Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0

Whether you’re a small start-up with big ideas or an uninspired corporate worker looking to branch out into your own business, striking out on your own can seem daunting. But whatever you do, don’t limit your ambitions. When you make your own way in the business world, you might need to start small, but you should always think big.

These blinks are filled with the guidance and strategy you need to fulfil even your most audacious entrepreneurial plans. They’re packed with case studies of some of the most innovative, agile, and successful players in the corporate world and feature insights from some of the most original minds in business.

The five most powerful points I took from the book were;

  1. Great business ideas don’t happen without great people.

  2. Leadership sets the stage for success – or failure.

  3. Get laser-focused about your vision. Good strategy is simple.

  4. You can’t control luck, but you can capitalize on it.

  5. To achieve success in business, start by cultivating discipline.

Great business ideas don’t happen without great people.

It’s hard to imagine now, but Apple wasn’t always the tech market leader. In 1997, when the company was floundering, its former co-founder Steve Jobs returned, ushering in the era of the iPod and iPhone. Surprisingly, Jobs’s strategy for reversing Apple’s fortunes wasn’t product focused. It was people focused.

Think of it this way: starting a new enterprise is like buying a bus. Your first impulse might be to decide your destination. But really, the first thing you should decide is who’s going to fill the seats.

Whether you’re a newly fledged start-up or an established enterprise, you should always be asking: Are the right people on the bus?

Businesses measure their success by metrics, like sales, cash flow, and customer service. But the most important metric should be your people. Specifically, how many of your key roles – that is, roles which come with decision-making power – are filled with the right people? Ideally, the answer to this should be 100 percent.

So, how do you hit that target? You can either develop, by skilling people up to suit their roles, or you can replace, by finding better candidates. Development is generally preferable, but there are times when replacement is the best option. If keeping someone in their role is costing you other employees, it’s probably best to replace them. The same is true when your staff consistently can’t work with or under someone.

When someone sees their role as a job rather than a set of responsibilities, that’s also a good reason to replace them. After all, it’s a teacher’s “job” to stand in the classroom from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but simply standing around doesn’t fulfil the teacher’s responsibilities. And things are no different in the world of business.

Replacement doesn’t need to be negative. In a dynamic company, both roles and employees are constantly evolving. If someone has outgrown their role, or the role has outgrown them, it’s time to replace or reassign them.

Once your key roles are filled with the right people, switch your focus to retaining this talent, by creating a company culture where employees are given autonomy, responsibility, and recognition.

When the right people are on your bus, it doesn’t matter where you’re going. You’re already halfway there.

Leadership sets the stage for success – or failure.

Multiplication. It’s pretty important if you’re an elementary student about to take a math quiz. But it’s even more critical if you’re leading an enterprise. Why? Because a leader’s style has a multiplying effect, one that ripples through the rest of the company.

Of course, effective leadership will look different for every leader and every situation. Gandhi and Churchill are both remembered as iconic leaders though their styles couldn’t have been more different. However, a good leader should embrace at least one of seven essential leadership qualities.

While there’s no formula for good leadership, there are certain leadership qualities you should cultivate. Pick one and make it your superpower!

First, there’s Authenticity. To lead with authenticity, you’ll need to put your money where your mouth is and live your company’s core values. Do you tout your company as innovative? Then you better innovate! You won’t build the culture you want to create unless you exemplify it.

Second there’s decisiveness. Sometimes the decisions you need to take as a leader are clear-cut. But a decisive leader is always able to come to a decision, even when faced with several compelling choices. The decisive leader analyses potential outcomes, but she also knows when to bite the bullet and commit.

The third quality is focus. A leader who shows focus doesn’t get bogged down in busywork or caught up in office politics. He has a short list of priorities, and he focuses on these – and these only. Anything that isn’t critical to the company’s success is irrelevant.

Fourth is the quality of personal touch. Employees who work for leaders with a personal touch are invested in their firm because they know their leader is invested in them. This leader makes a point of getting out from behind his desk to take a hands-on approach.

