing companions as they try to figure out how to keep their boat from sinking with them in it.
“When you stop learning, you should find a different job.” — Advice the author received from his first mentor.