Archive for June, 2013

Can a salaried college Professor who’s never run a business teach students how to become successful entrepreneurs?

photo credit: opensourceway via photopin cc

I posted the question in the title of this post on a LinkedIn group over two years ago:
“Can a salaried college Professor who’s never run a business teach students how to become successful entrepreneurs?”

The sub questions were

  • What do you think?
  • Yes or no?
  • And why?

And the responses were have been thought provoking, for example:

Being an entrepreneur requires a host of attributes- some laudable, others less so – however, one key success factor that I believes trumps them all is the ability to deal with life as it “is” as opposed to how it should be.

There was more from that individual (a successful businessman and entrepreneur himself, so worthwhile taking note of) and his response certainly made me think some more:

My initial thinking was that it would be darned hard (if not impossible) for someone to teach others how to set up and run a successful business if s/he had no personal experience of doing it.

And that was my first mistake

College profs teaching business courses don’t actually do that, do they? They don’t teach people to be successful entrepreneurs. They teach specific skills like how to write business plans, strategy, sales, marketing, networking, accountancy/ bookkeeping, and so on, that are needed in business.

Catch 22 or brilliant solutions?

I suspect the entrepreneurs are too busy ‘out there’ using their street smarts and doing deals to allocate much time to classroom learning what the profs have on offer.

The other interesting core of this clanger of mine in the original question, that the guy who first responded identified (without rubbing my nose in it!) was, I believe, “the essence of what it is to be an entrepreneur” and whether that is something that can be taught at school.

And this lead me on to ponder… There are all these psychometric tests to assess suitability for employment these days – are there any to identify potential entrepreneurs, I wonder? Or ‘natural’ franchisees? Agents? Big company employees? Small company employees? (Maybe by now, two years on, those tests do exist and provide reliable results – do you know of any? If so, please share in the comments…)

If they don’t exist there could be a market for someone smart enough to come up with good, reliable tests that could help steer people in the best direction for them. They could save an awful lot of tears, couldn’t they?

Here’s another response that should give you food for thought

I recently attended gathering at one of the local colleges for entrepreneurs. On display were “ideas” for different businesses created by the students. Some were truly amazing and with the right marketing etc, could really be a viable business opportunity…

I asked each (inventor) the same questions and got almost the same answer verbatim. I simply asked, “Are you going to pursue this after graduation as a business?” and my response was very sad: over 70 of our country’s best and brightest… and they all said NO. The reasons varied, but for the most part they all would be looking to enter the job market after graduation. So to answer your question above..the answer is NO. A college professor can NOT teach you how to be a business owner. They can put you on the path as to the logistics of owning a business. But that’s about it.

It takes internal drive and determination to be a entrepreneur, and not good grades in school.

This was intriguing…

I wondered whether these youngsters ALLOWED their creativity to take wing purely because to them it wasn’t really real – it was just a college project, they’d be getting ‘proper’ jobs so why not let their imagination get as wild and whacky as it wanted to?

So they allowed themselves to come up with a big picture ‘what’ that may have been truly unique to them, without being hampered in the early stages of the ‘how’ – something they wouldn’t normally let happen. And that‘s when the big ideas and possibilities came to them – when they weren’t limiting themselves… because it wasn’t much more than a game…

Another contribution

As a former entrepreneur now working in a teaching environment “reality” is powerful tool. Story telling is a tool I use because of the impact it has on the members in my group. I am in the business of peer to peer learning. The accumulation of the bruises on my backside is an advantage that an academic doesn’t have. I know of other former entrepreneurs in formal academic environments and I believe their students get a unique point of view.

There have been many additional comments from people who’ve taken part since… the latest, surprisingly to me, just the other day…

What are your thoughts on the subject?

The Four WP Pillars and Foundation of YOUR Business

Four WP Pillars and Foundation of Your Business

No business stands still. It either grows or atrophies. Now, there can be loads of contributing factors to your business expanding or wasting away so let’s keep it simple for now and focus on four “pillars” that I’ve dubbed “WP” and that need to be ‘right’ as they underpin any successful business.

1 Why?

This is “Why did you set up (or buy or merge your company with) this particular business?”

If the answer is purely financial opportunity, don’t be surprised if you hit obstacles as at some point that may seem insurmountable and not worth the effort/ aggro, because there will be no real underlying Passion that provides an overriding raison d’être to carry on with it through tough times. The old newspaper barons, for example, passionately fought tooth and nail to establish then keep their publications going and retain ownership through thick and thin, though very few newspapers were profitable. Instead they opened doors to segments of society, conferred standing in the community, recognition, and often a legacy – in short the things that money alone can’t buy. yet that passion got diluted/ eroded down through the generations and you be hard pushed to find a family-owned publication of any note nowadays…

2 What?

This is: “What is the Purpose of your business?”