Leaders who demonstrate people skills, the fifth quality, make a point of consistently delivering good feedback and recognizing their staff’s achievements. And when it’s time to deliver not-so-good feedback, they do so in a supportive, constructive manner.

Lots of leaders can communicate, but leaders who actively cultivate the sixth quality, communication, make it their priority! Everyone from their CFO to the security guard knows what this leader’s vision is.

Finally, leaders who focus on being forward-thinking – which is the seventh quality – don’t dwell on the past. They stay ahead of the competition by focusing on the next big trend, the next great idea, and the next technological breakthrough. So, which one of these seven qualities do you possess? To lead well, lean into it.

Get laser-focused about your vision.

Your employees know what to do and how to do it. But do they know why they’re doing it? If you haven’t defined and shared your vision with your team, your work has no why. A shared vision is critical not just to your success but also to your longevity. Commitment to a shared vision can pull your team through challenges and transitions and guide tough decisions.

So, what is vision exactly? Your vision is the future you’d like to see for your company. Formulated correctly, though, it also unifies your team, sets your mission, and informs your strategy.

The first component of vision is core beliefs. These are your company's values and principles. Whatever they are – innovation, a passion for quality, or dedication to customer service – they should be authentic. Your company’s core beliefs should also be your core beliefs, because as company leader, you need to live them.

From the foundation of your core beliefs, you can go on to establish the next component of your vision: purpose. Importantly, this shouldn’t be a finite goal but an ambition that opens up infinite possibilities. The purpose of Mary Kay Cosmetics is “To be a company that gives unlimited opportunities to women.” It’s an ambition that can be executed in an infinite number of ways.

The third element of vision is mission. You’ll use your purpose to define this. A mission is meant to be fulfilled, so it should be achievable and well-defined. It should inspire your team and your customers, too. Henry Ford stated his mission when he said, “We’re going to democratize the automobile.” Would he have been so successful if he’d said, “We’ll make and sell cars”? Probably not. Your mission can set a target, like Walmart’s old mission, “To become a one-billion-dollar company by 1980.” Or it can focus on a competitor, like Honda’s “We will crush, squash, slaughter Yamaha!” As you can see, there’s no need to hold back!

By establishing your core beliefs, using them to identify your purpose, and translating that purpose into achievable missions, you ensure both that your vision is put into action, and that your actions always reflect your vision.

You can’t control luck, but you can capitalize on it.

If someone wins millions in the lottery, it’s pretty fair to say they got lucky. But what if someone has unlikely success in transforming a small enterprise into a multi-million-dollar company? Did they get lucky, too? Of course, creating success in business demands strategy, skill, and plenty of hard work. But when it comes to whether an entrepreneurial idea gets off the ground, a product finds its market, or an enterprise successfully scales, luck often plays a big part.

Luck, in the strictest sense of the word, is purely random. It can have seismic consequences for you and your business, and yet you can neither cause nor control it. But you can leverage whatever luck does come your way, whether it's good or bad, to produce great results.

In their book Great by Choice, Jim Collins and Morton Hansen studied how luck affected the trajectories of wildly successful entrepreneurs. They found all these entrepreneurs had enjoyed good luck and weathered bad. When they contrasted these iconic entrepreneurs with a control group, though, they found that the latter had experienced roughly the same number of lucky events.

What set the icons apart from the rest, then?

To begin with, when unexpected opportunities came their way, they were ready to capitalize on them. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple in 1997. Instead of retiring to enjoy his wealth, he founded another computer company, NeXT. But NeXT never really cracked the market. Instead of giving up, Jobs kept at it. Then his luck changed.

A floundering Apple needed a new operating system, and NeXT had one that fit the bill. Apple acquired NeXT, and Jobs negotiated to be rehired in the acquisition. Yes, it was a stroke of luck that Jobs’ operating system was just what Apple needed. But without hard work and persistence, he’d never have been in a position to fill Apple’s need.

