Permission to be an Entrepreneur….

The cultural conversation around entrepreneurship tends to focus predominantly on the male experience. This is also reflected in academia, where the debate regarding entrepreneurial identity has drawn attention to the gender blind assumptions informing this analysis, thus suggesting that the normal entrepreneur is 35yr old male. These assumptions or biases can have serious implications for those considering entrepreneurship, who do not fit the ideal image of the male entrepreneur. Indeed, this lack of fit with the accepted mode of entrepreneurship has resulted in women being made invisible, marginalized and deemed the ‘other’, in the entrepreneurship field. Women must, therefore, reach into a social space that is fundamentally unsympathetic to their gendered characterization. For those women who decide to engage in entrepreneurial activity, they are positioned within the contemporary entrepreneurial discourse, including popular media, as a discrete and separate category with their own label – “female entrepreneurs”. This special classification only goes to confirm that there are normal entrepreneurs (men, family teams, partnerships) and, separate from them, are women. It is unsurprising therefore that women may be reluctant to claim the entrepreneurial identity and feel that they may need permission to do so. This reluctance is significant as “owning/claiming” is an important first step in the building of a credible entrepreneurial identity.

So my key message is to be aware that you do not have to wait until you get a degree, gain 10 years’ experience or reach some other self-prescribed milestone before you can be an entrepreneur – just do it. Only through action can you see actual results. Then, based on that data, you can determine what your next steps will be. As an entrepreneur, you have permission to act. So rather than waiting for permission, the right time and right circumstances, be ready to act.

When it comes to success, entrepreneurship is a mind-set not a business model

We broaden what we traditionally associate with entrepreneurship – new venture creation aimed at maximising profit and growth – when we reframe is as a mind-set. This enables us to consider other exciting forms of entrepreneurship, such as gig entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, academic entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship.

The only differences between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship – taking risks within a company as an employee to solve a given problem – are the risk context and the potential consequences, both positive and negative. The thinking, the skills, the activities and the mind-set are the same.

Both indigenous and multinational companies in Ireland stand to benefit from entrepreneurial thinking. Intrapreneurs add value through innovative thinking in the same way entrepreneurs add sustainable value via new venture creation and job creation.

“With our thoughts, we make the world.”

Action is clearly crucial in the arena of entrepreneurism but mind-set also matters when it comes to creating successful entrepreneurial scenarios. An entrepreneur approaches the world with some naïveté. Being naive has its advantages. Often it involves a lack of awareness of norms and traditional ways of doing things. Entrepreneurs believe they can make a change in the world.

Sometimes this is a response to change, sometimes it is the reason for change. Entrepreneurs are change agents for themselves, their markets and in the case of the intrapreneur, their employers.

Our own worst enemy

We need to start viewing our cognitive energy as an entrepreneurial resource. Squandering it through needless worry, especially when it could be used for something much more productive is an inefficient use of resources.

One of the greatest thieves of cognitive energy is so-called Impostor Syndrome – the fear of being singled out in a team situation or being found out for the fraud that we fear we really are.

It is important to realise that some of your most talented employees might experience the Impostor Syndrome – and that it has nothing to do with their competence. It tends to show up in very high achieving people.

Permission to act

It’s important to be aware that you do not have to wait to until you get a degree, gain 10 years’ experience or reach some other self-prescribed milestone before you can be an entrepreneur – just do it. You can dream for years about what might happen. Only through action can you see actual results. Then, based on that data, you can determine what the next steps are.

As an intrapreneur, you have permission to act. So rather than waiting for the right time and right circumstances, be ready to act.

Be a risk creator as opposed to a risk taker

There is an imperative to see failure differently – ie as an opportunity to learn and gain valuable fast feedback as to what will work or not. If Ireland is to truly evolve as an innovative culture, this requires creating safer opportunities for risk.

This is particularly relevant for intrapreneurs and large multinationals. At a recent event marking an exciting collaboration between the DCU Business School, Enterprise Ireland and Google, I spoke about testing, making smart mistakes and experimenting as high yield activities for a company’s economic growth and product innovation and improvement.

Google, which was voted the second most innovative company in the world in a recent Boston Consulting Group survey, challenges its employees’ normative mental models. It enables them to approach new product development and problem solving with a fresh pair of eyes.

A company which embraces “risk activities” provides the catalyst for innovative behaviour amongst its employees through its cultivation of an entrepreneurial “can do” mind-set.

Are you FTW or WTF?

So mind-set matters when it comes to creating a vision of what is possible. A clear vision creates the “scene” for our reality. It dictates what we pay attention to, what we dismiss, how we interpret what we see and what we believe is possible.

Once you begin to adopt a practice of thinking differently about new possibilities, what you see as possible becomes probable; you become focused on solutions (the “win”).

Our mind-sets can also act as unconscious constraints, limiting what is possible. You can become focused on problems. Mind-sets matter when it comes to intrapreneurship. So, are you for the win – aiming to be your best entrepreneurial self – or are you what the frack?

Article originally published in The Irish Times