Friday, May 21, 2010

Do You Know "An Entrepreneur"?

Is anyone else here tired of asking someone what they do and them responding they're an entrepreneur? Well, my question remains, what do you do? And do you sometimes meet a person that is an "entrepreneur" not because they had a great solution to a problem, but rather they thought too highly of themselves to apply to work for someone else or put themselves through a recruiting interview and let someone else be the judge of their value?

Well, I'd like to differentiate between "entrepreneur" by profession and "entrepreneur" by nature. I don't think "risk-taker" is a profession and I don't think anyone wakes up every day thinking what risk should I take today. And neither does anyone wake up thinking what should I be an entrepreneur of. I think some of the best entrepreneurship has come from people who would refuse the title of being an entrepreneur and would rather be considered being entrepreneurial in __ and fill in the blank.

As far as I understand, "entrepreneur" is a characteristic or a personality trait - a hard-worker, a team-player, an entrepreneur, a risk-taker, a thinker, an innovator. How many times have you met a scientist and asked what they do and they say "I'm an innovator" or met an athlete that says "I'm a team player"? Why has the "I'm an entrepreneur" become the most fashionable label to wear these days? And why have we forgotten that it's just that - a trend that is currently in style.

I believe to be successful in life, everyone has to be entrepreneurial in their own way just like they have to be a hard-worker. Can you recall anyone who was successful without working hard? Now, one difference is that being an entrepreneur is not a top-five trait in everyone's personality, not even everyone successful. I don't think all successful people can say they are a creative-thinker or a self-motivator but there has to be some level of self-motivation to work hard towards success and there also has to be some level of entrepreneur to stand out. But what is being an entrepreneur? It is being able to see solutions for problems, opportunities in hurdles, improvements in status quo. Not everyone would write they are a creative-thinker in their resume and not every one can or should write they are an entrepreneur either.

Did Bill Gates or Steve Jobs decide that "I'm an entrepreneur" and then go look for a product to establish themselves as an "entrepreneur"? No - they identified a marketplace need or gap, developed a solution and then became successful by plugging the gap. These days I come across one too many persons at events who when asked what it is that they do, reply with much pride that they are an entrepreneur, but don't actually do anything at the moment. On the other hand, there are those who when asked what they do, respond that they are the founder of a biotech company or the owner of a restaurant. That's actually really what they do and being an entrepreneur is a prominent characteristic of their personality, which combined with being a risk-taker, allows them to start their own business venture.

As I go through the process of researching MBA programs, I often ask fellow applicants what they want from their MBA experience and they say - yes you guessed it right - that they want to learn to be an entrepreneur. Can you learn to be a team-player? Sure, from observation and practice you can hone that personality trait, but do you apply to B-school to learn to be a team-player? I certainly hope not too many people are paying those big bucks to learn to be a risk-taker or a thinker by spending two years and some hundreds of thousands of dollars in their graduate education in business administration.

I wish they would instead observe and practice being entrepreneurial if that's a characteristic they would like to further develop. An entrepreneurial person can recognize opportunities and dream visions based on it. After all, wouldn't you consider Wright, Sullivan, Jenney and Ellis entrepreneurial in developing skyscrapers? But weren't they actually architects, with "entrepreneur" as a defining characteristic of their attitude and work style?

And the reason I began to think about these differentiators is because I have always enjoyed being around the young energy of a new idea being brought to fruition and contributing to the growth and success of the vision by focusing on the execution. One too many times I've come across people who have an idea, which they believe to be brilliant, but forget to connect it with a want or a need in the marketplace. One too many times the people whose business cards might read "entrepreneur" after their name, think a great idea is enough to bring success and they're waking up every day just trying to come up with that one big idea that will make them an instant millionaire and they won't have to work again.

I think this is the wrong approach and concerned that too many children these days think it's the easy way to success. I hope they still continue to discover what they really want to do - science, architecture, business, sports, entertainment - and at the same time hone their entrepreneurial skills to ahieve a certain degree of success, and more so in certain fields and professions. You cannot be a successful research scientist or a music composer without being entrepreneurial. 

