The other day a good friend and coworker of mine coordinated an international rescue from her phone in our Atlanta office. The emergency? A boyfriend lost and dazed in a Hong Kong airport at two in the morning. The unlikely hero? A local Uber driver who circled this airport, searched the premises, and physically retrieved this poor guy.
This rescue was so interesting to me precisely because it has become so usual – almost expected – that our cab drivers would go to these lengths for us. After all, it’s just the latest in a series of good deeds done by the users of sharing economy platforms like Uber and Airbnb.
What is making this difference? I think it has a lot to do with the ownership and incentives of Uber drivers. They are entrepreneurs, if only on a micro scale. While they use Uber as a marketplace for their driving services, the services themselves live or die (figuratively speaking) by the value they provide for passengers.
This is how entrepreneurship* makes the world a better place. It turns out that the qualities of those who are good at creating value for customers are the same qualities of those who rescue total strangers from airports in the desolate hours of the morning.
Perhaps this means that we can forget all of the harebrained schemes for social improvement. We just need more people thinking and working like entrepreneurs. Here are some reasons to work on yourself by owning your work.
1) It takes responsibility.
Without a real feeling of ownership or personal investment in your work, it can become easy to scrape by with the minimum required output. I’m thinking, of course, of the stereotypical nine-to-five job. When challenges arise (airport rescue?), it’s very tempting to hide behind a uniform, job title, or corporation and pass them off to someone higher up the ladder.
Things change when you begin to see yourself as an entrepreneur. If your work is not delivered, it’s on you. You’re making the difficult calls and assuming risk, either financially or reputationally. This is not such a terrifying thing. Entrepreneurial work requires ultimate responsibility, but it rewards that responsibility as well. If you succeed at work you truly own, you will have earned it, and you will be remembered for it.
2) It creates generosity.
When we exchange goods and services, we create value for ourselves and others which did not exist before. This mutual benefit is one of the fundamental facts of trade, but it can easily be obscured for people who work out of obligation rather than choice, a need to satisfy managers or cultural expectations rather than a desire to exchange value with equals.
Entrepreneurial workers view business differently. They clearly see that “trade is made of win” because they are invested in what they are making and exchanging. They are aware that they are creating value because they consciously set out to do so. This value creation brings about the kind of abundance in goods and well-being that makes goodwill and acts of friendship possible, even (as in the case of our Chinese Uber driver) with people we’ve never met.
3) It rewards integrity.
A recognition and acknowledgement of realities about yourself and your work is foundational to understanding how to improve and grow. Consequently, the businesses and businesspeople who “succeed” by deceiving themselves or their customers rarely succeed for long.
Whether or not you are actually building a business, you’re always in fundraising mode for reputational capital. Someone who thinks entrepreneurially constantly keeps these questions at the forefront of her mind: “Is my word my bond? Can I deliver what I promise on time? Am I being honest with my customers and employees?” Those that can answer “yes” will find that they have a far more reliable basis for success. There’s no need to lecture yourself about personal integrity. Trade naturally favors the upright.
4) It keeps you humble.
There are few things more humbling than facing the responsibility for choosing your work, and there are few better ways to see how little you know about people than to attempt to sell something you’ve created. The feedback of the entrepreneurial experience is tied to real stakes and real value. It can be a far clearer indicator of the areas in which we are not exactly world-class than managerial reports and employee scorecards could aspire to be.
Making a a real and growing impact in your work will require you to learn how to acquire new skills, how to manage your time, how to deal with others, and how to motivate yourself. Though you’ll be thrown against some rocks along the way, its more than worthwhile to take the path of entrepreneurial learning that comes with working like an entrepreneur. You will emerge on the other end with a healthy appreciation for what you don’t know as well as a firmer grasp of what you can master.
5) It lets you see further.
Vision and imagination are not considered among the traditional virtues, and they tend to be under-appreciated in society at large. This is not so in the world of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurial thinking is the art of seeing the unseen and of identifying ways of creating value that others cannot. Entrepreneurial work is the heady experience of bringing that value into existence.
By choosing to invest your own time, reputation, and passion in your work, you will be engaging parts of your mind you may have left untapped before. When you’ve embraced this inner resourcefulness, you’ll be able to view challenges as opportunities, and you’ll find yourself trading any attitude of cynicism for one of wonder. This improvement is not limited to personal satisfaction. Most people worth knowing prefer living and working with someone interested in the world to putting up with someone bored by it.
The great news is that you don’t have to own your own business (or even drive for Uber) to start thinking and working like an entrepreneur. However you choose to get started on the entrepreneurial way, all it takes to build these virtues is a simple shift in mindset. Are you taking ownership of your work? Are you working with purpose and leaving your mark on something important to you? You will spend much of your life working. Why not improve yourself and your experience of the world in the process?
*Entrepreneurship here is not defined narrowly as the activity of founding and operating a business, but as an attitude and method of those who create value and assume some risk and responsibility for doing so. This is a broader definition, but I think that it corresponds to a real difference in approaches to working life.
James Walpole is a writer, podcaster, and startup marketer driven by the ideas of entrepreneurship, economics, and self-directed education. He writes regularly with Praxis, a ten-month program for entrepreneurial young learners who want more than college. This post was originally published on the Praxis blog under the title "Want to Become a Better Person? Start with Entrepreneurship."
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