Daring. Nimble. Innovative. Maybe even a little insane.
These traits are typically used to describe college dropouts who launch Silicon Valley conglomerates from their garages.
But in an era when companies can't afford to stay stagnant, all career climbers need to start adopting that mind-set in order to find success says Linda Rottenberg, cofounder of Endeavor, an organization that helps entrepreneurs scale up.
In her new book, "Crazy Is a Compliment: The Power of Zigging When Everyone Else Zags," Rottenberg points out that the concept of entrepreneurship reaches far beyond just launching a tech company.
"It means undertaking any bold venture—from selling crafts out of your basement to proposing a new initiative in your corporation," she says. "And the techniques involved in sharpening your idea, facing down critics, recruiting boosters and handling setbacks apply in almost every realm of work.”
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In other words, whether you’re itching to rise through the ranks at your corporate job or looking to launch a successful side gig, acting like an entrepreneur can help get you there.
Eager to hear how we can all embrace this way of thinking, LearnVest sat down with Rottenberg to talk smart career risks, thinking outside the box—and how to create new opportunities for yourself.
LearnVest: What inspired you to write your book?
Linda Rottenberg: I’ve spent the past 17 years working with thousands of entrepreneurs around the world and here at home through Endeavor.
But a few years ago, I started getting unexpected calls: Some were from managers inside Fortune 500 companies who were asking me about how to inspire their own employees to become more entrepreneurial. And others were from parents at my daughters' school, looking for advice on a new business or community project.
It dawned on me that practically everybody I knew wanted to take a chance on something new—but felt stuck. So the impetus behind the book was to mine my experience working with thousands of entrepreneurs to try to help other people with dreams get unstuck.
What is different about entrepreneurship these days?
For one, our image of the entrepreneur has to be updated. The majority of people starting new businesses today are actually women and Baby Boomers over the age of 55—but we rarely hear their stories.
But more than that, I've really come to believe that entrepreneurship is no longer just for entrepreneurs. Rather, it's a skillset—for change-making and for reinventing ourselves and our organizations. As Dell C.E.O. Michael Dell put it to me, there are two types of people today: the quick and the dead.
Many people dream up business ideas, but are afraid to move forward. How do you get past the initial fear?
What I've learned—whether we're talking about people who stay in their jobs or launch companies of their own—is that the biggest barriers to creating change are psychological.
In other words, the first thing you have to do is give yourself permission to be contrarian: You can't rock the boat without being called "off your rocker."
Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group, was known for years as "Crazy Jack." That's why I say: If no one is calling you crazy, you're not thinking big enough.
Case in point: The team at Microsoft that launched Xbox was laughed at. And Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group (China's largest e-commerce company, now valued at $230 billion), was known for years as "Crazy Jack." That's why I say: If no one is calling you crazy, then you're not thinking big enough.
Second, we tend to value the status quo and stability as humans. But we need to understand that disruption and turbulence can actually be really beneficial. Over half of the Fortune 500 companies were created during periods of downturn.
And many of the best inventions came about during a difficult time or when people had to weather challenges. As I mention in the book, J.K. Rowling got fired as a secretary, so she went on to write the Harry Potter series.
And what about the real financial risks that might come with executing on big ideas?
You have to realize that the best entrepreneurs are not risk maximizers—they're risk minimizers.
People assume it takes millions of dollars to start a company, and that they'll go broke. That's not true. Half of the fastest-growing companies started with $500,000 or less. Plus, Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites make it easier than ever to raise money. You don't have to max out your credit cards to venture out on your own.
Also, keep in mind that the vast majority of entrepreneurs keep their day jobs while they figure out if their ideas are going to work. Phil Knight, the chairman of Nike, spent almost a decade doing other people's taxes while selling shoes out of his car.
People with 9-to-5 jobs might wonder, "What's the point in being entrepreneurial?" How would you respond to them?
The point is that jobs and companies are simply no longer as stable as they think. Companies are falling off the S&P. And we are seeing giants splitting up, like Hewlett-Packard did recently.
People look at entrepreneurship as risky, but the truth is that anyone who is doing nothing—and holding onto the status quo—is really taking a bigger risk.
The last chapter of my book, in fact, is a letter to my two young daughters. I tell them that they’re either going to need to invent a job or they're going to need to continuously reinvent themselves.
This idea that my parents had, where you work in one organization your entire life, just no longer holds true. Either we change jobs or our company's circumstances change. So I really believe that entrepreneurial skills are something that everybody needs to develop—today.
Have you seen 9-to-5-ers successfully bring an entrepreneurial mind-set to the office?
One of my favorite stories in the book involves two working moms at Clorox—a very traditional company—who wanted to create a line of eco-friendly products.
But instead of running to the boss or creating a business plan or a PowerPoint presentation, they started testing products in their kitchens at home, got feedback at the playground from other moms—and teamed up with some chemists who were also moms at Clorox.
It was only after they had developed an entire line of products that they finally went to their boss. And guess what? That idea became Clorox GreenWorks, which is now a $60 million line.
So I think again and again, it's not about going to the boss for permission—it's about giving yourself permission. It's finding something that you feel is a pain point and solving it.
Disasters should be contained disasters. You want failure to be the type that you can recover from—not the type that would bankrupt your family.
How can companies help employees embrace this way of thinking?
I often get calls from C.E.O.s telling me they want their employees to be more entrepreneurial. The problem is that 40% of managers say they are hesitant to try something new because they're afraid that they'll lose their budget or their job.
So one thing I talk to leaders about is how to institute a "free to fail" culture, because failing goes hand-in-hand with taking risk. For instance, the C.E.O. of WD-40 has a policy: On every project, he wants to hear what went wrong, not just what went right.
Your book encourages readers to reach for their dreams. But are some business ideas simply unreasonable?
Absolutely. This is all about smart risk. If there's nobody who is buying your product or service, then you have to listen once you start receiving customer feedback. And you might have to face some tough love from a mentor who tells you, "Sorry, this just makes no sense."
The key is to dream big but execute small. As Richard Branson told a group of entrepreneurs: Disasters should be contained disasters. You want failure to be the type that you can recover from—not the type that would bankrupt your family.
It's why I love crowd-funding because you're not only raising money and awareness, but you're actually finding out if people want your product or service. If they don't, maybe you should go back to the drawing board.
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