  • What does it do uniquely or better than anybody else/ any other company, for whom?
  • Why is it needed, and by whom?
  • Why is it valued, by whom?
  • What is it worth/ what is its value to your ideal target audience?

If you can’t succinctly answer these to someone who’s never heard of you/ your company before, it’s going to be an uphill struggle to believably position yourself as anything but a commodity. And being seen as a commodity is not an even acceptable, let alone good, place to be,in anything but the most buoyant of markets – which we’re obviously NOT in currently.

3 Way?

The way is your Process.

Actually there will be several processes – creative, planning, production, sales and marketing, distribution, accounts – are just some of the many that spring to mind. And it was W Edwards Deming (he who played a huge part in getting the Japanese production industry and therefore that country’s economy off the ground after World War II) who said that a poor process will scupper any great idea or product (I’m probably mangling the quote but you get the idea). And just because a process works well to begin with, it’s by no means a ‘done deal’: you need to keep running PDCA(Plan-Do-Check-Act) against each to see how well it holds up and where/ how it can be improved.

4 Who?

This part about People is potentially multi-faceted too, and obviously includes partners, employees and suppliers amongst many more but, again let’s keep it simple and look at just two big areas:

  • Your target audience
  • Your competition

A target audience and its needs mature and markets evolve – are your offerings keeping pace with or even anticipating and meeting those needs almost or even (ideally) actually before they’re expressed? Or are you sticking with what you’ve always offered and suffering customer churn – in your case not because of bad or faulty goods or service but just because your customers have ‘outgrown’ you?

For example, much has been made in recent years of the innovations from Steve Jobs and Apple. You couldn’t have got help from a focus group with many of Apple’s creations because folk couldn’t conceive of these products’ capabilities until they were job-done (sorry, awful pun!) and laid out before them.

On the competitor side: Maybe you didn’t have much in the way of competition when you set out, or the nature of it has gradually changed. Even well established corporations can get this horrendously wrong – look at Kodak – for many, many years a tremendously successful company but boy! did it misjudge the impact of digital technology on its business… Kodak could have become part of the new wave of photography but it was too set in the way it saw itself and suffered the ultimate consequence of sticking its head i n the sand…

Change is the only constant…

…So we might as well embrace it if we want to remain in the game, enjoy it, and go for win-win-wins whenever possible. Keeping an eagle eye on the four pillars of your business means that when change starts occurring that will (or even could) threaten the growth of your business you will be able to identify the weak pillar and focus on it. Meanwhile, with the other three still strong, because of your vigilance, you should have time to adapt.

Your thoughts?

PS: See my review of “the chocolate conversation” here – A book well worth any leader/business owner reading, in my opinion :-)

We know where we want to go but not how to get there

I’ve taken the title of this post from “Abundance – the future is better than you think”, a book by Peter H Diamandis and Steven Kotler. In full this bit is:

“In many cases we know where we want to go but not how to get there. In others, we know how to get there but want to get there faster.”

It’s from a chapter on driving innovations and breakthroughs. And, to be brutally honest, any business that isn’t where it wants to go/ be needs innovation to help get it there.

Often the kick start for the breakthrough will be something that is or is perceived as a disaster:

  • The loss of a major client/ customer
  • An important sale that all your hopes were riding on doesn’t happen
  • Your prime competitor comes up with a product or service that out-produces and undercuts yours…

photo credit: Alex Osterwalder via photopin cc

Add your own as, let’s face it, the list is potentially endless. So the key is going to be how you decide to approach and handle this setback, this time. If you run your own business that’s currently facing this situation and can come up with the right sort of innovation, you’ll do it yourself. The tricky bit can be seeing the wood from the trees and working out just what the right sort of innovation would be… :-(

The smart money is on take a few deep, calming breaths and thenget help, and get it fast because you’re probably up against it now! There are books, audios, seminars, workshops, webinars – in fact endless sources of easily accessible self help nowadays. But if your focus has been totally or almost completely in your business up until now and this self help area is new to you then you may find yourself picking your way through rather a lot of trees…

My advice?

The most direct route would be to get yourself a mentor. Who do you know who has built up a successful business – recently – because ways of doing business are changing rapidly and what worked ten years ago might not today, and what worked twenty years ago is probably even less likely to be effective now. Failing that, who do you know who is personally successful, who you could learn attitudes and approaches from? Getting any necessary additional skills are the easy bit, provided you’re prepared to put in the effort to learn and apply them until they become habit.

Do yourself a favour and check you’re still on the right course before you go haring off anywhere! :-)

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