Entrepreneur or Not – You Need to Read This


If you are a corporate wage earner — as I was for much of my working life — you may decline to read this post because of the term “entrepreneur” in the title. However, I assure you that — regardless of how you make your living — it does have relevance and can provide food for thought.

I had the pleasure of attending a 90-minute talk by Gary Schoeniger on the topic of Redefining Entrepreneurship. Gary knows his stuff as the founder of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute (ELI) and co-author of one of the best-ever business books: Who Owns the Ice House: Eight Life Lessons from an Unlikely Entrepreneur. ELI is doing some amazing things in teaching the lessons of the Ice House to students and would-be entrepreneurs. Here are a few of the actionable and fascinating notes from Schoeniger’s presentation:

  1. According to Gallup, only 13% of employees are actively engaged, 24% are actively disengaged and 63% are disengaged. Scary stuff, but it gets worse – on the education front, while 76% of elementary students are engaged, the numbers drop to 61% for middle school and 41% for high school students.
  2. Employers are demanding an entrepreneurial workforce, but there is a large disconnect between what schools are teaching and what entrepreneurs are actually doing.  For an interesting take on this, view the Ken Robinson TED talk titled Do schools kill creativity? Robinson’s talk is profound, funny and worth a listen.
  3. While much of the college-level teaching about startups is focused on the “outliers” like Jobs, Gates and Zuckerberg, such entrepreneurs are a tiny fraction of new businesses. This has the effect of creating unrealistic expectation and discouraging students who would otherwise be successful business owners.
  4. Universities primarily teach management and “delivery” skills but entrepreneurship is more about “discovery” skills. A key entrepreneurial attribute is the ability to identify a problem and craft a solution by utilizing inquiry, creativity, curiosity, observation, networking and collaboration. In other words, an entrepreneur is a detective that is searching for the right signals amongst all the noise.
  5. Google’s head of people operations, Laszlo Bock, announced that the company no longer looks at an applicant’s GPA or where they went to school as hiring criteria. According to Bock, “College can be an “artificial environment” that conditions for one type of thinking. IQ is less valuable than learning on the fly.” This is the essence of the entrepreneurial spirt.
  6. Despite the common myths, most Inc. 500 companies had these characteristics:
  • Start as “ugly babies” where success is by no means apparent
  • No breakthrough technologies
  • Not venture funded (only .018 of all companies are VC backed)
  • Little formal planning, backed up with ad-hoc research
  • Start with average of $10K from friends and family
  • No identifiable educational or personality type of founder(s)
In addition to the search and discovery skills mentioned above, here is what makes for a great entrepreneur:
  • Self-directed – don’t wait for others to tell them what to do
  • Ability to delay gratification
  • Know how to transform adversity into advantage
  • Persistent and resilient.
I will leave you with two final thoughts. First, the world is full of opportunities if you are willing to be a startup detective and find solutions to existing problems. Second, if your career choice finds you working for a company, non-profit or government entity, that’s great, but you and your organization can still benefit greatly from the lessons taught by Gary Schoeniger and other inspirational business leaders.
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One comment

  • Andrew McCoy February 9, 2016   Reply →

    Thanks for the great summary! I also was enlightened by Gary’s talk and the Icehouse book. I’m especially inspired by the broad application of his research on entrepreneurial principles.

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