Entrepreneurs “R” us – sometimes

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

At our best, there is nothing more “American” than being an entrepreneur.

The “American dream” is based, at its core, on the idea of the person who makes their own way in the world – especially in the rags-to-riches model.

Some historians, for example describe Ben Franklin as the ultimate proto-American precisely because of his entrepreneurial leanings and innumerable ventures.

Asking questions, making do and creative re-use are central to “independence” politically or economically.

I would argue that we, as Americans, or as human beings from anywhere, are at our best when we, even if we are not entrepreneurs in our careers, are, at minimum, innovators and improvisors at work and in our lives.

Back in 2009, Simon Sinek delivered a TED Talk that explored his notion that all great leaders share a trait – what he called “knowing the why.” It has become the third-most-watched TED Talk of all time.

One of his key principles was that we need to “learn to cooperate, and take care of one another.” Like all entrepreneurial, if not philosophical or religious, principles, this is simple, but not easy. In fact these are often brutally difficult.

Another key principle is to allow room to move, to fail, or even to be deliberately unproductive.

Sitting in silence or staring at clouds (but not a screen) is where (and when) I get my best and most productive ideas.

Perhaps the most important entrepreneurial principle is to never stop learning. Learn from your mistakes. Or, even better, learn from other people’s mistakes.

Learning is never finished. If we think we know it all, we have an impoverished definition of “all”.

Slogans are where thinking stops

Every business seems to have a purpose or vision statement on its website or posted on walls. And that is usually where it stays.

Stock holders, customers and employees don’t care what is on your walls or websites – they care about what you do.

As with every religion or philosophy, few customers or neighbors care what you “believe” or say you believe – they care about how you act and how you treat them.

Corporate slogans have become the business equivalent of the facile and vacuous “thoughts and prayers” that emerge in place of actual, concrete assistance in times of difficulty or catastrophe.

Growth for growth’s sake?

Some would-be-entrepreneurs want to be the “next” Apple or Amazon. To put it simply, don’t bother.

Don’t set your goal to be the “next” anything. In business (or in movies), the last thing we need is another sequel.

What is something you see, or know or care about that no one else seems to be paying attention to?

Growth is a never-ending, even elusive goal. What is something you can do, or offer, that no one else can?

Apple and Amazon, for example, both lost money and veered into near-insolvency before they took on the almost untouchable status they currently hold.

Growth is not a strategy – it is a logical and inevitable result. And it is never guaranteed. Or permanent.

Entrepreneurs don’t know everything

As Socrates put it a few millennia ago, the wisest person is the one who acknowledges that they don’t know it all.

The smartest entrepreneurs are the ones who hire (and attract) others who know more than they do.

I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned. -Richard Feynman

If there is anything we should have learned in the past several years, it is that answers, policies, even laws that seemed reasonable, even effective, for years, or even our whole lives, are, for a variety of reasons, ineffective, meaningless or otherwise unsuitable now.

And if there is another thing we should have learned in the past several years, in politics, business or relationships (or our own mental health) it is that we cannot move forward by looking backwards. What happened in the past, especially by others, might be instructive in small doses, but as a dominating theme will only paralyze.

A true entrepreneur knows that forward is the only direction. The only way out, is through.

The entrepreneur who can seize the opportunity in front of them (sometimes WAY in front) is worth a hundred who complain about the way it used to be or even how it used to be done.

As in every other category of life, we get back what we put in. Negativity, suspicion and blaming will only set the stage for even more negativity, suspicion and blaming – or worse.

In short, negativity is contagious – and will grow, like a cancer, in any organization. But positivity and resourcefulness are also contagious.

We create, or at least contribute to, the atmosphere, mood and character of the place we inhabit. Whether deliberately or not, we set the tone for those around us.