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Entrepreneurship: 6 things I’ve Learned over the Past 20 years


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Entrepreneurship: 6 things I’ve Learned over the Past 20 years

"Entrepreneurship is neither a science nor an art. It is a practice." – Peter Drucker

I am an entrepreneur. Although definitions like ‘a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so’ does a pretty good job of describing my professional life, I find it a little too shallow to do justice to my life’s work.  My calling. My, as Drucker defines it, practise. So what is an entrepreneur? What is it not? For those interested in entrepreneurship, what are the keys to success, and the causes of failure? Here are three things I think an entrepreneur probably is, and three things I think they are not, learned by me over the past 20 years both the hard, and the fun, way:

Three things that an Entrepreneur probably is:

1. An entrepreneur is passionate about making things better

Entrepreneurs embody passion and authenticity. Think ‘Dudley Do Right’ and you won’t go far wrong. Recently, I was honoured to be interviewed by a group of business students about the practice of management consulting. One of the questions they asked me was ‘In a competitive environment like consulting, how do you protect your best practices?’. That threw me because, although it reveals a lot about one classic business paradigm, it is so unlike Berlineaton. I thought about it for a minute then replied ‘We don’t protect our best practices. We give them away to our clients and help them to do the things we do so when we walk away, they don’t even notice.’ The only reason we can stay in business is because of our clients. We are successful if they don’t need us to solve their problems anymore and, paradoxically, that’s how we’ve stayed so busy over the past 20 years.

2. An Entrepreneur is an opportunist, in a good way

An entrepreneur can take quickly identify opportunities and convert them into magic. For example, once upon a time I was a British Army Officer serving in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We were engaged 24/7 in high intensity operations against, at that time, the most ruthless and effective terrorists in the world. We often pre-planned over watch from a helicopter for our foot patrols, to provide extra security and greater situational awareness. Neighbouring units sometimes ‘fumbled’ (as I called it) their top cover helicopters; they had simply forgotten that they had booked them. I urged all my leaders to become ‘battlefield entrepreneurs’ – my exact words at the time - and snap up this scarce and valuable resource for their own use in defeating terrorism. As a result of opportunism like this in support of worthy corporate, versus more narrowly self-serving, goals we gradually developed a reputation as a ‘go to’ organization for getting the right things done. This led to us receiving more interesting and important assignments, in which my troops reveled.

3. An Entrepreneur can be anyone, anywhere, anytime

Entrepreneurship is not the exclusive province of the private sector, or external business consultants, or anyone else who might be described as a ‘guru’. Anyone, in any walk of life, anywhere, can be an entrepreneur. See a need, fill it. That’s all. Oh, you don’t think government workers can be entrepreneurs? See above.

Three things that an Entrepreneur probably is not:

1. An Entrepreneur does not have to be stressed out all the time

So much of the literature out there right now eulogizes the workaholic, overstressed entrepreneur. But it should actually be tremendously fun and exciting. You shouldn’t be doing this, or anything for that matter, just for the money or, even worse, for the promise of money. To paraphrase Confucius: as long as you are pursuing your passion, you’ll never work a day in your life. If you’re an entrepreneur, and are stressed out to the point where you think you can’t take it anymore, then it’s probably time to think about trying something else on for size.

2. Being an Entrepreneur cannot be taught

I’m sorry global post-secondary sector but, according to Richard Eaton, you can teach people to be an entrepreneur, but it takes real passion to put it to use. I believe that being an entrepreneur tends to be an intrinsic trait that you’re born with. However, if you really want to be an entrepreneur, there are some key things you might do including the following: build authentic, enduring relationships with like-minded people based on a shared vision; become known for helping people address their problems in a way that is unique to you; earn a credible education, in something you’re passionate about, and that the world needs more of; be an appreciative enquirer and lifelong learner who is ever curious about why things are, and what they might be; build a tapestry of life experiences outside the normal with which to infuse your character, and; live the courage of your convictions and align to a noble cause like a compass needle aligns with magnetic north. That’s all.

3. ‘Entrepreneur’ is not a job title

Deputy Director, Arborist, Chef, Lead Hand, Chief Constable, Stoker, and Management Consultant: these are all examples of job titles. Most of these titles are backed by some kind of job description or competency profile that describes how they add value to the world. Coincidentally, every one of them can also be entrepreneurs. Probably like you, I’m kind of leery of those who put titles like ‘Thought Leader’, or something like that, on their business cards. Entrepreneur is the same. It’s not a title.
It’s a gift word.

Adventurer. Process Whisperer. Force of Nature.

Richard Eaton is a co-founding partner of Berlineaton and a senior management consultant with over 20 years’ experience facilitating significant and positive culture shifts within large organizations and complex human systems.  Partnering with visionary senior leaders, Richard’s approach results in the realization of visionary, long-term strategies and transformational operational improvements resulting from deep engagement with a wide cross-section of staff, clients and stakeholders.