Perhaps even more revealing is how successful entrepreneurs respond to bad luck and failure. Collins and Hansen found that early bad luck was often more critical to a company’s ultimate success than early good luck. In fact, they found visionary entrepreneurs were more likely to suffer early setbacks. These setbacks prompted them not just to recover from bad luck but to implement strategies and structures that bullet-proofed them against future failure.

To achieve success in business, start by cultivating discipline.

There’s no recipe for entrepreneurial success. But there are certain key ingredients that can make an individual entrepreneur or a fledgling business successful. Ingredients like leadership, vision, and agility.

Then again, there are plenty of enterprises that possess all these ingredients and still don’t fulfil their potential. The raw materials just don’t come together into a satisfying whole.

In cooking, many recipes call for a binding agent, like egg or starch. The binding agent brings the rest of the ingredients together, so the dish holds its shape and texture. In business, there are few binding agents more crucial than discipline.

One of the best ways to give your enterprise an edge is with disciplined thinking. However, here’s a difference between disciplined and just plain rigid. While disciplined thought requires rigor, it’s also open and flexible. Keep in mind author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, definition of intelligence as “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time.”

To cultivate disciplined thinking habits, embrace the word and, not the word or. Don’t think you need to choose between purpose or profit, for example. Instead, think of a solution that allows for purpose and profit. Bring that and thinking into the way you resolve challenges by taking action in the present and staying committed to future goals.

Once you and your team are in the habit of disciplined thinking, allow that thinking to inform disciplined action, the best tool there is for executing your ideas. Disciplined action is all about consistency and persistence. Sound like a dull grind? Well, it’s anything but.

The focus and consistency of disciplined action creates the conditions for momentum. Think of it like pushing an enormously heavy wheel. At first, you only move the wheel in tiny increments. But you persist and the wheel eventually completes a full revolution. Then you keep going, each turn creating more and more pace until the wheel achieves breakthrough momentum.

Disciplined thinking will help you arrive at creative strategies and solutions. Disciplined action will see you translate those into informed, incremental action that allows you to achieve your breakthrough.

Good strategy is simple.

Strategic consultants charge big bucks to help enterprises hone their strategy. Why are their rates so eye-wateringly high? Because all kinds of businesspeople, from CEOs to MBA students, have been taught to believe that strategy needs to be complicated to be effective. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

What is strategy? Think back to your company’s mission. Your strategy is the methodology you’ll apply to achieve that mission. And to be effective, this strategy should be streamlined and uncomplicated.

So how do you decide on a strategy that works?

To begin with, good strategy is also realistic strategy. Before you settle on any strategic pathways, conduct a full internal assessment of your enterprise. Establish your strengths and weaknesses and, when setting strategy, always play to your strengths. If you’re in the business of making artisanal furniture, don’t aim to capture the mass market.

Next, conduct an external assessment. Where does your business sit in its sector? What trends can you identify across your sector? What are the potential threats to your growth? Conversely, where are the opportunities in the market?

Armed with this information, it’s time to think strategically. Let your thinking be guided by three principles.

One: Bet big – but be smart about it. The inflection point, at which good companies turn into great companies, often coincides with a big bet. Disney, for example, bet big on animated films when they were far from mainstream. Of course, a big bet gone wrong can end up being the inflection point where a good company becomes a bankrupt one. So back up your bet with research, and be prepared to make smaller bets – on things like adopting a nascent technology or a new production method – before you go all in.

The second principle? Play defence as well as offense. Business is like sport: you’ve got to worry about protecting yourself from your opponent as well as attacking them. Your strategy should prevent competitors from exploiting your vulnerabilities and allow you to future-proof your firm in a rapidly changing business landscape.

The third principle is: Don’t settle for big wins – make them bigger. You don’t just need a strategy. You need a strategy for when your strategy pays off. Amazon didn’t rest on its laurels when it became the world’s most popular online platform for book-buying. It leveraged that win to become the world’s most popular e-commerce platform for everything. So, how are you going to leverage your big win?

You can’t innovate without ideas.

