What makes a successful entrepreneur?
It would be so great to know the answer to that. And then there was me, being asked to give an answer to that question, in front of a bunch of brilliant young people. Last week. At The Company—a new project run by ever-awesome London youth centre The Winch.
Man. Me? Answer THIS?
First up, I run a CHARITY. Success has a different meaning in my world. If only I knew more about it in the corporate, for-profit sense. Seriously. My idea of success is not everyone’s, at the same time I need to know more about theirs.
Second up, I don’t really bill myself as an ENTREPRENEUR. I’ve now been trying to run Spark+Mettle for the last two years, and I’m a bit tired of all the ego-stroking, trumpet-blowing that can go on in Entrepreneur Land. It can get even WORSE when you stop off in Social Entrepreneursville for a while, because there, dotted amongst the helium egos and loud trumpets, are all the very high moral pedestals on which many of these people sit, thinking that having a social purpose makes all their other character flaws okay.
I’m kinda over all that shit. I don’t have time. I have time for people who think beyond themselves and see themselves as one dot among many. Not falsely humble, but just aware of what they can do, and how they can fit alongside others. People like Cassie Robinson (see pic). I’d quite like her to run things for a bit.
So, back to me and The Company. What did I say to these young people?
Firstly, that I was ill-equipped to answer the question. I posed a number of questions instead. Classic teacher. And I brought superheroes into play. Because that’s always fun. And likely not all that original. Ah well.
Here’s the guts of what I said, minus the gesticulations and stupid asides:
- Entrepreneurs are like superheroes [I brought along copies of crummy superhero kids’ magazines]. They have their key strength or power, but they also have their vice. And, crucially, they have a purpose, a reason for doing what they’re doing. That’s them. But then there’s also the world that they are in. They have a sense about the opportunities that they can take, as well as the enemies or threats that exist. I asked them all some questions:
- What’s your key strength?
- And vice?
- And purpose?
- Where’s your opportunity to do super awesome stuff?
- What enemies or threats exist that will thwart you?
- Entrepreneurs, like superheroes, need a utility belt. Different people need different things on theirs. But pretty much all of us need this one thing: insight and understanding into who we are and how we fit and what we can do. My question: what else other than this insight do you want to strap onto your utility belt? Different tools that I suggested might be useful for some entrepreneur superheroes could include [note how I try to make this as non-prescriptive as possible, but still somehow wind up creating a list]:
- Grit or mettle or determination or whaddevveryawannacallit
- Humour [PLEEEEASE]
- Self-esteem (not ego)
- A pressing urge to do something different
- Ability to make lists, and then revise them [I just added this point in, about five hours after publishing the original post].
- There are two types of superhero. Firstly, there are the lone avengers—the Supermans—out fighting Bad Stuff all by themselves. They’re into saving people. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how gender neutral/equal rights they are. They’re pretty combative and competitive. Then there are the teams—the X-Men—all of whom have different strength and vices, but when they work collectively they are rad to the power of sick [stole that phrase from Dil Lalloo]. These guys, they are collaborative, their skills complementary. And, lo!, I asked of the crowd:
- What type of superhero are you?
- How can you work best with others? What powers do you lack that you could find in others?
- And then to my grand, sweeping conclusion: superheroes—and entrepreneurs—aren’t born but made. They are made by themselves, and they are also made by the people around them. The skills and strengths we need to be successful aren’t extraordinary, but just ordinary stuff we’ve worked damned hard to improve. Encouragement and support from others is a bit like the added bonus of a cape: not entirely necessary, but it makes us feel good, look good and maybe even go a bit faster. My final thought? That if there were less ego, and more let’s go figure this out together, then this world would be WONDERFUL. Until then, let’s just go put our pants outside our trousers.