Being an entrepreneur is an admirable characteristic, as is being an independent-thinker, enterprising, self-motivator and many others. And we should certainly drive to adopt these traits in certain measure in our workplace and in our personality, but I do hope that the fashionable "profession" of being "an entrepreneur" fades away before it misguides one too many youth who ought to be a ____ [fill in the blank] and bestow innovations and improvements on society by being entrepreneurial in their field of ____ .

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Live & Learn or Learn & Live

Regret making a mistake? But didn't you choose to take a chance and wanted to learn on your own which way the tide turns? Then why regret - learn and grow.

How many times in our lives we are at crossroads where the first choice we have is doing the known, following advice our parents gave us, heeding to the warnings our friends show us, respecting conventional wisdom. The other choice says if you decide to take this one, you'll go through certain experiences, good and bad, certain events, predictable and unpredictable, and this road may end up converging and/or intersecting with the first one at some points, but there are no guarantees or certainties of whether this will take you north or south, be successful or not (or make you redefine what success means to you).

We often choose the latter and decide that we are not the ones to walk down the discovered path. After all we all grew up on Frost recommending to us: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." 
There is a little bit of an explorer and investigator in all of us, but especially our generation feels empowered and supported in quests of the unknown by our family, society and own confidence. Add to that that some people already have a heightened love for adventure and a spirit to take risks. 

But then, fast forward a few days, weeks or months and we realize our choice didn't unfold the way we expected it to. We had taken a (hopefully) calculated risk and expected things to be at least close to a certain point we had envisioned in our heads. But now, we are full of regret. We wonder what if we had never driven on that road. We hope for a second chance to go back and choose the first option (now that we know where the second one takes us and we don't like it). Why do we forget the very important choice we had made - not just to live and to experience, but to live and learn and to grow organically. We lived, but we forget we were supposed to live to learn.

Not just learn that this road lands us here, but learn roads like these have risks. Learn whether it is in our nature to take risks. Learn which areas of our lives we'd like to take in risks. Learn that calculations are based on assumptions and we may or may not have the ability to calculate correctly and envision the outcome(s). Learn both exploration as well as embracing convention have their importance in life. Learn that Robert Frost's poem was written almost a century ago when people were more averse to risk by nature than our society and its youth is today.

Our generation's natural instincts are to choose the unknown and say times have changed, we are different, knowledge is conventional, we want to carve our own path. Sure - nothing wrong with that, as long as you are truly making that choice based on calculated risks and not emotional impulses. But once you're done, don't forget to take the lesson because you're so engrossed in what you lived - positive or negative - that you forget to learn - positive or negative. And if you decide the former path was more your cup of tea in this sphere of your life, remember that just because something has already been discovered, you don't need to *always* challenge yourself to reinvent the wheel. (A note of warning: just because you chose to explore and it didn't work out the way you envisioned it to, don't sway to the other extreme just because of one-time failure.)

For som, coming from a family of doctors may mean that they choose to take the proven path to success, but this same person might decide to plunge in adventure by dating unconventionally. Yet some others may decide they want to challenge the status quo of how success is defined and would rather be an entrepreneur or an artist, but given the other risks in their life, they are happy to be less adventurous in their choice of a launching platform. There are also those who have the appetite to explore both and others that choose neither adventure. None of these are the "right" way to live life but when you do make these choices, don't ignore the lessons learned from them because exploration doesn't happen for its own sake, but rather to make a discovery. (On the same note: Risks aren't taken for its own sake, so choose wisely by understanding the rewards and its probabilities.)

I'll just close by saying, "Our growth depends not on how many experiences we devour, but on how many we digest." (Ralph W. Sockman)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Live Life Full of Fears, Not

When I was 12, I loved getting wet in the rain. I would be excited to see the gray clouds roll in and I knew it would clean out the city. I was excited about the smell of freshly-washed leaves and the remnants on raindrops on car wind-shields. I would run out and just feel the rain soak me through.

