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How Entrepreneurs SucceedAll it takes to become an entrepreneur is a big idea and a million dollars – right? That’s a pernicious myth – and it may be harming your career. With lifetime employment long gone, every employee needs to take responsibility for their own career and develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurship is a skill that enables people to effectively cope with the uncertainty and unknowability that exists in the modern workplace, and effectively take action.             

But if you believe starting a business – or simply being innovative within your current company – requires a huge amount of cash or a world-beating idea, you’re likely to feel overwhelmed. Instead, embrace the secret that successful entrepreneurs have discovered: If you want to start an entrepreneurial activity, you don’t need a big idea.  You just need something you want. You don’t have to wait for this magic to come to you in the shower; if you keep tinkering at it, something’s likely to happen.

Literature about entrepreneurship is often part of the problem. It engenders all this hero worship, (e.g., Steve Jobs) You have these successful entrepreneurs…[who] hire a ghostwriter and rewrite their life – which is very dangerous, because it sends the wrong message.  People think, ‘I read this magazine article, I read this entrepreneur’s book, I saw this video, and the only thing I came up with is “I can’t do this because I don’t have a big idea.”

The truth is, anyone can be entrepreneurial – and they probably should. The reality is we ought to be encouraging more and more people to take action – not develop the next big thing. So how can you embrace an entrepreneurial mindset? Here are four strategies:

  • Just act. When a problem is clear and data is available that can help solve it, it only makes sense to use it. But sometimes – especially in situations of rapid change and innovation – information and precedent are lacking.  When prediction falls away, you have to play a different game. In those situations, it’s often better to act and see what happens, rather than trying to amass all the potential data that might help with predictability.”
  • Focus on your strengths. It’s easy to bellyache because you don’t have a million dollars or connections to Wal-Mart’s international purchasing director. Get over it. The vast majority of us are mere mortals who are going to get there with small steps, building local networks, learning from those steps and building as we go. Instead, focus on your assets.
  • Plan – but not too much. Of course it’s useful to think deeply about your ideas – but don’t buy in so much that you aren’t willing to make changes and improvements. Before I start worrying about building a 40 page business plan loaded with nonsensical assumptions about a world we know nothing about, can we see if I can talk intelligently about these ideas, or find a potential customer or ally? Let’s spend some time mucking around in the feasibility phase, just playing without the burden of these complex business plans, which tend to generate an unreasonably high level of commitment to less-than-high-quality ideas way too early in the process.
  • Understand your organization. Want to make change inside your company – but suspect it won’t go over well with the brass? Small pilots that gather knowledge, test assumptions, and gain favor by aligning with the organization’s priorities. Can you figure out a small step you could take that is respectful of and responsive to your boss’ agenda and see what happens? You’re not as powerless as you think you are – but you have to be smart about it.

So while we can't all be Steve Jobs, there are a number of opportunities for people to not only be pure entrepreneurs by starting their own company, but also the opportunity to be entrepreneurial in an existing company.