So you want to be your own boss?

Dr Pauline CrawfordNowadays the buzz word in education and business is ‘entrepreneurship’ and the number of would-be entrepreneurs is rapidly changing both economically and socially.  Young adults exiting university after or prior to graduation are putting ‘being an entrepreneur’ at the top of the list.  As much as 20% of students at major universities like Yale in the U.S. or Cambridge in the U.K., for example, aspire to become successful ‘entrepreneurs.’  Men and women, old and young can potentially become an entrepreneur.  The problem is, however, that the characteristics of the successful entrepreneur are – by the very nature of entrepreneurship – largely unknown and difficult if not impossible to accurately pin down.

Over 40 years ago, my husband’s father presented, for the first time ever, the framework of a new discipline titled ‘entreprenology’ – and it was his wife who coined the word. He knew from his experience as a successful entrepreneur and as a respected and tenured professor in the College of Business at the University of Hawaii, that there was more to creating, sustaining, and managing a successful start-up than could taught through any traditional educational institution of higher learning.  Entrepreneurial enterprises in every sector had broken away from the rigours superimposed by traditional corporations and were creating a truly expansive ‘entrepreneurial mindset’…. 40+ years later the buzz continues.

Men and women in every age group are now considering being their own boss.  They see it as preferable to the restrictions and regulations that define corporate careers. They want the opportunities that open new choices for self-sustainability and perhaps untold riches.  Even the mature adult in their silver years (55+ as a working definition) are continuing on an entrepreneurial path into their 70s and beyond.  We will address this phenomenon specifically a little later.

Nowadays entrepreneurship is ‘taught’ in virtually every university and college where there is a business school or program.  Yet teaching ‘entrepreneurship’ effectively is the single most difficult hurdle to overcome and one that virtually every conventional school, college and university, cannot overcome. Why?  Because the skills that took Sir Richard Branson or Bill Gates or Steve Jobs to the pinnacle of success simply cannot be taught. Becoming an entrepreneur is not something that everyone can or even should aspire to. For every reason you can think of to become ‘your own boss,’ we can give you a reason that you should not.

The classic argument regarding entrepreneurs poses the question “Is the successful entrepreneur made or is he/she born?”  Can the skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur be taught or are they innate?  The study of what causes one person to succeed and another fail has been, and continues to be, quite elusive.  One thing we do know, however, is that there is no test, the results of which will shed any light on the subject. In our experience, which now spans more than forty years, we have learned that the most critical skills – if the desire is to eventually know success – are those that cannot be taught in any traditional or conventional institution of higher learning.  You either possess these skills – natural, intrinsic or inherent – or you do not.

Bill Aulet, Senior Professor at MIT, head of the Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship writes, “Teaching entrepreneurship is difficult because the subject itself is idiosyncratic, contextual and experiential. Unlike chemistry, math or computer programming, there are no definite answers in the start up world. By definition, entrepreneurs are doing the unknown and the untried, so there are no algorithms for success”

In recent review in the Wall Street Journal, Aulet continued along this line of reasoning saying, “Making matters worse, there is a limited amount of scholarship and data that exists on what makes start-ups succeed or fail. As a result, the intellectual and scholarly vacuum is often filled by anecdotes. We’ve all listened to a version of ‘It all started in the garage with $20.’ Entrepreneurs are prone to mythologizing the early days of their businesses, yet these stories mislead those who aspire to follow in their footsteps.”

Of course certain skills can be taught, as we have mentioned, and the entrepreneur needs some core skills in business in order to understand what the business is telling him or her.  One should also have a solid foundation of the product of service being marketed.  The rest, however, and the key or ‘the secret’ to success, if you will, can only be revealed by the simple act of DOING IT!  The most important things you will learn can only be learned through experience:

  • making mistakes,
  • analysing what happened,
  • learning why it happened,
  • asking for another’s perspective if need be, and
  • making the indicated course corrections.

In this way you will begin to develop the mind-set of the successful entrepreneur, or – as we refer to them –  the EMPLOYER.

What is evident, in so many university and college classrooms, is that what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur-employer can neither be learned by sitting at a desk in any traditional institution of higher learning, nor can it be taught by professors having no direct practical entrepreneurial experience of their own.  The key to success does NOT come from an inspirational or motivational speaker promoting mild hysteria with the line “If I can do it, so can you…just go and out and BE SUCCESSFUL.”  Professor Aulet himself confesses that he started teaching by exciting his students in that manner and although he was well received and highly rated by his students, he was unable to say that he was in any way responsible for educating successful entrepreneurs!

