I cannot help but notice all the magazine articles, blog posts and highlighting of entrepreneurship, and wonder if this is a symptom of age, or the next work evolution, or something else far more philosophical in response to the human psyche.
Jason Saltzman, CEO of Alley, said; “In this day and age, being an entrepreneur is truly glamorized. Stories of huge wins resonate through the different startup communities like wild fire. Successful entrepreneurs look like the Beatles when they first landed in America and, yes, it’s awesome.”
Note: “LOOK like The Beatles”, not “are The Beatles”.
What is with all the entrepreneur hype anyway? For every “I am A Proud Entrepreneur” motivational bumper sticker, there is another one spouting “My Company/Job Gives Me Purpose” for all the (apparently) unfortunate and miserable grafters in the corporate world.
Do you remember the joke that went “How do you know if someone has an MBA?” to which the answer is “They tell you!” These days it seems that the Entrepreneur label would be an apt substitution for MBA.
In The Four Motives Of An Entrepreneur Sarah Lamarlere defines an entrepreneur quite simply as “people who choose to run their own business rather than work as employees”. I like this definition. It is to the point. It is what it is. And, it does not expound magical and mysterious and rarer-than-a-unicorn characteristics often attributed to this ‘new’ breed of contributor to the economy. In fact, the first workers were all entrepreneurs, then came the co-ops, then the corporations and MNC’s – and here we are again. Full circle.
Sarah’s article really grabbed my attention at the point where she went on to describe why entrepreneurs find it difficult to hold down a ‘regular job’; “From the outside they will often look unstable and uncontrollable, sometimes even weird and solitary… When in reality entrepreneurs just don’t fit into a mold and need to find their place in life”.
Now I do not have enough company-branded pen sets to count how many unstable, uncontrollable, weird, and solitary folk I have met in over 25 years of corporate life – but I do know that most of these special people ARE NOT entrepreneurial in the slightest.
This is where I resist the hype created around entrepreneurs because I feel that most characteristics can work in both the employed and self-employed spaces. For example:
Yes, yes, yes. I did deliberately point out ‘high-performing’ employees as opposed to the masses of corporate slaves chained to their desks by a clock or time sheet. Again though, when we talk about entrepreneurs we generally only reference the successful ones – so the same should hold true for white collar workers, not?
I am going to close out on this point by saying that to each his own; and you should do whatever works for you. Everything is relative and personal; maybe we should talk about Successes in Business that do not make a distinction between entrepreneurs and employees? When we celebrate success, do we have to put people into yet another box?
Beth Romelus said that Entrepreneurs admire other Entrepreneurs.
“Successful people inspire other people to become successful. These hopefuls believe that becoming an entrepreneur will allow them to network with people who have already built great businesses. They think that they have enough potential to find the next profitable idea and change the lives of millions. Seeing someone with nothing grow to become a successful businessperson is enough for these aspiring entrepreneurs to save up money to start their own businesses.”
Success breeds success. But not all who venture into self-employment find success. Very often they encounter very similar challenges to that which they would experience working for a company (courtesy of Sarah Lamarlere):
- Losing sight of customers
- Being over-confident, hasty, over-committed
- Having difficulty working in a team, rushing off in many directions
- Abdicating responsibility, communication gaps
- Sticking with failing strategy, regret with failed steps
- Burning out, having difficulty in growing the team to scale the enterprise
- Generating too many new ideas
- Becoming blind to flaws, lack of objectivity
- Having difficulty with time management, focus, lack of diversity in networks
- Judgement errors
Liz Ryan, a Forbes.com contributor, posted the following depressing thought-starters on LinkedIn recently :
“Here are five common ways salaried employees get taken advantage of by their employers:
1. As a salaried employee you are presumed to have discretion over your work hours. Theoretically, as a salaried employee you get to decide for yourself when to work and when not to. So, there is no barrier to an unscrupulous manager loading you up with so much work that you have no free time at all. They don’t have to pay you an extra dime to work every night and weekend.
2. Hourly employees complete a time sheet or punch a time clock to track their hours. Salaried employees don’t punch a clock, but many employers still hold them to the same strict attendance policies that hourly employees follow. As a salaried employee you are responsible for delivering work product, so why would employers care if you arrive at work at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m.? Forward-looking, talent-conscious employers don’t care, not unless you have to attend an 8:00 a.m. meeting or answer the phone. However, backward-looking, fearful employers care very much about attendance for salaried employees. They want to have their cake and eat it, too — they want to work you all day and night because you are on salary, but they also want you to behave like an hourly employee when it comes to walking in the door at the exact scheduled time.
3. Salaried employees get ripped off when it comes to vacation time, because they can’t take vacation without having to stress about the work piling up on their desks when they are gone. That is one reason many salaried employees don’t use the vacation time they’ve accrued, even though their minds and bodies need a rest. Another reason salaried people don’t use their vacation time is that they get flack from their managers when they do use it. Even though they’ve earned the vacation time, their manager might give them grief about being gone, because it’s inconvenient for the manager to have a person out of the office for a week.
4. Salaried employees don’t get paid a penny for overtime, so it’s easy for their managers to say “We have a meeting in Toledo on Monday morning — why don’t you fly on Saturday, so the company can save a little money on airfare?” It will save your company money if you fly on Saturday instead of Sunday — and who cares about your weekend plans, anyway?
