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October 2019
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entrepreneurs

You’re An Entrepreneur? You Must Be Mad!

Posted by: Alex Linley, Director, Capp

 

When we started Capp, we got a lot of responses along the same lines of this blog post title. Tens of thousands of strengths-based interviews and tens of thousands of completions of Realise2 later, people now take a different view. It’s always easy to see success after the event; far harder to predict it ahead of time.

 

It’s this that Global Entrepreneurship Week is all about supporting. The people who see things differently, who are prepared to take a chance, who believe in themselves and their ideas even when almost everyone else around them is doubting.

 

These perspectives are the theme of one of the best books on entrepreneurship I have read in a while. Worthless, Impossible and Stupid (by Daniel Isenberg) describes the perspectives of the people who don’t see the opportunity for the product (Worthless), who overestimate the challenge to bring it to market (Impossible), and who criticise and doubt the people who dare to think differently and give it a go (Stupid).

 

Thankfully for us all and for society as a whole, entrepreneurs fall for none of these traps. Instead, they see value where others don’t. They match their skills and strengths to the challenges and opportunities they face. And they take the right judgement calls to make it all happen to deliver success.

 

There’s a great line in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street that sums this up brilliantly. It’s not the “Greed is good” quote for which Gordon Gekko became famous. Instead, it’s this almost throwaway line that describes the entrepreneurial process in a sentence:

 

“Money isn’t lost or made. It’s simply transferred from one perception to another.”

 

This is the entrepreneur’s gift and raison d’etre. To see inefficiencies in opportunities and markets – and to fix them. When the entrepreneur succeeds, we all benefit – by definition, since if the entrepreneur was not creating value, they would not have customers, they would not be succeeding.

 

So, especially here in Global Entrepreneurship Week, let’s raise a salute to the outliers, the weird ones, the people who see things differently.

 

But above all, here’s to the people who not only see, but do; to those who feel the risk but take it anyway.

 

Here’s to the entrepreneurs. Your country needs you!

 

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Courage in Women and Entrepreneurs (Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener, Part 2)

Posted by: Alex Linley

 

To mark the UK release of his latest fascinating book, The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver, I caught up again with the “Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology”, long time friend and Capp collaborator, Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener. In this second interview, we focused our attention on how courage manifests, and what might be different about it, in both women and entrepreneurs. See below for what Robert has to say about the findings from his research for The Courage Quotient:

 

AL: In your research on courage, did you find differences in the courage expressed by men and women?

 

RBD: I think that most people tend to believe that courage – at least stereotypically- is largely the domain of men. Fables, myths and modern movies all favour a fairly macho action-hero style of bravery. But movies such as Erin Brokovich, about a determined whistleblower, suggests that there is a place at the table for women as well. While researching The Courage Quotient I found a number of studies that suggest that women perform bravery as well as – and sometimes better than - their male counterparts. For instance, women are more likely to donate organs and are more likely to serve in risky overseas volunteer positions. It may be that men are placed more frequently in positions that require physical bravery – indeed, men overwhelmingly outnumber women in the military, police forces and in fire departments - but women do well with moral and social forms of bravery. [AL notes: We know from our work with the Fire Service that part of this difference is a result of different physical requirements in the role, which can be difficult, but not impossible, to surmount.]

 

AL: Why do you think this is? What impact does this have on male and female stereotypes in society do you think?

 

RBD: Men, because of their larger average size and access to testosterone, have long been at the centre of action especially when that action has been physical. In addition, wars and other physical feats tend to make for good narratives, so stories ranging from epic poems to modern movies tend to lionize the stereotypical form of male bravery. We tend to overlook that women have long been brave, but that women’s bravery has historically been outside of the battlefield. Women have spoken up as courageous advocates and often been the defenders of values. You see modern examples ranging from Benazir Bhutto to Mother Theresa to Maria Montessori. But it is more common that we overlook female forms of bravery because either 1) we do not agree with the values they espouse, or 2) their actions are often less “flashy” than those on the battlefield; taking the form of discussion, passing laws, and pioneering new fields.

 

AL: What about courage in organisations? Do you think that women need to use courage differently to men in order to succeed in organisational leadership?

 

RBD: I think that women – especially those in leadership – need to start thinking about themselves as courageous. I am not sure that it matters that their courage is similar to or different from male courage. What I really think matters is that female leaders truly accept the mantle of bravery. In many ways, women have an additional burden in the workplace. It is no secret that women shoulder a disproportionate amount of household and childcare responsibilities, that women are more likely to take time off following childbirth and that women in leadership work against the grain of a traditionally male-centric position. This means, in many ways, that women have to be able to advocate for themselves, speak boldly, and take risks. They will be scrutinized differently and are more prone to have life outside of work interfere with work. At every turn, I see potential for women leaders to bring bravery to the table.

 

AL: How about courage and entrepreneurship? Did you find that entrepreneurs demonstrate a particular type of courage?

 

RBD: I am particularly fascinated by entrepreneurship.  I have a hunch that those who have an entrepreneurial spirit are actually genetically wired a bit different and are more prone to be extroverted and risk taking. To make the leap into starting up a business, I believe that people also have to be possessed of a certain degree of optimism and self-confidence. It is an interesting case where multiple strengths might converge to create a new meta-strength (let’s just label it “entrepreneurialism”). I think we can learn much from small business owners and those who jump from start-up to start-up. They likely have a very high tolerance for uncertainty and a very high level of confidence that they can handle new situations and even small mistakes and failures. I think the entrepreneurial mindset is a terrific test case for courage.

