Make Room For Entrepreneurs

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

When we start our careers in the corporate world, we are trained to be specialists.  We become defined as marketing people, or operations people, or finance people.  As we advance in our careers, we become managers, and we are expected to become more generalist, to see the “bigger picture”.

Still, we tend to manage our specialty areas.  If we were marketing people, we become marketing managers.  If we were operations people, we become operations managers.  We’re supposed to know a bit about the other parts of the business, but we’re not really required to handle them.

As a department manager, you might be responsible for hundreds of people and huge multi-million dollar budgets.  From this perch in corporate life, it’s easy to look down on the entrepreneurs working outside, with entire businesses smaller than your monthly expense account.

However, don’t discount these people, or what they might have to offer your company.  The bigger your company, the more likely it is to sorely lack some of the skills and character traits entrepreneurial types bring to the table, such as:

Versatility: Read entrepreneurs’ stories and you will see that at some point, they were responsible for pretty much everything, from finance to product design and sales, even the purchase of office supplies.  By nature they learn almost any subject amazingly quickly, and they tend to be very resourceful people who, instead of asking for more budget, take what they have and learn how to make more with it.

Risk-taking: In most corporate settings, you hear plenty of talk about risk management, but very little talk about risk taking.  The larger corporations get, the more conservative they become.  This happens for a lot of very good reasons, but sometimes you just need to take a risk.  Entrepreneurial types understand, on a visceral level, that the best upsides also come with steep potential downsides, and that doesn’t paralyze them.

Decision-making: Corporate organizations ensure decisions are made collaboratively, to minimize the cost of a mistake.  Unfortunately, this can also lead to bureaucratic slowness and plans that are safe but average.  Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, know how to avoid the red tape and make good decisions quickly.

Creativity: Sometimes the corporate style smothers creativity.  A plan’s risk might be minimized and the approval widespread, but its spirit might be dead.  Entrepreneurs, though, guard creativity to the end, and in fact insist on it.  They know that without creativity, all you have is an average plan that is exactly like everyone else’s.

Versatility, risk-taking, decision-making, and creativity – this sounds like a list of things many top managers wish their companies had more of.  Fortunately, even the largest firms can still be hospitable homes for the entrepreneurial spirit.  In fact, according to Professor Robert Lucas at the University of Chicago, some of the world’s largest firms are run by some of the most able entrepreneurs.

One of the secrets to attracting entrepreneurial talent is understanding that not all entrepreneurs start their own companies to become rich.

The conventional wisdom is that people go into business for themselves to make more money than they would as employed professionals.  However, academic studies show that only the top 25% of the self-employed earn more than they would in paid employment.  The other 75% earn less and see smaller earnings growth than they would have if they had stayed with salaried work.

Most entrepreneurs are well aware of this.  They didn’t leave corporate life for dreams of riches, they simply left because corporate life didn’t offer an environment in which they could thrive.  Entrepreneurship is more than the pursuit of riches, it is a drive to succeed through creativity and experimentation.  Large organizations need this spirit too, and there are plenty entrepreneurs who are perfectly willing to bring it back to them.  They simply require room to exercise this spirit, and it is the responsibility of an organization’s leaders to provide it.

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