5. As a salaried employee you might be expected to be on an international conference call at three a.m. local time, but still be in the office a few hours later. When an employee is salaried, their manager can easily forget all about the employee’s needs for rest, sleep and exercise because their time is seen as an infinite resource.
I don’t agree with all the points above and certainly hope that the workplace has evolved to a point where point 5 really isn’t a discussion any longer. Liz did get me thinking though about how ingrained my own biases are to corporate work.
With my curiosity fully awake, I considered WHO are these foreign bodies and how would I recognise them?”
- They do not want a Boss if the Boss is not themselves – Regrettably, some folk have just had plain bad luck in landing delinquent line managers, and some have even had multiple demotivating experiences in this regard. There must come a time when they say to themselves, “really, really??? is this the best I can do?” Others have a real adversity in dealing with authority figures; it is a daily gruel having someone watching over you and possibly even micro-managing your every move (these could be middle-born children, but this is not scientifically proven…). Then there are the lot that, whether rightfully or wrongfully so, believe they have enough experience and skill to do the job better than their boss.
- They really believe that The Office is the norm:- In worst case scenarios, your workplace may very well mirror the dysfunction of the TV series. I am sorry. Really sorry. But, The Office is not real; just like Fresh Off The Boat cannot be deemed to be typical of ALL Asian families. If your job is really so boring and uninspiring, then you most probably are already quite active on job search websites. If you feel that your work is unfulfilling and not adding value on any given day then you should schedule a meeting with your friendly human resource manager if you don’t have a trusting relationship with your boss. Entrepreneurs are generally people who don’t fit the mold of clerical- and admin-types; these roles are important – just not for everyone. Some people honestly don’t want to change the world or break new ground – if these folk didn’t exist then life at work would be quite the more manic. Then the truth is that some people just like to moan about work. Perhaps work itself offers a distraction and deviation to having to complain about home issues instead; in this type of instance I think that work is a crutch. The bottom line is that we all have choices – “you are not a tree, move” – so some move to new roles or other companies, where entrepreneurs change lanes completely.
- They can be scary intimidating:- Entrepreneurs get an adrenalin rush from risk. They appear to be restless and impatient most of the time. The very scary ones are those that charge ahead like army tanks going to the battle line. And, they always seem so darn sure of themselves! How is it that I’m reworking the 55th iteration of an Excel spreadsheet to make sure that everything adds up but they successfully forge ahead without spellcheck, AutoSum and PowerPoint? I ask myself “how do they know they are doing the right thing?” and I quietly mumble to myself that I think they possibly need psychiatric intervention. All my reading up on entrepreneurs provides just one reason for this; courage of conviction. Entrepreneurs harness all their energy and motivation and put it towards their self-defined Holy Grail. They are hellbent on living-the-dream on their terms and in a manner that suits their lifestyle.
- They are restless (in nature or by circumstance):- This point isn’t so cut-and-dry. People become restless with their work for many reasons; some believe they can make more money doing the same thing being solo, others believe they are undervalued and under-utilised where they currently find themselves, some detest the rat race and are driven to fulfil a more Utopian vision of life, many leave their jobs at a time in their life when they simply need more personal space and freedom to explore the “what-if’s”. Maybe they have no choice but to find self-made opportunities when life throws a monumental curve ball their way like retrenchments or a criminal conviction. Some may simply have nothing left to lose so the risks associated of starting their own business pale in comparison to what they could achieve instead. Maybe they are just born to be entrepreneurs and will never settle until that is the path they follow.
- They will fake it until they make it. This doesn’t mean that entrepreneurs do not possess any skills; it is rather about many finding themselves either Under-qualified or Over-qualified for the new world of work. The resourceful people perhaps didn’t have the opportunity to competitive education so they learnt as they went along, continuously reinventing themselves to ensure they could grab any opportunities that may come their way. A great many people now find that their education and training is redundant in their industries as technology outpaces social development. These people take what they know and apply it back to the industries that made them redundant. Entrepreneurs are tenacious, willing to learn and have learnt to manage change.
- They march to a different beat. I used to scoff at ‘civilians’, non-corporate types thinking that they were just not made of the right stuff or at the very worst, were just lazy. I was wrong. Entrepreneurs juggle several opportunities, existing clients, and multiple projects on a daily basis. They don’t simply walk a different path, they see the world differently too – I would say that the entrepreneurial view of the world is more real and it’s where life’s grit resides.
My conclusion is that we all have a choice, and choices to make, in how we make a living.
While the goals are not dissimilar, the entrepreneur chooses the more ‘selfish’ route and says “I can achieve more if I have more control”. The entrep may also think “my vision is greater than my job description” and arrogantly confidently sets off to fulfil their life purpose. Overall, the entrep believes that the commitment to themselves to succeed is greater motivation than for them to succeed for a company.
Read this as you will, but I find this thinking quite liberating. Hugely empowering. Very inspiring.
So, well done to all you entrepreneurs out there – you’re doing a great job and you’re living your dream. The world needs both Us and Them; we need to trade success stories more often between corporate and independents, that is how we will all make a difference right from wherever we are.
Are you Team Corporate or Team Entrepreneur? Let me know by posting a comment below.
Read more from people who I drew inspiration from for this article: