I am writing from a predictable, sheltered background. I have always calculated risks, hesitated before taking action, made thousands of lists, worked to please others, and strived to fit into a societal expectation of what it means to be successful. I’ve studied hard in order to reflect my intelligence in numbers, taken all the standardized tests, even considered law school (largely for “security” reasons). It’s fair to say that I have a history of obsessive planning and commitment to safety.
Recently, many of these characteristics began to diminish or change as a direct result of my exposure to the entrepreneurial community. Through Startup Weekend, I’ve become witness to a movement so startling in its importance that I can confidently claim its relevancy for anyone. The entrepreneurial mindset is simply something we all need to pay attention to as business and technology continue to evolve.
Let me be clear: I am not pontificating that everyone should drop what she or he is doing and become an entrepreneur. In fact, it’s a demanding life choice that I hesitate to suggest to anyone without careful consideration. What I do feel confident in prescribing is a commitment to understanding the value of an entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurs are opportunistic, flexible and adaptable, resourceful and determined. Being an entrepreneur means understanding the difference between planning for or expecting a certain set of results just because you’ve strategically mapped them out and really searching for understanding and opportunity through genuine interactions and experiments.
In The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses, Amar Bhidé explains how entrepreneurs approach ventures: “…entrepreneurs start with a set of tentative hypotheses. Then, as the venture unfolds, entrepreneurs revise their hypotheses rapidly through a series of experiments and adaptive responses to unforeseen problems and opportunities.” It is this process of encountering and responding to unexpected situations that distinguishes the entrepreneurial mentality from a more static approach to work or life. And while it was not always necessary to exercise the entrepreneurial mindset, the rapid and constant change of the modern world now demands that we are all familiar with what it means to approach change from an entrepreneurial perspective.
Technology in particular is the most obvious reason behind this shift. New ventures and products are equipped to quickly evolve into better versions of themselves — or new solutions altogether. Often, this happens before we can catch up with the progress. This impact is bleeding into whole industries. Inevitably, many jobs are becoming obsolete. This is a natural occurrence, not a new phenomenon, but it is now happening more quickly than ever before, and that is the real shift — the reason we have to pay attention. There is no longer room to be uncomfortable with change; adaptability is a modern requirement. In this sense, we will all need to understand how to be an entrepreneur — if not for our jobs, for the ability to understand change and how to respond in a way that creates opportunity.
The Benefits of Non-Planning
Entrepreneurs have always had to rely on adaptation, but it has also provided many entrepreneurs with an advantageous perspective. Bhidé writes:
…the adaptation is often more opportunistic or myopic than scientific or strategic: The founders of promising startups experiment with course changes to maximize short-run cash flow rather than to verify a general theory or to make the best possible long-term choices.
Adaptability has always been a trait that benefited the possessor — entrepreneur or not — but now, the reality is that we must all work towards this trait; it is no longer a characteristic that secures an edge for some, but rather, a base and essential requirement for anyone hoping to thrive in a time of hyper-development and revisionism.
Ultimately, we could all benefit from developing an entrepreneurial approach in our lives. Understanding how entrepreneurs think and react has enabled me personally to stop over-thinking and start visualizing and building solutions “outside the box.” As someone who has spent her entire life tucked securely inside the box, this has made all the difference. Even though we might not all experience what its like to be an entrepreneur in a literal sense, we can be entrepreneurial in our work and life; we can exercise self-empowerment by committing ourselves to ideas we are passionate about, we can trust and rely on our instincts and vision to make decisions, and we can innovate to make our daily lives better for ourselves and those around us.
The good news is that entrepreneurship is a mentality and path that can be taught. With an increase in grassroots movements and a spike in new entrepreneurial education and methodologies, anyone can begin taking on new challenges, preparing to address inevitable change, and understanding how to find the opportunity hidden within that change.