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Stability Vs Adventure, Which is Entrepreneurial?



I was once chatting with a pretty high ranking leader I know and respect about career, skills and related areas. Cutting down to the chase, he essentially told me that I have “become lazy”! Recovering from the initial shock, I begged (or, probably more like demanded) him to explain. His explanation: my decision to remain ... Continue Reading

I was once chatting with a pretty high ranking leader I know and respect about career, skills and related areas. Cutting down to the chase, he essentially told me that I have “become lazy”! Recovering from the initial shock, I begged (or, probably more like demanded) him to explain. His explanation: my decision to remain in one organization for this long apparently means only thing: that I have shunned challenges and therefore my initial zest for entrepreneurial spirit has, alas, disappeared! “Adversity makes you strong,” he declared.

I think a little background may help. I have been working in a single corporation for quite some time now. In the course of the subset of my career here, I brought up a large global database team when none existed, introduced several new technologies to make systems and processes better; collaborated, consulted and cajoled several other teams in making these systems secure and reliable, developed three generations of IT (3-tier, Service Oriented Architecture and then Big Data oriented) and, probably most important, kept the systems we built humming well while building new systems, adding to the existing ones or exploring new territories. In short, today we are a technologically envied organization; but our ascent has not seen headlines of the wrong variety. Achieving stability has been a cornerstone of my career. In the course of building the three generations of technologies, we had essentially thrown away the old one to make room for the new one; but we never ventured out until we stabilized the new systems we just built. And, now that strive for stability was being misconstrued as strive for comfort.

While I was undoubtedly hurt, I couldn’t help but become curious about it. As I thought more about it I realized that the feeling is more than just one person’s opinion; it’s actually embedded in the public opinion of dynamism and entrepreneurial personality. Many management philosophies propound and the followers of those believe that an objective of stability is actually non-entrepreneurial. Here are some common expressions:

  • Always question what you have.
  • Don’t follow the rules.
  • If you don’t take the risk, you will never succeed.

Let me start it off with one disclaimer: I  agree with the spirit of all these statements in general. I disagree with the usual interpretation. All these actually imply one very important and often overlooked advice. The underlying theme of all these advices is that your goal should be performing continuous improvements to the process; not slow or shut it down. But, unfortunately, the above statements are usually taken too literally and that is a dangerous advise for budding entrepreneurs.

Half Full? How About Completely Empty?

Once upon a time, high up the mountain lived a very wise man who was said to have possessed the eternal wisdom. A seeker of knowledge went to him and begged him to give him some of that wisdom. The wise man asked him to join him in tea. When the man proffered his tea cup, the wise man poured tea; but didn’t stop when the cup was full. “What are you doing, you enlightened one”, the man cried out. “The cup is full. The tea you are pouring is spilling over.” The wise man smiled. “If I pour more tea into a cup that is already full”, he explains, “it will simply be a waste. Similarly if you think you already have the knowledge, whatever I offer will be a waste.” The man understood. To effectively receive the wisdom, he had to empty his cup, or throw away his pre-conceived notions. This is the exact meaning behind one of the sayings. How can you improve a process if you think it is perfect already? You can’t. Hence is the advice to question everything. It means critiquing the process; not criticizing it. Question how you can enhance something; but until you figure out how to, don’t stop it. Be a part of it. If you rebel, all you will have done is to harm which was running well. That is not progress.

What Type of Risk?

Assuming risks is yet another misconstrued topic. I love to watch a reality show on TV where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of successful business owners, who, if they like, invest their own money. In the course of pitching the ideas, some entrepreneurs mentioned—I am shocked to see—had risked their homes, their savings and their kids’ education funds to “chase their dream”. In other words, they have mortgaged their and their family’s future in the pursuit of something that likely has a higher probability of failure than success. They source the justification of their actions from the oft-touted saying that they have to take significant risks to be successful. No risk, no rewards, right? Right; but what they often forget is that the risk must be well thought out from all angles with sufficient number of circuit breakers to prevent a complete meltdown when something doesn’t go as planned. That planning is entrepreneurial; not the act of taking the risk itself.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, you will need to bring in the possibility of introducing a change. This means you are replacing a process which is generally working well with a new one, which may work better; or, may make it worse. Anytime you want to introduce a change, you will be taking a risk. To improve the process, you will need to take that risk, of course; but it’s the degree and the mitigation process that separates the proverbial children from adults. Assuming risk is not embracing risk for the sake of thrill; but with well thought out mitigation and remediation strategy. Jumping out of the window without any other consideration is pure recklessness. Making sure it is the 4 feet high first floor window, or arranging for a safety net while jumping from the higher floors is mitigation. Mind you, you may not always have the luxury of knowing which floor you will be jumping from. It could be first or the tenth, or even the one hundredth. But assuming the risk of jumping is not entrepreneurial. It’s recklessness.

Stability

In the same spirit of continuous improvement, it’s often argued that stability makes you “comfortable”, which, ostensibly in turn makes you fall in love with the process and hand and therefore does not encourage you to think of enhancements. Nothing can be more dangerous for the entrepreneurial spirit. Unfortunately, this is often propounded in many management and self-improvement teachings. Many entrepreneurs think that they have to disrupt stability, and assume significant risks to be successful. Will they fail? Well, they may not; but the chances are pretty high that they will.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to make a detailed plan—you already know that. But don’t forget to devote a significant part of the plan to the details on how you plan on stabilizing and keeping your accomplishments firmly on ground. Consider yourself as an invader. When you conquer parts and advance further, do you want to drop the defenses of the already conquered land? Of course not; you will likely lose it or at least risk an attack from the vanquished. You will need to fortify the defenses, establish a rule of law and so on before moving forward. You would do that to be successful ruler; not for the perceived glamor of a serial invader. Those who always start something but never complete it, or move their attention to the next target leaving the prior accomplishment to dust are not only unsuccessful; but dangerous to all those associated them.

But what about the entrepreneur spirit that demands newer things to be built, better mousetraps to be developed and so on? Well, that’s there the interpretation diverges from the implication. Remember, the underlying concept is “continuous improvement”; not “new” or “different”. Successful entrepreneurs stay hyper focused on their accomplishments and make it better, faster, easier, or, in business terms, better saleable, less expensive and more profitable. You don’t need to own a company to be entrepreneurial. If you are a business executive, a team leader or in any position where you often make some degree of strategic decisions on systems or processes or a group, you are. How do you run your little organization? Do not assume the cup if full; empty it and get fresh ideas. But, never, ever, throw the cup away.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion here are the traits of successful entrepreneurs, be they business owners or executives or leaders.

  • They make a detailed plan. In that plan they capture all the facts, assumptions and possible outcomes and their relative probabilities.
  • They identify the risks and how to mitigate them. They develop a Plan B, or even Plan C for all known outcomes. They define circuit breaks of risk, e.g. at what point they will decide to pull the plug, acknowledge failure and prevent further bleeding.
  • They constantly evaluate their assumptions against reality. If an assumption turns out to be different from reality, they adjust their plan to reflect that. A plan is not cast in stone.
  • They realize that a goal is a series of smaller goals; not some all-or-nothing jewel.
  • They don’t lose their focus on the realized sub-goals. They protect their conquered lands. They make sure what they accomplish so far is stable before committing resources to the new endeavors. Of course, there may be exceptions; but this is true in general.

These traits delineate successful entrepreneurs from, well, not-so-successful ones. If you are budding entrepreneur, it will help to pay attention to the above. If you are not, pay attention to them when you want to associate with an entrepreneur. After all, you want to be on the winner’s camp, don’t you?

By Arup Nanda

I was once chatting with a pretty high ranking leader I know and respect about career, skills and related areas. Cutting down to the chase, he essentially told me that I have “become lazy”! Recovering from the initial shock, I begged (or, probably more like demanded) him to explain. His explanation: my decision to remain in one organization for this long apparently means only thing: that I have shunned challenges and therefore my initial zest for entrepreneurial spirit has, alas, disappeared! “Adversity makes you strong,” he declared.

I think a little background may help. I have been working in a single corporation for quite some time now. In the course of the subset of my career here, I brought up a large global database team when none existed, introduced several new technologies to make systems and processes better; collaborated, consulted and cajoled several other teams in making these systems secure and reliable, developed three generations of IT (3-tier, Service Oriented Architecture and then Big Data oriented) and, probably most important, kept the systems we built humming well while building new systems, adding to the existing ones or exploring new territories. In short, today we are a technologically envied organization; but our ascent has not seen headlines of the wrong variety. Achieving stability has been a cornerstone of my career. In the course of building the three generations of technologies, we had essentially thrown away the old one to make room for the new one; but we never ventured out until we stabilized the new systems we just built. And, now that strive for stability was being misconstrued as strive for comfort.

While I was undoubtedly hurt, I couldn’t help but become curious about it. As I thought more about it I realized that the feeling is more than just one person’s opinion; it’s actually embedded in the public opinion of dynamism and entrepreneurial personality. Many management philosophies propound and the followers of those believe that an objective of stability is actually non-entrepreneurial. Here are some common expressions:

  • Always question what you have.
  • Don’t follow the rules.
  • If you don’t take the risk, you will never succeed.

Let me start it off with one disclaimer: I  agree with the spirit of all these statements in general. I disagree with the usual interpretation. All these actually imply one very important and often overlooked advice. The underlying theme of all these advices is that your goal should be performing continuous improvements to the process; not slow or shut it down. But, unfortunately, the above statements are usually taken too literally and that is a dangerous advise for budding entrepreneurs.

Half Full? How About Completely Empty?

