Sunday, January 25, 2009

The velocity of entrpreneurship. Slow down.

There was an interesting piece at earlier this month that wrestled with the psychology of entrepreneurs.

Since it quotes some of my favorites, I'll pass that favor along and quote them here: Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway among many other things. Guy Kawasaki, earliest Apple Evangelist, among many other things. John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas, among many other things. A proper nod to Steve Jobs. Challenging but compelling quotes and analysis from a Harvard Business School psychologist. A summary recommendation from a psychologist without enough credentials to cite which means she's seen most of the entrepreneur bell curve.

Let's start.

Asking Dean Kamen: What's the toughest question to ask yourself? Answer: When to quit. "It's not nearly as glamorous as people think to keep working on something and to keep hitting roadblocks and to keep going."

The following downer quote (to his credit, made while laughing) from Guy Kawasaki about false expectations:

"You need to be in denial or ignorant about the huge challenges you face. You have to believe that it wouldn't be hard for you to succeed."

Note to reader: If you put realistic expectations on your early returns and an appropriate timeline, success is not hard. Defining success in terms that are largely unattainable by small scale startups guarantees it will be risky and hard.

And then a challenging quote from Abraham Zaleznik, Harvard Business School psychology professor.

"Entrepreneurs tend to have a singular weakness that allows them to do things without checking their conscience. Juvenile delinquents act and then try to sort things out afterward. I think entrepreneurs have this tendency."

Note to self: Hmmmmm.

So let's turn to some solutions….

In the midst of midst of millions of job losses the article picks up a quote from employment firm icon John Challenger, of Challenger, Gray and Christmas: "Between 5 and 7 percent of clients at Challenger Gray and Christmas are choosing to start their own businesses. Workers are more open to starting a small business [than] in the dot-com era. I think we are in a more entrepreneurial period than we were in the '80s and '90s."

The article continues, "Recessions can be 'crucibles' for at-home start-ups 'Some of the best new businesses start in recessions because what they have really makes a difference if the market is interested in it. There's not a lot of easy money to go around, and they have to figure their way forward.'"

Note to reader: Here is your permission to consider your own startup. John Challenger is one of the most globally connected guys in the world of employment trends saying that our society is becoming more entrepreneurial right now than it was during the amazing startup boom in the recent past. Mr. Challenger also notes that it's perfectly legitimate to launch your startup from your home.

And then Guy Kawasaki on the fundamental question entrepreneurs need to be continually asking: "Great entrepreneurs do more than just fight hard to win their market share. They have vision. They ask the fundamental question, 'Wouldn't it be neat if…?'"

Note to reader: "Wouldn't it be neat if….?" Continually asking yourself this question about your enterprise is the source of all great innovation, no matter the size of your business. If you ask this question and the answer solves a specific problem, you have the core of your business plan.

On to the conclusions from the psychologist who counsels entrepreneurs: "Entrepreneurs live in the world of action (and) often need help with slowing down and thinking several steps ahead."

Note to reader: The idea of telling entrepreneurs to slow down sounds opposite of current thinking, but in reality it's not so much a command as advice from others who have done it. I'm not saying 'go slow' but rather advising, 'expect slowness'. It is absolutely inevitable with most micro-funded enterprises. It's not the destination but the journey that's important.

So, what's in this article that can be put to use?

- Start small.
- Start now.
- Don't expect immediate returns.
- Create returns that recompense your time.
- Expect to work harder and longer than you anticipate.
- Test as many markets at the least possible cost as you can.
- Expect to make many mistakes. Keep them inexpensive.
- There is often much more to learn from mistakes than successes. Watch mistakes carefully and treasure what you can learn from them.

As Dwight Eisenhower so famously said, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." You can push numbers out into the future, but you can't plan the humans in your equations and business models (including yourself).

I would advise all new entrepreneurs entering this path to slow down. Enjoy the journey. Think as many steps ahead as you can but, as they say in drivers ed, drive within your headlights.

If you plan carefully for the immediate concerns of your startup or expansion, promise yourself hard work and a realistically slow pace, you can absolutely do this.

Original CNN article by Thom Patterson

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