IWD2019: entrepreneurs don’t just start in the garage

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At a dinner recently, I was told no one working in a large bank - or any large corporate for that matter - could be an entrepreneur. Or even behave in an entrepreneurial manner.


“Being an entrepreneur is not what you do, it’s how you think and achieve - it’s an attitude, a mindset.”


It’s not an uncommon view. But when I think back to all those occasions in my banking career when I’ve had to ‘do more with less’ or improvise on the fumes of an oily rag, I feel confident it’s wrong.


Being an entrepreneur is not what you do, it’s how you think and achieve - it’s an attitude, a mindset.


After recently taking a taxi from the airport rank (I normally use Uber), it struck me how traditional and professional the taxi driver was. This, after all, was his profession. The Uber drivers I have had in the last couple of months, on the other hand, were very different.


It’s not that they were all very chatty, many taxi drivers are too. But as soon as I told them my own profession, they immediately shared with me their multiple business ventures, ideas and aspirations. Their Uber gig was either supporting, fuelling or gap-filling until their venture came to fruition.


Driving was a means to an end, not an end in itself.


One gentleman told me of his divorce, where he had had to leave his business to his ex-wife - he was starting afresh with a new business idea. Another young driver was working on a plan to launch a virtual property investment - never seen before as far as he knew. The next had just purchased his first transport vehicle to launch his tourism business on the Mornington Peninsula. When I asked about the already healthy competition in this space and area, he laughed and talked about tourist growth statistics, existing competition and his service differentiation. My most recent Uber driver had successfully opened a pizza franchise and was now branching into a kebab franchise. 


Each one of these drivers is an entrepreneur.


They are starting up businesses, facing into failure, hopefully learning from it and keeping going until they hit their formula of success (of course, not always). They’re willing to work multiple jobs in order to keep their aspiration alive.


Research shows increasingly many entrepreneurs use a second job as their “equity” for a new venture where in the past they may have mortgaged their house. The very nature of the gig economy meets their entrepreneurial needs.


That dinner discussion reminded me of the characteristics I had seen in my Uber drivers.


So can those qualities, that mindset, exist in a large bank or corporate?  I can categorically say they do. For one, I know bank colleagues who have shifted to part-time to free up time for a start-up business.


I can identify six core and very rich traits I would associate with being entrepreneurial. Moreover, they are also fundamental to one’s very survival in any large organisation - if you are going to succeed in spite of the bureaucracy and deep administrative burden such organisations run on.

The ABCs of being an entrepreneur


Action orientated – don’t wait for the perfect plan to be etched and signed off in triplicate; do more with what is available, always add value.


Balanced – don’t be blindly in love with your own idea at all costs; identify risks and work to mitigate them (not necessarily avoid them).


Challenge the status quo - question “it’s the way it’s always been done around here”; be motivated by and proactively seek challenges - there’s always a solution to be found by creatively leveraging relationships, resources or more frequently today, digital innovation.


Embrace Change - constantly evolve and learn in response to feedback and internal and external changes; be flexible enough to make shifts in order to arrive at the right outcome.


Curious - learn from failure by having a growth mindset; learn on the job, growing experience and commercial nous along the way.


Collaborate - find the right person or team with the blend of skills needed to solve the problem and meet the need; inspire and influence others to gain support – particularly for something that has a larger purpose beyond yourself and your immediate business.

Each of these six characteristics can be true of anyone, in or outside of the workplace. Large corporate or small start-up. 


The opposite of an entrepreneur is an order taker, fulfilling what they’ve been asked or instructed to do. That is by no means to put down those people: large organisations require people who will conscientiously execute and deliver. 


The word which I think sums up entrepreneurial qualities is ‘creativity’. My Uber drivers had it and so do many working inside the labyrinths of large corporates.

Mental agility


If developing the entrepreneurial attitude is an area you’d like to work on further, a good place to start might be understanding and honing your growth mindset.


After studying the behaviour of thousands of children, Carol Dweck coined the terms “fixed” and “growth” mindset to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. When students believe they can get smarter, they understand effort makes them stronger. Therefore they put in extra time and effort, and that leads to higher achievement.

Are you an action oriented collaborator who is comfortable with the ambiguity that surrounds constant change; do you unearth the risks that can prevail and work to mitigate them; are you keen to find solutions to problems faced in the everyday and learn as you go along, especially when things do not go according to plan or fail altogether? 


If you are, you can proudly call yourself an entrepreneur already - and you don’t even need an Uber license!


Sarah Dunn is Head of Group Services, Australia at ANZ


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