Once upon a time, high up the mountain lived a very wise man who was said to have possessed the eternal wisdom. A seeker of knowledge went to him and begged him to give him some of that wisdom. The wise man asked him to join him in tea. When the man proffered his tea cup, the wise man poured tea; but didn’t stop when the cup was full. “What are you doing, you enlightened one”, the man cried out. “The cup is full. The tea you are pouring is spilling over.” The wise man smiled. “If I pour more tea into a cup that is already full”, he explains, “it will simply be a waste. Similarly if you think you already have the knowledge, whatever I offer will be a waste.” The man understood. To effectively receive the wisdom, he had to empty his cup, or throw away his pre-conceived notions. This is the exact meaning behind one of the sayings. How can you improve a process if you think it is perfect already? You can’t. Hence is the advice to question everything. It means critiquing the process; not criticizing it. Question how you can enhance something; but until you figure out how to, don’t stop it. Be a part of it. If you rebel, all you will have done is to harm which was running well. That is not progress.

What Type of Risk?

Assuming risks is yet another misconstrued topic. I love to watch a reality show on TV where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of successful business owners, who, if they like, invest their own money. In the course of pitching the ideas, some entrepreneurs mentioned—I am shocked to see—had risked their homes, their savings and their kids’ education funds to “chase their dream”. In other words, they have mortgaged their and their family’s future in the pursuit of something that likely has a higher probability of failure than success. They source the justification of their actions from the oft-touted saying that they have to take significant risks to be successful. No risk, no rewards, right? Right; but what they often forget is that the risk must be well thought out from all angles with sufficient number of circuit breakers to prevent a complete meltdown when something doesn’t go as planned. That planning is entrepreneurial; not the act of taking the risk itself.

In the spirit of continuous improvement, you will need to bring in the possibility of introducing a change. This means you are replacing a process which is generally working well with a new one, which may work better; or, may make it worse. Anytime you want to introduce a change, you will be taking a risk. To improve the process, you will need to take that risk, of course; but it’s the degree and the mitigation process that separates the proverbial children from adults. Assuming risk is not embracing risk for the sake of thrill; but with well thought out mitigation and remediation strategy. Jumping out of the window without any other consideration is pure recklessness. Making sure it is the 4 feet high first floor window, or arranging for a safety net while jumping from the higher floors is mitigation. Mind you, you may not always have the luxury of knowing which floor you will be jumping from. It could be first or the tenth, or even the one hundredth. But assuming the risk of jumping is not entrepreneurial. It’s recklessness.

Stability

In the same spirit of continuous improvement, it’s often argued that stability makes you “comfortable”, which, ostensibly in turn makes you fall in love with the process and hand and therefore does not encourage you to think of enhancements. Nothing can be more dangerous for the entrepreneurial spirit. Unfortunately, this is often propounded in many management and self-improvement teachings. Many entrepreneurs think that they have to disrupt stability, and assume significant risks to be successful. Will they fail? Well, they may not; but the chances are pretty high that they will.

To be a successful entrepreneur, you have to make a detailed plan—you already know that. But don’t forget to devote a significant part of the plan to the details on how you plan on stabilizing and keeping your accomplishments firmly on ground. Consider yourself as an invader. When you conquer parts and advance further, do you want to drop the defenses of the already conquered land? Of course not; you will likely lose it or at least risk an attack from the vanquished. You will need to fortify the defenses, establish a rule of law and so on before moving forward. You would do that to be successful ruler; not for the perceived glamor of a serial invader. Those who always start something but never complete it, or move their attention to the next target leaving the prior accomplishment to dust are not only unsuccessful; but dangerous to all those associated them.

But what about the entrepreneur spirit that demands newer things to be built, better mousetraps to be developed and so on? Well, that’s there the interpretation diverges from the implication. Remember, the underlying concept is “continuous improvement”; not “new” or “different”. Successful entrepreneurs stay hyper focused on their accomplishments and make it better, faster, easier, or, in business terms, better saleable, less expensive and more profitable. You don’t need to own a company to be entrepreneurial. If you are a business executive, a team leader or in any position where you often make some degree of strategic decisions on systems or processes or a group, you are. How do you run your little organization? Do not assume the cup if full; empty it and get fresh ideas. But, never, ever, throw the cup away.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion here are the traits of successful entrepreneurs, be they business owners or executives or leaders.

  • They make a detailed plan. In that plan they capture all the facts, assumptions and possible outcomes and their relative probabilities.
  • They identify the risks and how to mitigate them. They develop a Plan B, or even Plan C for all known outcomes. They define circuit breaks of risk, e.g. at what point they will decide to pull the plug, acknowledge failure and prevent further bleeding.
  • They constantly evaluate their assumptions against reality. If an assumption turns out to be different from reality, they adjust their plan to reflect that. A plan is not cast in stone.
  • They realize that a goal is a series of smaller goals; not some all-or-nothing jewel.
  • They don’t lose their focus on the realized sub-goals. They protect their conquered lands. They make sure what they accomplish so far is stable before committing resources to the new endeavors. Of course, there may be exceptions; but this is true in general.

These traits delineate successful entrepreneurs from, well, not-so-successful ones. If you are budding entrepreneur, it will help to pay attention to the above. If you are not, pay attention to them when you want to associate with an entrepreneur. After all, you want to be on the winner’s camp, don’t you?

By Arup Nanda

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