Fast forward 12 years. I wake up in the morning to gray clouds and my head starts churning out thoughts - will I still be able to walk to work or will I have to spend $4 on my commute? Will I be able to find something to wear that won't be ruined? Will I have to wash my hair as soon as I'm back because it'll be frizzy? Will I..Should I.. Do I.. Ugh Rain..

Why? What changed in the past few years? Fear entered my life.

Fear of failing (interview). Fear of excelling (threatening to others). Fear of past (repeating mistakes). Fear of future (not predicting/choosing right). Fear of being wrong (predictions). Fear of being right (rubbing off the wrong way). Fear of job (giving it my best). Fear of people (what do they think). Fear of gaining (unwanted pounds), fear of losing (friends).

When I was 16, I decided I wanted to transfer schools because I didn't feel challenged. I did my research, found the best match, and set my sights on it. I applied to just that 1 school that I really wanted to go (hazardous, attempt at home at your own risk). I finally got invited for an intense 2-day interview in Pune and my mom said one thing to me as I got ready for Day 1 of grueling - if you start to focus on the result of your interview, you'll be taking away from your focus on your actions to get you to your desired result. What she meant was if I feared one way or another about the result of the interview being favorable or not, I would have less time and energy to contribute to my actions and my responses.

Couple of years later, I decided to apply to just the few journalism programs in the U.S. that I wanted to attend and worked very hard for it, remembering my mom's tip, forgetting about the result for the moment (it was easier never having met my competition until I got to school and met my peers). Now, I'm looking at MBA programs and can't help be filled with fear - of rejection, of competition, of making the wrong choice, of not being good enough. I'm scared and I can't seem to shake it out of my system.

How many times have you walked into the interview and been afraid you might be under- or over-dressed? How many times have you made a presentation and been scared whether people liked it or not?
How many times have you invited friends to watch a movie and been thinking all during it whether they are liking it or not and not just that, but if they're not liking it, what they might think of your taste?
How many times have you cooked for your S/O and kept thinking about them not enjoying the food? 
How many times have you had a fight with your sibling not because you cared to be right, but because you didn't want to be the one who was wrong?

When we were young, we felt like we were in the driver's seat of our lives and could choose to take whichever highway to which ever destination we wanted to get to. Yes, there was friction on the road, but we owned the road. Now, we've collected too much traffic an too many roadblocks along the way. We can't decide when to stop, where to turn, where to speed, our actions are just the equation result of all the other variables on the road. It's not as simple as I want this, I'll strive to get this or 1 + 1 = 2.

We often feel or complain that things are more out of our control now. Maybe we created more roadblocks along the way for ourselves? Maybe we let ourselves give up control over our own actions. Maybe we surrendered to our environment and to all those other variables along the road? (And then we complain even more about things not going our way). We decided to take the escalator instead of the stairs and complain it ain't going fast enough or high enough.

At 20, I bought a skydiving coupon and was so excited for the summer to go jump out of a plane to experience the sensation of gravitational flight. If someone asked me today if I want to go skydiving, I have too many fears of too many things going wrong. Has skydiving changed over the years (if anything, probably got safer with newer technology) but it's me who changed. It's my way of thinking that changed. It's my fears that are new (I requested a refund on the coupon recently).

Fear can prevent us from attempting that which we think we might fail at.
Fear can prevent us from being who we think others might not like or approve of.
Fear can prevent us from achieving that which we want because we never tried or stayed true to ourselves. But you know, that which is never attempted, never transpires.

Fear is why we stop participating in new experiences and taking on risks, choosing the comforts of certainty and monotony.

We see this everywhere. People won't try a new cuisine because they're afraid they won't like it. People won't compliment their friend's outfit because they're afraid she'll look better at the party. People won't treat their kids' S/Os well, because they're afraid they won't be loved as much with this new person around. People fear suggesting a new efficient way of working because their manager might not like the idea.

If people remained scared of falling off the edge of the earth, we would have never known it was round.
If people feared alien-attacks after space explorations, we would have never figured the solar system out.
If people were afraid of failure and their research being a waste, so many cures would never have been found.

