What Must You Know In Order To Be An Entrepreneur?


Sunday, 9.30pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon. Winston Churchill

Every once in a while you talk to a “real” business person and realise that they think in a different way about things.

Some of it is about culture and some of it is about history – but all of it is hard to compress into a formula.

Take, for example, a collection of essays titled The culture of entrepreneurship edited by Brigitte Berger.

The essays explore the way in which entrepreneurs operate around the world and argues for a better understanding of their importance.

This is important because, as the introduction points out, the living standards we enjoy are as a result of the productive forces unleashed by capitalism and embodied by entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs find ways to make the world work better – and in doing so seem to improve things for everyone else.

And that’s something many people still find hard to understand – they cling to the idea that people in business exist to exploit others – and that business itself must therefore be evil.

And that really comes from a place of fear – from a place of misunderstanding.

Imagine that a business is a creature – a strange thing with many arms and heads and a weird body.

Most people would be wary of such a strange animal – wondering what it’s going to do to them.

But that creature has probably evolved to fit a particular niche – and it is eminently suited to do what it is supposed to do.

That business can exist, grow, thrive until one of two things happens.

First, it can grow old and weak – and be devoured by something else.

Or its world can change around it and the niche it occupies disappear, leaving it defenceless and unprotected – and it simply goes extinct.

That’s just the way these things go.

But, while the business is alive – or even when it’s just a thought in the mind of an entrepreneur what is the most important thing that must be in place?

For this – we should think of one of the characteristics of a system as described by Russ Ackoff.

He said that you cannot explain a “why” in terms of its parts. A system cannot understand itself.

In a business you have many people doing jobs – think of them occupied in moving arms and legs – account and marketing and so on.

If you asked any one of them why the business exists you will probably get a partial point of view – perhaps articulated using the language and customs of the respondent’s profession.

In simpler terms they will tell you “how” the business works.

This is the business of analysis.

In order to know “why” the system works you must talk to the entrepreneur – the person who is outside the system – the person who is engaged in creating the business.

That is the only person that can tell you “why” the business exists because they were driven to create it.

This distinction is not easy to capture.

Does it mean knowing how to do every aspect of the business?

No – but it does mean knowing what each aspect needs to do – and making sure that’s done.

Within this basic structure there are a huge range of possibilities for how the entrepreneur functions.

Some people have grown up in business families while others have come to it with no background at all.

Some people see their businesses as families while others see theirs as a network of professionals held together by common values and desires.

The fact is that if you’re an entrepreneur the most important thing you have to be able to do is to see the creature you’re creating.

If you can’t then you’re going to struggle.

And it may be easier to stick with the day job.


Karthik Suresh

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