 

AL: Based on your findings, do you think anyone can develop the courage to be an entrepreneur?

 

RBD: I would like to be able to say “yes, anyone can develop courage.” Even the sub-title of my book is “How science can make you braver.” I do believe that - that people have the ability to overcome personal limitations and learn skills around emotion management and other techniques that can make one braver. I might stop short at claiming we can turn someone into an entrepreneur though. Entrepreneurs happen to have a values-based mission that makes taking a risk seem worthwhile. They tend to have an optimistic disposition such that they believe that their idea will become a success. Finally, they have a huge tolerance for uncertainty and can thrive in an anxious state that causes other people to freeze up. Rather than trying to radically transform someone into an entrepreneur I would recommend the strengths strategy that I have often heard from Capp: collaboration and complementary strengths partnerships. If a person is weak in one area, I believe they can counteract this weakness by collaborating with someone for whom it is a natural strength. That is, generally speaking, a good message about courage. Courage need not be an individual phenomenon. We tend to be a little braver and a little less inhibited when we are in groups and when we get support.

 

AL: Finally, a big question for us to conclude with, what would you like to see people achieve with courage in the 21st century?

 

RBD: I love this question! I think of courage as being the shortest route to the good life. I think a full and engaged life includes risks and even occasional small failures. In the coming years we will collectively be faced with a number of challenges related to the environment, the structure of capitalism, and ethnic, religious and political conflicts. I believe that it is courage that allows individuals, groups and communities to stand up and demand change, to work for reform, and to make the big changes. I think the courageous leaders of successful movements, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., are terrific examples of how we have to be willing to take personal risks to make worthwhile change.

 

Thank you, Robert. As regular readers of The Capp Blog will be aware, Robert has been a diligent responder to your comments and questions. Please let us know any more by using the Comment box below!

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Do You Have What it Takes to be an Entrepreneur?

Posted by: Alex Linley

 

In November last year I was honoured to give one of the keynote addresses at the Ideas on Stage Conference in Paris, an event at the interface of innovation, communication and entrepreneurship, where many of Europe’s leading technology start-ups and incubators were to be found.

 

The topic I had been asked to speak about was one that is very close to my heart: entrepreneurship, and more specifically, what it takes from a psychological perspective to succeed as an entrepreneur.  I argued that there are three themes that distinguish an entrepreneur from the general population. My talk was illustrated with the strengths that enable this, together with examples of famous entrepreneurs who demonstrated these strengths.

 

First, successful entrepreneurs see a different future to the rest of us. Entrepreneurs have a compelling vision of how the world can be different, which they then set about making happen. The entrepreneurial strengths at work here include how they see the future (Strategic Awareness, think Meg Whitman of eBay and now HP fame), how they invent the future (Innovation, think Steve Jobs, need I say more?!), or about how they challenge the future (Counterpoint, think Jeff Bezos of Amazon, renowned for taking an 8-year view on how things will shape out over time).

 

Second, these entrepreneurs are driven to do something about the different future they see. It’s one thing to have an idea, quite another to act on it. There are different strengths that inspire entrepreneurs in different ways, for different reasons. It might be the drive inside you (Drive, as exemplified by Martha Lane Fox of lastminute.com renown), the drive to win (Competitive, think Larry Ellison of Oracle), or the drive to make a difference (Mission, as shown by Camila Batmanghelidjh of Kids Company). Whatever the source, you need something that gives you the get-up-and-go to get started and get things done.

 

This leads us to the third theme. Entrepreneurs take action and execute. In entrepreneurship, execution is everything.  This execution comes through being prepared to take a risk (Adventure, which Richard Branson demonstrates in his escapades as well as his businesses), to take the opportunity (Connector, as demonstrated by Loic Le Meur, founder of the superb Le Web conference – coming to London on 19-20 June this year), or simply to take action (Action, think Lord Alan Sugar of Amstrad and subsequently The Apprentice fame).

 

Critically, though, it isn’t any one of these strengths that makes the entrepreneurial difference, it’s how they are combined. And not just how they combine in any one person, but how the entrepreneur deliberately combines them in his or her team t0 build a great company that will deliver success.

 

As such, I argued in my presentation that the greatest strength of all was in knowing your own strengths, knowing the strengths of others, and then using this knowledge to build a great complementary team that leverages the collective capability of its members.

 

As the late, great Peter Drucker wrote 45 years ago in The Effective Executive, “the unique purpose of organization is to make strength productive”. It is exactly this that the greatest entrepreneurs do so well.

 

What do you think? Do these three themes capture entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship? Should we add Bounceback and Resilience as a fourth theme? What have your entrepreneurial experiences and observations taught you? Share your comments on The Capp Blog.

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Are you an entrepreneurial leader?

Delighted to share my recent interview with Natalie Cooper of Changeboard on this topic, available from this link – Are you an entrepreneurial leader?

The interview talks about the agenda for HR in the boardroom, the role of role models in these times when leadership is often compromised and called into question, and the personality strengths of great entrepreneurs – together with what you can do in practice to make the most of your talent, potential and innovation across your company. I hope you enjoy it.

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