In 1927, H. M. Warner of Warner Brothers movie studio was asked his opinion on the nascent sound technology that would, within years, kill off silent films and usher in the era of talkies. His response? “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”

Plenty of world-changing ideas, from the telephone to the personal computer and talking pictures, were dismissed before they finally came to fruition. It just goes to show you: you can’t innovate or evolve if you don’t first learn how to identify a promising idea and act on its potential.

Want to become an innovation powerhouse? Follow these six simple steps:

One, be open to all ideas. In business, you’re often taught to identify why an idea won’t work. Challenge yourself and your team to strategize ways an imperfect, yet promising idea could work despite its initial flaws.

Two, think like your customers. After all, your innovations should be designed to improve some aspect of their experience. Try and put yourself in a customer’s shoes. We’re not talking about a market sector, but an individual customer. Chances are, if you can cater to her needs, you can cater to all your customers’ needs.

Three, experiment. Think an idea is good? Then test it out. Simple as that. If it doesn’t work, abandon it. If it shows promise, iterate on the idea until it’s the innovation you envisaged.

Four, cultivate creativity at every level of your enterprise. Remember, ideas can come from anywhere, not just the C-suite or the creative department. Whether it’s written on an employee feedback form or a brainwave from your security guard, treat all ideas seriously. Invest in resources for creative development, like creativity seminars and allotted brainstorming time, for all employees. And make sure your hiring strategy is attracting diverse talent who can bring new creative perspectives.

Five, give your people ownership over their ideas and achievements. Your staff are far more likely to develop their ideas from initial creative spark to finished innovation if they own the process themselves.

Finally, step six: reward creative contribution. How? A financial reward can be motivating. More responsibility can too, so delegate work on higher-stakes creative projects to proven innovators. And consider setting up a separate career track for creative stars who deserve promotion but don’t want to be promoted to management positions.

Hard work is the secret to success.

Establishing and growing a great enterprise is a little bit like writing a great novel. Novelists need to pay a lot of attention to the big picture: plot, structure, character, voice, themes. But at the end of the day, if they want to get their novel out of their head and onto the page, there’s only one way to do it: write. Sentence by sentence, word by word.

Simply put, you need to execute.

If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you have to sweat the small stuff. So what steps can you take to ensure your vision translates into reality?

Set deadlines and stick to them. Your business strategy is meaningless unless you can execute it in a timely manner. If you set deadlines that are concrete and realistic and then insist those deadlines are honoured, work will get done. What’s more, you’ll be building a culture of discipline within your enterprise.

Also, practice milestone management. Break your strategic plan down into achievable steps, or milestones, which map out a clear path to achieving your objective. Assign each milestone an owner, someone responsible for its execution, and give each a deadline as well. But milestone ownership and deadlines can’t be top-down decisions. Seek input from the team responsible for the milestone.

You’ll also want to keep it SMaC – that’s S-M-a-C, and it stands for Specific, Methodical, and Consistent. If you intentionally approach all your work with this mindset, you’ll avoid costly mistakes and complete your tasks to the highest standard. Don’t keep SMaC to yourself, either. Incorporate it into your team’s workflow, by implementing consistent processes, cross-checking systems, and rigorous contingency planning into every aspect of your enterprise.

Finally, empower your whole team to execute. If you’re an entrepreneur or a founder, of course you’re motivated to execute your strategy. But you need to bring everyone else onside, too. Make sure everyone’s clear on what needs to be done and why. Assign your staff to roles where they’ll thrive and feel inspired. And provide autonomy and support in equal measure.

Your big vision will remain just that – a vision – unless you can turn it into something concrete. But, with accountability, consistency, and discipline, even your most aspirational business goals can be met.


What I took from it.

The market is fast-paced and unforgiving; countless enterprises fizzle out before they’ve been in business even five years. But your enterprise can succeed if you stick to some straightforward principles. Get the best people on board, define your vision, develop the strategy to make it a reality, and execute!

Set a mission that inspires! Want to get your team really fired up? Don’t just set a mission, set a BHAG. In other words, a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, like corner the market in vegan ice-cream or eradicate malaria in the next ten years. Sometimes you’ve got to think big in order to achieve big.

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