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Entrepreneurship – the missing ingredient


February 12, 2014
By Paul Hogendoorn


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“Entrepreneur is just another word for unemployed.” This remark is doubly cutting — first, because my wife made it; and second, because more often than not, I realize it’s true.

I enjoy being an entrepreneur. I think it’s a good thing and our society needs more of them. Defining what an entrepreneur is, or what makes an entrepreneur, is subject to wide and varied — and often passionate — discussions.

“Inventor,” “visionary” and “business builder” are the most common definitions, but being an entrepreneur is more than that. It’s more than having big dreams and bright ideas, or working hard and investing your time and energy into something you created. Yes, it does take persistence and determination, imagination and vision, strategic thinking and skill, but there’s still more to it than that. It may require a bit of luck (or perhaps a lot of luck), the help of a strong supporting cast, and the availability of key resources at just the right time. But even having all of that doesn’t make someone a successful entrepreneur. What’s often missing is just that — success.

Entrepreneurs are often thought of as the conceiver or initiator of a new venture, but they don’t have to be. People that buy franchises or existing companies definitely deserve the title, too. Entrepreneurs are usually builders and cultivators, but building or cultivating an idea or company is not enough.

Some people are seeders, some are builders (cultivators), some are harvesters, and some may be a combination of the three. Most people that call themselves entrepreneurs are seeders — they are good at starting new things. They see opportunities that others do not see. They have a vision for what can be. A lot of them are likely also builders — they are able to grow that thing they see into something bigger, and they are able to recruit others into the pursuit of that vision with them. But the difference between many self-described entrepreneurs and successful entrepreneurs is the ability to harvest — to make it pay off, not just for the entrepreneur, but for everyone that got recruited into the vision and got involved in pursuing the dream.

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Sustainability is an equally important objective for the entrepreneur. Success is often slow in coming, and the entrepreneur has to be able to reap enough along the way to make it to the times of harvest.

I have sometimes described myself as an “incurable entrepreneur,” but that could be easily interpreted as something akin to being an “eternal optimist.” The truth is, by nature I am a seeder and a cultivator, and the harvesting role was the most unnatural of the three for me.

Those were skills that I had to learn along the way, and that I was fortunate enough to develop — either through persistence, a bit of luck, the support of others, or a combination of all three.

An entrepreneur should never aim for anything short of success. Success is not something that is owed to the entrepreneur, but rather success is something that the entrepreneur owes to everyone that helped along the way.

To be called an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to have achieved success; it means that you are able to define it clearly so that you can aim for it persistently, share it clearly, and engage others, allowing them to invest their talents and energies in support of yours. Not having that clear picture of what success looks like, and a reasonable map on how to get there, may not be critical to visionaries, inventors, researchers, academics or people that dream of improving their world. Those are all good things to be, but added to all of those things, an entrepreneur needs to be success focused. It’s what they owe to the people that believe in them and support them, and it’s what our world needs more of right now.