Pack up fear in a box and store it in your attic or basement. Think and act like a 12-year-old who was fearless in stealing chocolate from the fridge or playing in the sandbox until you couldn't remember the color of your skin. When you were focused on your action, you forgot about the repercussions and just focused on the present moment. Give it another try in your life.

Here are some interesting facts:
-- Edison failed 1,000 times before inventing the light bulb. His response? "I didn't fail 1,000 times, the light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps."
-- Henry Ford went broke five times before being successful.
-- Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. (watch: Jordan - Failure commercial)

To close out, don't fear results, don't fear failure, don't fear people, don't fear opinions. Be yourself and who you really are stripped off of these layers and layers of dirt and fears. And remember yesterday we decided not to be attached to the results of our actions, if you're not attached, you shouldn't be fearing them either. On that note, I'm going to go book my skydiving jump for this summer...

... And leave you kids with my mom's lesson, rephrased:
"No matter how hard you work for success, if your thought is saturated with the fear of failure, it will kill your efforts, neutralize your endeavors and make success impossible."
~ Baudjuin

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Care Vs. Attachment

I care for you, but if you don't care for me back as much as I care for you and 1) I know that with some calculator and 2) that hurts me, then the case might be that I'm attached to you. It's nice to be cared for back, but that's not *why* I should care for you..

Care is when you feel like doing nice things, you think of the other person when you think of a way to help or something to share, care is when you know if you wore the blue dress rather than the black dress, it will make the other person happy. Are you expecting a compliment back? Are you upset if they didn't notice? Are you upset because they didn't applaud your mini "sacrifice" because they didn't even know that you had the option of wearing the black dress and you may have preferred to do so? That is attachment. Attachment to the results of your action. Attachment to reconfirmation that you did something nice. Attachment to the person that is supposed to bring the results to you that you expect.

We're attached to work, people, pets, when we expect something back from them. And we often feel disappointed and feel that the other person doesn't care about us as much as we care about them because they didn't notice and recognize our efforts in caring for them. This is attachment.

The most ironic part of this is that the sense of "they don't care" comes from our own feelings, projections, thoughts, expectations. Did they even know that this is something you did to care for them? Does it matter whether they do know or not? Didn't you do it because you wanted to do this for them? Because you cared for them? Not because you were expecting something back in return?

Now do you expect them to wear the purple shirt rather than the blue shirt at your friend's birthday party because you wore the blue dress instead of the black one for their dinner event? Didn't they eat at Restaurant X last weekend upon your suggestion? Do you know if they preferred to eat at Restaurant Y? Or did you assume your suggestion was their first choice as well? Did they expect you to recognize and appreciate their mini "sacrifice" in eating Italian over Mexican upon your suggestion without even making you aware of their preference? This is care.

It is not a balance sheet or P&L statement. It's not a calculation or a score tally. It's when you feel good making others feel good and don't need to let them know that you did something for them.

How often do we try to "make others feel good" by trying to "make them realize" [that you could have worn the black dress but you didn't or eaten Mexican food but you didn't]? We think our gesture is worthless if it goes unnoticed (by our perception) or is under-appreciated (by our measure). We are attached to the results. We are attached to the person who is supposed to deliver our expected results.

Life is simple and fun when you care for others. Make sure you don't take this to the next step and get attached. Caring is good. Attachment is not.

Maybe Phoebe Buffay is right that no act is a selfish act because if you don't do it to get anything back, you get the satisfaction of knowing you didn't expect anything back. But these are still better acts than the ones that have expectations attached to them.

Any time you "attach" - it's not natural. You attach a button to a shirt because the shirt won't naturally stay in place and you expect the button to hold it together. When you attach a card to a flower, you think the flower can't say it alone.

Attachment brings expectations -> expectations brings disappointments -> disappointment brings hurt -> hurt can bring negativity = why go there?

SA Saying for the Day: Care with all your heart, don't get attached to any part.