Many entrepreneurship programs make the mistake of teaching individuals to use their ‘entrepreneurial’ ability to be an employee …and indeed there is a place for employees within our corporate monoliths.  The true nature of an entrepreneur, however, is stretched when becoming an employer and helping create and encourage the employer mind-set is our mission.  We have spent more than forty years working to give birth to entreprenologists with the potential to rival the Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the world … those who see an opportunity, have a creative idea and grow a business that employs others.  The rest … as they say … is history.

Having said that, it should be obvious that we can’t say that everyone who wants to be a successful entrepreneur will become the next manifestation of those mentioned above, but the possibility does exist.  There are always opportunities to be a successful.  Who can say with any certainty who will become the next successful entreprenologist to change the world with their product or service?  What we do know is that the possibilities increase day by day as the economic landscape of virtually every country in the world is changing the way business and life interlink.  So let’s embrace the nature of change as we explore the facts.

As business and life merge, technology sweeps us into new domains as social media connects us all. Changes occur through the shift from big business to the economic and social impact that multitudes of small and medium sized businesses create. Business is no longer separate to our life requirements.

For instance, 4.8 million people run SME’s (SME 99.2% – MSMEs 500 at 0.6%) and account for 99.9% of all businesses today. 75% of SMEs are one person businesses.  There are indeed very few major corporations yet all the attention of the City and Wall Street focus on them.  In the UK for SMEs accounted 59.1% of private sector employment and 48.8% of private sector turnover employees in the UK.  Entrepreneurship appears alive and well.

Further investigations provides more ‘food for thought’ about the nature of entrepreneurs, and we have found a significant group that my husband and I are particularly focused on, that of the mature ‘silver generation’ aged 55-75 – we are recorded as 33% of the SME market in the UK, around 1.6million aged over 55 years and many still growing strong profits in entrepreneurial businesses of over 15 years standing …the demographics of other countries, USA, Canada and EU countries tell a similar story.

Other factors affect entrepreneurship data.  For example more and more women enter the market as self-employed entrepreneurs running a small business, often from home to help support not just their pocket but their life style needs regarding families.  Nowadays technology and social media enable anyone to run a local or even global business from their kitchen table. The economic landscape has changed dramatically. An economic tsunami has arrived and an eager audience is flooding the education sector looking for ‘entrepreneurship’ programmes.  So what impact is entrepreneurship making on our world?  If, as we believe, it’s a major force for survival and growth, and for providing meaning for one’s life, then how do we provide appropriate educate for those who have the desire and the natural abilities to ‘be their own boss’?

This subject, as already mentioned, cannot be taught within tradition parameters – rote learning with single answer examination – by those having no practical entrepreneurial experience.  In point of fact, we don’t even have a widely accepted definition of what or who an ‘entrepreneur’ is.  Is every self-employed person or someone who sets up a barrow on the marketplace an entrepreneur? Is every micro enterprise entrepreneurial?  Given our research and experience the short answer is NO.  Further, we do not believe we should enrol students on a university entrepreneur program who have no idea what he or she even wants to do. We base this on the fact that any number of students who have earned their MBA have told us that they weren’t taught anything that they could use unless they wanted to be an employee in middle management in a large corporation.  In short – there was little of any value in their very expensive MBA program that they could apply in their start-up. In other words – their program was not real world applicable! How, then, do we find a way to help them unlock the skills that are un-teachable?   We introduce them to the Principles of Entreprenology – the art of entrepreneurship. We introduce them to the intuitive, creative nature of the person who not only creates a business, but creates employment for others as they expand their business reach across local, national and potentially global markets.

Sir Richard BransonPerhaps this is where we might find the next Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates or Sir Richard Branson or Steve Jobs … washing ashore in the SME tsunami that is currently beginning to roll across every economy. The lure of becoming a successful entrepreneur knows no age, no gender, no ethnicity, no physical limitations.  The entrepreneurs who ride the wave of the future are not restricted to any particular region because opportunity does not recognize boundaries.  The younger generation, the women who want to blend their business with family life, the mature ‘silver generation’ baby boomers who don’t want to retire…. each cohort respects the other as it moves appropriately forward without expecting praise or applause for doing the right things.

Changing time require new eyes according to Marcel Proust  “The real voyage of discovery consists not of finding new lands but of seeing the territory with new eyes”  

“Students are clamouring for instruction, but it’s hard. There are no algorithms for (entrepreneurial) success.”  Wall Street Journal Sept 2013

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2 Responses to “So you want to be your own boss?”

  1. 1959duke Says:

    Reblogged this on Change is Never Ending.

  2. Part 2 Baby Boomers – ‘Doing the right thing’ is our motto: | Pauline Crawford on Conversations That Matter Says:

    […] and wise generation needing some skills education and/or augmentation in order to perhaps reinvent or reinvigorate existing enterprises as well as to forge new enterprises into being. We see our role to be supportive, connective and […]


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