Engaging Entrepreneurs in Your Projects

From Pasotraspaso

What is the definition of an entrepreneur? Although that question has been debated for decades by scholars no consensus has been reached. The origin of the word traces back to the 18th century when economist Richard Cantillon, in his book Essai Sur la Nature du Commerce en Général, used it to define those who were willing to assume risk in pursuit of profit. To Cantillon, one who was self-employed was an entrepreneur.

Beginning in the 1930’s the definition of entrepreneurship began to expand. Joseph Schumpeter was the fist to say entrepreneurship is not synonymous with self-employment when he defined an entrepreneur as one who did new things in creative ways. In the 1980’s Peter Drucker famously wrote how large companies are often more entrepreneurial than small ones.

Whether you view entrepreneurship as self-employment or as being an innovator regardless of whether you work for someone else or not, one thing has been clearly established in both practice and theory: Entrepreneurs think differently.

Since the vast majority of companies in the world are small businesses, many with the founder at the helm, it may help project managers to better understand the entrepreneurial mind.
Here are a few things to consider:

  • Entrepreneurs, like myself, are overwhelmingly kinesthetic learners. We represent about 5% of the population. So, make sure your project meetings are not just geared to visual and/or auditory learners (the remaining 95%).
  • Entrepreneurs possess a higher need for autonomy and control. Trying to manage entrepreneurs like everyone else will be about as successful as going to the beach and managing the seagulls. They may hear you, but they won’t listen. Give entrepreneurs the freedom to reach milestones in their own way.
  • While entrepreneurs do have a higher tolerance for risk, you’d be wrong to assume they are all risk takers. In fact, entrepreneurs generally do not view themselves as gamblers or excessive risk takers. To the contrary, they view themselves as calculated risk takers who have unique insight into their own talents and market opportunities. They also define failure differently. To most project stakeholders failure is the inability to achieve an objective. To the entrepreneur, failure is the unwillingness to try and accomplish an objective. Inability to accomplish an objective isn’t viewed as a negative but rather an essential step in the process of innovation.

Of course, if you define failure this way your view of risk is going to be radically different than the average person’s. Traditional project managers should always try to involve entrepreneurs in projects for two reasons. First, they are going to challenge you to become a better manager. They may drive you crazy, but they’ll bring passion and leadership to your team. Including entrepreneurs in projects is one of the best ways to guard against group-think.

Secondly, entrepreneurs are the artists of the business world. Where an artist can view a blank canvas and envision a masterpiece the entrepreneur can look at a project environment and see opportunities. If you want to do it faster, better and cheaper entrepreneurs are the ones you should be talking to because they do it every day.


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