I learned a couple of things this week, both from the same article, “The Heart of Entrepreneurship” (Howard H. Stevenson and David E. Gumpert, Harvard Business Review, March 1985). This article dove into a description of entrepreneurship, and – in particular – what distinguishes entrepreneurial managers from administrative managers.
For me, the revelation was that I am more of an entrepreneur than I thought. True, there are still aspects that I need to develop, but in general, I lean toward the entrepreneurial end of the spectrum they describe in the article.
If I were to sum up their definition of an entrepreneur, it is someone who does not allow uncertainty and minimum resources to keep them from making a go at something. Unlike the administrator, who needs to ensure success is a foregone conclusion by ensuring all the Ts are crossed and the Is dotted and that a full contingent of resources is at hand, an entrepreneur will make do with the minimum needed to start and with confidence in his or her ability to succeed.
It’s not that the entrepreneur is foolhardy; it’s that the entrepreneur recognizes the future is inherently uncertain. “The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men gang aft agley,” said the poet Robert Burns. The end never really is a foregone conclusion and we waste precious time trying to make it so. Rather, with a bit of courage and a willingness to work, we can take a step and then another to move in the right direction.
Coming from a background in software engineering as I do, I recognized a parallel between the ideas of this article and the agile v. waterfall approaches to software planning. The success of a software project is inherently uncertain. Rather than pretend that we can eliminate all the uncertainty through an elaborate, front-loaded planning process (the waterfall approach), we take a step, test the outcome, regroup and take another step iteratively until we succeed (the agile approach). I prefer the latter approach.
Likewise, as an entrepreneur, I can tackle the uncertainty of the future by working iteratively toward it, testing at each step, regrouping on the plateaus, and then moving forward again. I have talent and a willingness to apply it, and that counts for a lot. I can acquire resources as I need them. The boldness of entrepreneurship comes in the courage to start, not the magnitude of the vision.