Tuesday 20 November 2007

So, you want to make a contribution?

An entrepreneur is someone who makes a contribution to the world as we know it. And for this they get rewarded. Sometimes in kind, sometimes in love, and of course, sometimes in money. I know that many people in the world think that it is all about money, but again, this view can definitely be challenged. Making a contribution to the world does not always have a number or prize attached to it. Sometimes the rewards are not things we can see.

Entrepreneurs always display the following 3 qualities: they are positive, they are curious and they are decisive. Entrepreneurs always see the glass as being half full. They want to learn, continuously. About the industry they are in. About the law. About technology. About life, people, relationships, spirituality and religion. And entrepreneurs always move ahead; even if they take 3 steps forwards and 2 steps backwards, they make decisions and they grow from them.

True entrepreneurs continually dream of doing something different. Of giving something back to society in some way. I think that many people miss the point in business though. The real challenge is to make a difference in the world. And if you make money doing so it simply means that your contribution was valued. Think of that old saying that the best way to receive is to give. Entrepreneurs are very giving. Of their time, their ideas, their energy, and their enthusiasm.

I once heard Adrian Gore from Discovery Health give a presentation where he described an Entrepreneur as someone who jumps of an airplane without a parachute. Instead of the parachute he has a backpack filled with silkworms and he prays that they are over-achievers. This captures the spirit of the entrepreneur. When the book says it can’t be done the entrepreneur does not know this and does it anyway. There is no great strategy when it comes to innovation. Entrepreneurs just keep trying until something works.

Furthermore, you don’t need to start your own organization to be an entrepreneur. Yes, many entrepreneurs in the world are famous for starting visionary institutions, but then, there are also many entrepreneurs who have joined a company and made greater contributions than the person who started the business in the first place. Jack Welch, for example, is considered to be one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, yet he never started General Electric. Someone could join the organization I represent tomorrow and make the greatest contribution ever. Think about it. If a person joined our IT company and revolutionized, say, a technological construct that changes the world then that person would go down in the history books.

Again, you don’t have to start a company to prove that you are an entrepreneur. It’s only ego talking if that is what you think. And if you do feel that you have to start your own corporation to make a contribution then answer this: Where does this egotistical behavior end? Do you then have to start your own country? Yes, perhaps you will then to need start a new planet, a world, in order to make the greatest contribution ever. You may think that the idea of starting a new world is bizarre but this is not a new idea. Many James Bond villains have tried. They all try and kill everyone and start a new improved society either under the sea or in space. Talk about big egos.

Contributions and entrepreneurial activities come in all shapes and sizes. They may be about new products and services. They may be about brilliant marketing. Or they may have to do with the way a company is structured. Entrepreneurs have to be more in touch with the spiritual aspects of the work they do. Today, more and more people are looking for the purpose in their pay-cheque, and a great entrepreneur may simply initiate a new leadership style that centers on personal growth and individual empowerment. Empowered people can make contributions.

True entrepreneurs are typically driven by deep belief in what they are doing. The contributions they can make and the emotions that can feel from their customers and the people around then are what inspire them more than anything else. Profit maximization is not a major driving factor here. Listen to people in truly great companies’ talk about their achievements - you will hear very little about earnings per share. And as it has been pointed out through the ages, the best and most dedicated people are ultimately volunteers, for they have the opportunity to do something else with their lives. The book "Built To Last" articulates the spirit of an entrepreneur very clearly when it highlights how the visionary companies of our time stood for something other than just making money. Yes, profits are important, but they are often not the primary motivation for the soulful entrepreneur.

Let’s end off with the following thought: there is a difference between a moneymaker and an entrepreneur. Someone who makes money for themselves and others might be considered an entrepreneur but this is not really true. An entrepreneur’s contributions are far more significant than money. A financial machine may give us fish, but an entrepreneur will teach us how to fish. And finally, money does not bring anyone true happiness. When your efforts help others then that is the fulfillment that gets you sleeping more peacefully at night. None of this is set in stone. Clearly, there are different kinds of entrepreneurs with different motivations, but in my view, the basic philosophy needs to be one of making a positive difference to other people’s lives. As Henry Ford once said "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business."

Posted by Ronnie Apteker