When confronted by life, we are each bound within the scope and the limits of the perspectives we have adopted and nurtured over our lives. In times of uncertainty – and Britain’s current political and constitutional environment is a useful example – we might be tempted to play it safe, pull up the drawbridge and look enviously out as others grab the opportunities we have missed. Entrepreneurs can appear to be a different kind of beast altogether – starting businesses, launching products, failing and starting again. In truth, though, we can all adopt their characteristics to change our own perspectives on life.
Start by viewing life and opportunities through the eyes of a colleague, customer, friend or even a child and you will experience something new. Entrepreneurs try and see this from their customers perspective – how would they use this product or service, how could it be useful for them and what would they think about it? This helps us to break down the cognitive or mental maps that limit idea creation.
For example the High Line, now a vibrant tourist attraction in a multicultural area of New York, used to be a derelict train track. Two ordinary New Yorkers imagined what people would enjoy and initiated a collaboration with designers, artists and business owners to transform an eyesore into a delight.
Not everyone will be able to turn wasted city train tracks into a green, sustainable park, but exploring what is possible is for everyone. Safe and familiar mental maps have been forming from childhood and need conscious rerouting. New tracks need to be laid down for new ideas to germinate.
Take the plunge. And ignore the impulse to “do things properly”. Easy to say, hard to do. But it does mark out the entrepreneurs. Much of the time fear prevents action, and the desire to have all the answers delays using intuition.
Peter Taylor, CEO and chairman of TTP Group Plc, an award winning technology and product development company based in Cambridge, said in a recent interview:
"Management is something we don’t want a lot of, it needs to be intuitive."
For an entrepreneur this means less time following processes and procedures and more time for action. Have a go and let it evolve, because the first action you take might be wrong, but you would have learned something from it.
In a world driven by metrics, entrepreneurs use their intuition when information is lacking. However, as any entrepreneur will tell you, analyse and use the detail, but don’t ignore your inner voice.
Confidence is developed by knowing what you are able to do; know yourself and know your personal strengths. And if you don’t know, adopt the entrepreneurial eagerness to learn, or “steal with your eyes and ears”. Use the intoxicating blend of knowledge and intuition to introduce some entrepreneurial flair where you need it the most.
Collaborate with others in a meaningful way. Although some may believe the entrepreneurial spirit is single-minded, many entrepreneurs appreciate the power of collective cognition or thinking together. That idea of being “in this together” is a significant entrepreneurial driver that builds trust. The spirit of co-creating with colleagues and customers, testing your theories and products and services breaks down our mental maps of how the world works.
These extrinsic behaviours and interactions start to unpick the intrinsic, sometimes unobtainable thoughts, that bind us to our own ideas about life and relationships.
Grow through the uncertainty we face. We have a choice to make in thinking about whether something is a threat or an opportunity. Faced with uncertainty, we all expend energy trying to reduce cognitive dissonance or in other words, sidestep the contradictory arguments. This conflict reduces the ability to learn.
The uncertainty that Britain faces after the EU referendum means that the speed of change around us has increased. It is understandable that deciding to be comfortable with uncertainty feels like a contradiction. But having courage and patience means that the entrepreneurial spirit is comfortable with standing on shaky ground.
Share your glory. People attribute their success to various things, but there is always more than one person that is part of the story. Within families and family businesses the entrepreneurial spirit is kept alive by sharing stories. The narrative of successes is handed down through generational story telling. Attribution theory means that we try and explain events and find reasons for how and why our life is the way it is. By sharing and attributing our successes to others, we generate a culture of belonging.
Take an hour or two to day dream. Entrepreneurial spirits have enjoyed the benefits of this as part of their lives in work and play. It is essential that we are allowed to dream in order to create, allowing the neural networks in the brain to make connections or connect the dots.
This might feel like a waste of time, mostly because the education system discourages gazing out of classroom windows. However, because of the ability of the brain to continually change itself throughout your life, letting your mind wander provides it with fertile ground. Answers to questions are found and new ideas created. Immerse yourself in a walk by the seaside and the grey matter in your brain has more food for thought without you having to do any work.
Put it all together and what do you get? Well maybe others will soon be wondering why it’s you who seems to be grasping all the opportunities.