From Esther Clark’s article “Seemingly Bad Ideas” published April 2016.
“Originals are constructive contrarians. They’re not just pointing out that the emperor has no clothes; they’re also tailors.” – Adam Grant
Entrepreneurship in the Spanish language is most commonly translated as “emprendimiento” coming from the verb “emprender” which means to ignite or start something. For many generations, entrepreneurs in Latin America have started their own businesses for diverse reasons including, as the management thinker Peter Drucker pointed out, a response to a social problem disguised as a business opportunity. A glimpse at the “Rey del Banano” (King of the Banana) rags-to-riches story in Ecuador supports Drucker’s claim; born into poverty, Luis Noboa Naranjo launched the successful Bonita Banana Company after piecing together profits made from sales of newspapers and household items. Noboa later established the Noboa business group; at one time, his business venture was credited for generating 5% of the Ecuador´s Gross Domestic Product.
Nevertheless, an entrepreneurial venture or entrepreneurial economy does not an entrepreneurial society make. It requires something more: not just “igniting” entrepreneurial fires but having the mindset to ensure that the entrepreneurial flame will not die. An entrepreneurial society requires a “growth mindset” – an idea developed over a decade ago by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck to explain achievement and success. Dweck compares and contrasts “fixed mindsets” and “growth mindsets”; she concludes that if we focus on learning and improvement as a consistent goal, environment, and the country we are born in, economic realities, as well as adversity or failure, can become powerful impetuses to ensure we grow and overcome pre-conceived limitations to achieving success.
Harkening to the 2016 Olympics currently underway in Rio de Janeiro, an athlete with a “growth mindset” pushes through in order to grow as an individual, an athlete and a citizen representing a nation. They see their failures as a call to further action and continuous training; in other words as a “not yet” rather than a “not ever.” There are clear parallels in athletic training to Drucker’s own words describing an entrepreneurial society where “innovation and entrepreneurship are normal, steady, and continuous.”
For an entrepreneurial society to prosper, members need growth mindsets to consistently keep the entrepreneurial flame alive and support those willing to push the limits of an “employee” society in order to find solutions to the world’s problems. Peter Drucker saw entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial culture as the lifeblood of society (Innovation and Entrepreneurship: 1985). He heralded a new era that would see a shift from an employee society towards an entrepreneurial society. In Latin America, where I live and work, “emprendedores” are igniting entrepreneurial fires with creativity, innovation and problem solving skills; yet the region – like many other major trading areas in the world – continues to call for a growth mindset from members of society that would lead us through economic and political instability and clear past the “same-old” power dynamics.
Global discussions around “entrepreneurial society” must be inclusive with ideas from developing as well as developed countries, public and private counterparts, local and international companies, thinkers and managers, students and teachers, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, CEOs and investors. If an entrepreneurial society is to flourish, we need a “mindset” of constant learning and growth supported by connections across real and psychological boundaries. In every corner of the globe, adopting a growth mindset together with learnings from larger discussions of entrepreneurship and transformation, will help us move to a society of creators, co-creators and organizations that respond ethically, empathetically and effectively to the societies we serve.
I started my own business at the tender age of 13. I hired my first employee at the age of 15. I have gone through formal and informal business training. I have taken entrepreneurship courses, spoken to entrepreneurs, competed in business plan competitions and seen all my life’s savings disappear in a matter of a few years.
Entrepreneurship is difficult. I would welcome the opportunity to speak to anyone who tells you differently. Even entrepreneurs who have endless capital to burn still face uncertainty and daily challenges. Owning your own business is an endless challenge, an endless opportunity to improve yourself as well as those around you, and an endless journey that is not guaranteed to end successfully. For entrepreneurs, business is them and they are the business.
I mention that entrepreneurship is the bug that keeps on biting. From the many articles and books on the subject one would concur that entrepreneurship is not an attractive affair. Failure rates are high. Burn out rates are too. Families are torn apart. Yet what is it about entrepreneurship that keep the entrepreneur going despite all adversity?
The answer is complex. Perhaps a common theme in entrepreneurship is the opportunity to make a difference, the opportunity to create a destiny, the opportunity to place your mark upon the world.
Entrepreneurship is a beautiful expression of what it means to be human and to be “creative”. As babies we are born wanting to create. Some people express this through art others hide their impulses in order to fit into stereotypes or expectations that people have of them around them. Entrepreneurship is creation. And I guess that is why we want the bug to keep on biting…so we can continue to have the opportunity to create and make an impact on the world!
There is a culture of failure inherent in entrepreneurship and in intrapreneurship (entrepreneurship within a larger organization or company). This culture is summed up in Silicon Valley’s startup mantra of “Fail fast. Fail often.” Failure is often celebrated by entrepreneurs and innovation experts as a way to get to success. A badge of honor to testify that they tried and failed before getting to the next big idea.
There is truth in this concept: in order to create something new or make unexpected connections between things, one has to embrace failure. In education, embracing failure is fundamental for students to take risks with their learning and the way they see the world and interact with it.
Should failure be celebrated? What happens when failure has tangible financial and opportunity costs for business not to mention its impact on entrepreneurs, their families and their friends. What happens when we have different ideas of failure? Has someone failed just because they don’t fit in with what society wants from them?
One of the best analogies of entrepreneurship is: “Starting a business is a lot like jumping out of an airplane and assembling the parachute on the way down.” But what happens around the entrepreneur?
In a series of articles, I will explore the question of failure and entrepreneurship and share with you stories from the entrepreneurship (and intrapreneurship) scene around me. Check out the hashtag #resilientwife to find out more about this new endeavor of mine.
Obviously, entrepreneurs want to talk about failure in the context of success – a sort of rite of passage or journey to creating something of value. Understandingly, no one wants to be defined as a failure or be told that their business is a failure. Here lies the challenge…to represent failure, entrepreneurship and resilience accurately.