“We never pay for our mistakes, we only buy experience.”
These are the words of my grandfather, who was from an age in which young men jumped onto boats, destined for faraway lands. They went in search of that pioneering spirit offered by the undiscovered country.
Post-World War 1, this was the spirit that drove the industrial explosion across the globe, leading to some of the greatest entrepreneurial feats of our time. Humanity has seen this evolution from formation of industrial giants to the commercialisation of flight and now space travel. The spirit of entrepreneurship exploded with each of these, showering the world with the seeds of a new age.
Since then, the world has seen the comings and goings of many types of businesses that have either evolved or died. Some may have jumped the curve and failed, while others have connected the dots and succeeded. What allowed those businesses to step over the carcasses of companies like Kodak, who may have invented the digital camera well before its boom but shelved it as a nonstarter?
It was the same spirit that drove my grandfather to board the ship from Liverpool and head to the Southernmost tip of Africa: an entrepreneurial craving for something different.
Over the course of our lifetimes we have seen the rise of many great entrepreneurs, whose maverick personas have been splashed across magazine covers the world over and cited as pioneers in many different industries.
These entrepreneurs have taken small concepts by disintermediating ideas and changed industries forever. Take Richard Branson as an example. As an entrepreneur he has been hellbent on starting new businesses in industries that have been dominated by one or two key players for decades. Has this strategy failed? Many times. Will he fail again? I am sure of it. And the next time, he will use all the experience he purchased to this point to build his plan.
So, is entrepreneurship all about starting a business? Not on your life!
In today’s world, one could sit under a tree, come up with some of the greatest ideas then plot, plan and spend these unmade millions in an afternoon. You’d then jump onto Google only to find that, not only has it been done before, but it has been done 100 times over.
New ideas for business are harder and harder to come by. With the proliferation of information available at our finger tips, it is no wonder that so many people end up at the same point. But, then we must ask ourselves, why don’t all of them work?
Why does the first one not become the best one? The answer is simply, evolution. Entrepreneurial evolution. It is no longer the case that first to market is best in market. Some of the greatest entrepreneurial crusades have risen from being second or third to launch. Great entrepreneurs understand that it is important to be prudent with an idea by letting others pave the first part of the way. More so, smart entrepreneurs learn from this.
The process of watching, learning and then adapting is what took innovations like the Sony MP3 player and turned it into the Apple iPod. Same concept, same attributes but changed by an entrepreneur inside one of the biggest corporations in the world.
Corporates over time have become breeding grounds for mediocrity. Places for people to sit back, earn a salary and never have to worry about pushing too hard. Yet, every so often a unique character comes around that shakes the apple cart and moves the dial. MBA programmes have termed these characters Intrapreneurs: a manager within a company who promotes innovative product development and marketing. These are entrepreneurs that live in a world of structure and find a way to innovate and move industries, from within.
By the time Steve Jobs introduced the iPod there was no way he could be considered an entrepreneur in the purest form of the word. However, the spirit that fuelled the fire that took him from working out of his garage to fancy corporate buildings never went away. The same can be said for many of his counterparts in corporate buildings all over the world.
As we hurtle towards the fourth industrial revolution of technological advancements like the focus on artificial intelligence, the requirement for an entrepreneurial spirit within organisations is great. A common refrain in boardrooms all over the world is that ‘turning this ship takes time’. That’s true, large organisations take time to change, but that should not mean they shouldn’t try. The people that help this process are those mavericks that push the boundaries of conformity and literally wrestle the steering wheel away from the CEOs of old.
The only way for big business to truly change, is not through directive but by empowering the movers and shakers in the business to take the driver’s seat. That way you don’t end up with the GoPro rather than a Kodak Disc 4000. Google the Kodak Disc 4000 to see why this is the perfect example.
The best way to sum up this argument is linked to the evolving definition of innovation. Simply put, innovation does not occur when you do something new, it happens when you stop doing something old. These are two distinct concepts.
Who is the best at this? People with an entrepreneurial spirit, the rain makers, the Path Finders, the Outliers – whatever name they go by, they are the catalysts of change. They will push and pull the vision of the future around the boardroom and defy conventions. They live in a world of opportunity for greatness and pull people with them. They are an important part of the shaping the future.
So, regardless of where these Mavericks are sitting, in eclectic copy shops, at their desks at home or inside the canteen of a listed business those who wear the spirit of the entrepreneur emblazoned on their chest, wear it with pride. They use it as the calling card for the change that is sweeping the business world, one app at a time.
Regardless of where you find yourself on the entrepreneurial spectrum, the importance of cultivating your own desire for the steering wheel is an imperative. Staying young and foolish keeps you alive. And if you are the lucky boss who has one of these ‘unicorns’ in your team, count your lucky stars because the ride you are about to embark on is an exciting one.
Shaun Edmeston is from FutureProof.