Entrepreneurs Are Made Not Born

September 17, 2012 No Comments by Travis Jones

Starting your own business can seem daunting.  Many people shy away from starting their own business because of fear of the unknown and not wanting to take the risk.  But those that have taken the entrepreneurial path can attest that being your own boss can be very rewarding.  This month at LTAW we will focus on entrepreneurship, from the basics on how to get started to personal testimonials from people who are currently in business for themselves.

Entrepreneurs are made not born. It is part of a deeply held cultural belief that the qualities that make up entrepreneurs, like creativity, ingenuity, and passion, are the result of innate personal qualities. Although there is some truth to this, it is not the whole story. In fact, belief in this half-story may be the reason why many people (maybe even you) do not pursue their entrepreneurial passions and why many more do not consider their current work entrepreneurial.

We have all but erected golden shrines to entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg in the ways we exalt their lives and work as entrepreneurial exemplars. I think that great entrepreneurs should be exonerated, but I wonder if in our efforts to do so, we may be silencing the hopes of would-be entrepreneurs who think that entrepreneurial characteristics are like charisma; you either have it or you don’t. So if people are not born entrepreneurs, where do they come from? Here is the rest of the story.

Entrepreneurs are made. They are made from their childhoods, families, and life circumstances.  They are made from their obstacles, failures, and successes. And most importantly, they are made from their past and present work experiences. In fact, listen to any entrepreneur tell you their story, even the ones we exalt, and they will inevitably tell you about the external factors that shaped their entrepreneurial journey. A similar argument is made by the authors of Where Good Ideas Come From and Outliers that successful people are shaped as much, if not more, by their outward circumstances than by their inner qualities.

This shift in focus has several implications for who and what is considered entrepreneurial. The “have it or not” view of entrepreneurs means that there are only two groups of people: those that sacrifice all to start their own entrepreneurial enterprise and the rest of us. But if we take seriously the idea that entrepreneurs are made, there is a third way: Intrapreneurs. An intrapreneuer is simply an entrepreneur that works inside of an existing organization. There is a myriad of books and organizations that exist to celebrate the importance of including intrapreneurs as entrepreneurs, but I will highlight two. There are two types of intrapreneurs and they are analogous to different ways children play in a sandbox.

Sandbox Intrapreneurs

As a child, there were times I played in a sandbox just to hone my sand sculpting skills. I would see how high I could build a sand tower without it crumbling or how deep I could dig a tunnel without it collapsing. My intention was simply to explore the possibilities of what I could do. Likewise, sandbox intrapreneurs, who have a desire to leave their current organization one day and create something of their own, can reclaim their current work environment as a “sandbox” in which to refine their entrepreneurial skills. In fact, the best entrepreneurs were most likely intrapreneurs far before they made it on their own. Their skills and creativity did not magically appear one day, but they were refined through a process of utilizing their current experiences as sandboxes in which to constantly improve themselves.

Sandcastle Intrapreneurs

Other times in the sandbox, I was more invested in creating something lasting, like a sandcastle. The sandbox provided the boundaries and materials that made this possible. Similarly, many intrapreneurs view their current organizations, because of their structure, support and material they provide, as ideal sandboxes in which to build their sandcastles. The glorification of entrepreneurial life outside of organizations has clouded the many ways that being an intrapreneur within an organization can be ideal for many people. Many companies are now renewing their investment in their entrepreneurial-minded employees and are willing to negotiate ways they can pursue their creative interests within the organization. This creates opportunities for intrapreneurs to maintain the security and benefits of being in an organization without making all of the sacrifices of their entrepreneur counterparts.

Intrapreneurs that are passionate about the process of creating, do not necessarily have to leave their sandbox to make castles that reflect their creative touch, in fact, their current organization may be the best place to do so. So whether your current organization is where you are honing your entrepreneurial passions or a place where you are creatively pursuing them, entrepreneurship does not begin in an idealized distant island, but in the sandboxes of everyday.

 Be Your Own Boss!

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