Over the past three decades, my company has trained some six million people in entrepreneurship – more than all the business schools in the world combined. Over all the years we’ve been researching and teaching entrepreneurship, the two most important and persistent questions we’ve been asked are: “What is entrepreneurship really?” and “Is entrepreneurship really for me?”.
The Entrepreneurial Attitude
My new book, The Entrepreneurial Attitude, answers both of these straight-forward questions. The answers might surprise you. They’re certainly not the answers you’ll get from business school professors, blue-chip management consultants or chest-thumping motivational gurus . . .
What Is Entrepreneurship Really?
To the first question – what is entrepreneurship really: One of the great myths in the field of entrepreneurship is that it is just a business discipline. Therefore, going to business school, getting an MBA and learning management techniques should be a great way to become an entrepreneur. Well, our three decades of experience says that’s dead wrong. As a Harvard Business School grad myself, I can tell you that business schools are the last place you should go to learn how to be entrepreneurial. Our original definition of the entrepreneurial spirit came from decades of researching what great entrepreneurs actually did, day in and day out, to create and grow their great companies. No academic treatises, no management theories, no nonsense. From those years of research and experience with thousands of entrepreneurs, from all around the world, we’ve identified the four fundamental practices of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs: Sense of Mission, Customer/Product Vision, High-Speed Innovation and Self-Inspired Behavior. Walt Disney’s personal quote about how he worked and lived, which I fortuitously came across interviewing his family, actually says it best:
“The inclination of my life – has been to do things and make things
which will give pleasure to people in new and amazing ways.
By doing that I please and satisfy myself”
Walt Disney, Founder, The Walt Disney Company
He describes the four practices of entrepreneurs perfectly: “Inclination” as mission, “doing things to please people” is customer/product vision, “new and amazing ways” is a perfect description of innovation, and finally, “by doing that I please and satisfy myself” says I am self-inspired by my life’s work. Disney’s not talking about business techniques like strategic planning, zero based budgeting, six sigma or leadership training. He is describing life-defining behavioral characteristics that will determine anyone’s level of success in any career or field.
Is Entrepreneurship Really for Me?
Next, the answer to the second question – is entrepreneurship really for me: We can provide and demonstrate the full answer, for the first time really, thanks to the seventy inspiring interviews I conducted for the book with high-achieving Junior Achievement alumni around the world, from all walks of life. These interviews so clearly illustrate that having an entrepreneurial attitude, and using the four entrepreneurial practices described above, is the key to success in any career, in any field: a business start-up, a large corporation, a social enterprise, the traditional professions of law, medicine, science and education, a government career, or even in the arts. Some of the more famous interviewees in the book clearly illustrate our point in spades:
For example, Sense of Mission is perfectly defined by Donna Shalala, JA alumna from Cleveland. She was a young Peace Corps volunteer, became President of three prestigious universities, served as US Secretary of HHS in the Clinton Administration, and was President of the Clinton Foundation when I interviewed her last year. It turns out that all entrepreneurs are on a mission, like Shalala. They all believe they are doing something important in their work and something great in their life.
Customer/Product Vision, is in fact the single most important practice of all entrepreneurs. It’s hard to beat the customer and product focus of Steve Case, JA alumnus from Honolulu and the great founder of AOL who says: “Our goal was to get America and the world online.” And did he ever! It’s the same with every JA alumni I interviewed. They could recount in detail the product they created and the customers they served as JA students, and they carried that essential entrepreneurial practice into any career they chose. As Disney said, it’s all about ‘doing things to give pleasure to people.’
Likewise, my interview with Novi, Michigan JA alumnus, Sanjay Gupta, the famous and fast-moving CNN medical correspondent, and still practicing neurosurgeon, illustrates that High-Speed Innovation is a critical factor for medical and journalistic career achievement. There are actually many doctor/scientist entrepreneurs profiled in the book, all of whom have to be super innovative and fast-moving to achieve career success in their fields.
Finally, Self-Inspired Behavior underpins all entrepreneurial success in all fields. No matter your age, your gender, the color of your skin, or your nationality, if you are self-inspired, you cannot be stopped! Take David Lammy, JA alumnus from the UK whose parents immigrated from Guyana seeking a better life. He always worked, from primary school through university, became the first black Briton to ever attend Harvard Law School, practiced law in London, and has been a Member of Parliament in the UK for 17 years. Does David Lammy have a self-inspired entrepreneurial attitude about his career? You bet he does!
The bottom line is, who are all these high-achieving people with an entrepreneurial attitude about their work and their lives? Well, Donna Shalala was a Peace Corps volunteer, university president, US cabinet secretary and led a famous NGO. Next is the great Steve Case, our only actual business example – who has since become a major philanthropist. Then, we have Sanjay Gupta, famous medical journalist and practicing neurosurgeon. And finally, David Lammy is a lawyer, politician and elected MP in the UK. Not exactly the crowd you would expect to meet in a Harvard Business School class on entrepreneurship!
The Farrell Company is the world’s leading firm for researching and teaching entrepreneurship. Over six million people have attended the company’s programs. The Entrepreneurial Attitude is Larry’s fifth book. Peace Corps, Harvard Business School, columnist for The Conference Board Review in NY, advisor to Cambridge University’s Enterprise Solutions to Poverty project – Larry has personally taught entrepreneurship to more people than anyone in the world.