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 ____ .

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