About three months ago I witnessed a discussion-turned-altercation between an entrepreneur and employee via social media. The bone of contention had to do with which mindset is better. At the end of the conversation the employee hastily unfriended the entrepreneur. Yes, it was that bad. What makes an individual choose either path? Nature? Nurture? Is one mindset indeed better over the other? And, is this mindset immutable, or can the forces of change shift either employee or entrepreneur to morph into the other?
First, let us visit a stereotypical vista of both contenders:
Stereotype I: In one corner, we have the Entrepreneur, hot on her feet, brain going a mile a nanosecond, maybe hustling in uncharted territory with sharks, Ramen noodles being the staple of the hour until that golden door opens to YES. The Angel Investor and the VC then say, “We believe in you, and will nurture you to fulfill this fantastic vision for the good of technology and mankind once you give up equity and maybe your first born child.”
Stereotype II: In the other corner, we have the Employee, heavyweight with experience, structure and ordered chaos. Inordinate amount of hours and reporting along a chain of command, hopefully with a salary and benefits to suit his level of education and day in day out effort. The schedule is grueling, the competition steep, and he may not see much of his first born. But once he does his job everyone can eat.
Are these two worthy contenders so different that they now turn out to be vehement opponents? What makes one the creator and the other the manager of the creation? Second, let us examine some defining factors.
Here we make reference not to personality type A or B or AB: these types can be found in any business situation. In my experience, the most outstanding trait would be the attitude to and willingness to comply with the status quo. Almost all successful entrepreneurs who begin business from concept to development felt a compelling need to disrupt the status quo, even if that meant dropping out of school and creating business in a basement. Whereas I have found that the most successful employees who are corporate executive material are comfortable with hierarchy and chain of command. The best employees enjoy having a senior or Board to report to, enjoy performance measurements, and enjoy formal professional development of themselves and their juniors. This trait might be attributed heavily to nature but influenced by nurture.
Entrepreneurs generally have a broad view of business opportunity. For example take Sir Richard Branson and the Virgin Group: from music, to airlines, to space travel, it’s all covered, and successfully so. It did not matter to Richard Branson whether he had formal training in any of the business areas. What initially mattered was his passion for the product, the burning need to improve and conquer it.
On the other side we have the top-notch executive such as Sheryl Sandberg, current COO of Facebook and pioneer of the Lean In Movement. Sheryl Sandberg has had a decidedly successful professional track from her high school days in North Miami Beach, to Harvard University, the World Bank, McKinsey & Company, Google and ultimately, Facebook. Her professional track was specific and streamlined to be an instrumental decision maker in the corporate and governmental realm. The key here is to know yourself: to know where your strengths lie.
Payment comfort level:
Entrepreneurs know that initial revenue and income can be sporadic and non-linear in the early days. Even running a well known franchise is not for the faint of heart when it comes to immediate payout. The risk/reward equation for a successful entrepreneur is almost quantum in nature. This factor tends to make or break the entrepreneur: the relationship to money and the willingness to lose a structured approach to money (not pricing, but income) from inception to later stage.
Employees who hold specific positions whether in corporate, government or non-profit institutions have the ability to quantify and negotiate salaries and wages based on industry trends, professional experience and education. There is a constant rhythm to compensation which by and large is very important in a society that is run mainly on quantitative structure. This payment comfort level makes it easier to measure one’s personal and professional goals way into long-term planning, and gives a strong foundation to salary negotiation.
Path of circumstance:
This factor is very sensitive at best, and deals mainly with the professional-type individual who is perfect human capital for corporate or institutional inclusion, but may find themselves uneasily in the role of entrepreneur. Over the past three decades structural unemployment and corporate downsizing have left many professionals unemployed. If one does not have the natural inclination towards self-employment, then entrepreneurship may be quite difficult. Indeed, this is a problem we are facing in many countries with stable to declining growth. This factor needs further exploration in of itself.
Third, let us get some additional expert thought leadership on the matter. I gained great insight into the employee/entrepreneur mindset via Do You Think Like An Employee Or An Entrepreneur? by Liz Strauss. Here are the most salient differences which Strauss directly proposes:
1. An employee thinks about the work as the business.
2. An entrepreneur knows the business supports the work.
3. An employee supports a solid structure as foundational to the business.
4. An entrepreneur sees a fluid process as core to the business.
5. An employee is a doer first.
6. An entrepreneur is a [visionary] planner first.
7. An employee sees “business controls and necessities” as other people’s work.
8. An entrepreneur uses “business controls and necessities,” to track and manage the work.
9. An employee focuses on what is his or her responsibility.
10. An entrepreneur focuses on interconnected responsibilities.
In my opinion, while some of the points above can relate to both parties given different industries, I agree with points 3. and 4. above. One of the most fundamental differences between a corporate employee and a burgeoning entrepreneur is the need for or rejection of existing structure.
I believe that the battle between employee and entrepreneur is a Fightclub scenario: the self against its alter ego. If so, does it mean that one contender must be blown to bits, or can there be a merge, a creation of a well rounded employee-preneur? In truly disruptive industries (tech, tech, and tech) we have the emergence of an ‘intrapreneur’. The intrapreneur is an employee who may be deemed as an unplanned entrepreneur-in-residence in a corporate setting. The visionary employee who accepts the current structure but effects change from within. And of course we have a successful history of corporate-bred executives who do extremely well at franchises, or at shaping startups from the Board level. So, there is overlap in mindset and capabilities!
This overlap hints at a more symbiotic than dualistic relationship between entrepreneur and employee. With great reason! Both roles will always be necessary for progress in business and in society. We need the pioneering, risk acceptant energy of the entrepreneur to be balanced with the very grounded and structured focus of the employee for business continuity, growth and expansion. So, let us put the boxing gloves aside and collaborate.
Yours in Progress, AFK
About the Author: Astrid F. Kowlessar has 15+ years of formal strategic planning, governance, and project development expertise.She is passionate to obsession about emerging markets. Astrid believes that training and education with an entrepreneurial dimension along ALL lines of the value chain is essential for growth. She believes fervently in the restructuring of corporations and of governments to ensure a higher level of transparency and participation. She is a proponent of women in business, having come from a long line of business women. She is a strong Klout Influencer, a philanthropic socialite with a taste for Haute Cuisine, Haute Horlogerie, Haute Fashion and Exotic Automotives.
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