Being an entrepreneur, a successful one at least, isn’t a one-idea, one-person, one-time kind of pursuit. However, sometimes– especially in uncertain times— even the best forget that they don’t have to try to figure things out and fix it all alone.
In interviews with more than 200 successful entrepreneurs for my first book, A Deliberate Pause: Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress, five elements stood out to me about successful entrepreneurs and what made them change catalysts. Think of these traits as a health check for your own entrepreneurship in these uncertain times.
The day-to-day tasks of scaling a venture, or defending ground gained, can cause even the best entrepreneurs to inadvertently put their head in the sand and miss the larger patterns emerging. Yet importantly, those patterns can reveal threats on the horizon, or new ideas for growth. It’s precisely why stepping back and looking for patterns must be a dedicated habit– and not just for the entrepreneur.
Being an entrepreneur is hard and all-consuming. That’s why one of the very best ways to make pattern recognition the competitive advantage it should be is to make it a cultural practice across your entire team. This can be tough, at least at first, for many entrepreneurs. Besides empowering others to come up with the ideas, it also invites recognition of the bad along with the good. But in total, the practice of looking for patterns is among the easiest and most important skills a successful team can nurture.
Seeing what’s possible isn’t enough; you have to act. In uncertain times, we do a lot of talking and a lot of worrying. What is the best action to take? What promises the best outcome with the lowest risk? Such questions aren’t irrelevant, just less relevant than we tend to treat them when times are ambiguous.
Taking action matters more, and it’s the entrepreneur who enables (or precludes) that, in themselves, but also in others. Are you acting as a catalyst in this way? Evaluate the ways you incentivize your team to take action. We’re talking about novel action here, not just following orders. Of course you want any act to have a premise and a plan behind it, but inevitably it’s taking the action that matters most.
It’s embedded in the first two points above, but let’s be more explicit: as the entrepreneur, as a catalyst, your most important job is to motivate and move others forward to be leaders in their own right. In other words, going it together doesn’t just mean being surrounded by a bunch of followers.
Activating others is about giving others the room, incentive, and power to actually lead–with their own ideas, drawn from the patterns they see, and through their own, often independent actions. It takes the many, not the heroic few, to navigate ambiguous waters and deliver entrepreneurial success repeatedly.
Value Creation and Transfer
No matter what your industry or pursuit, you must create value. The best entrepreneurs know that to achieve that goal continually, they can’t create value once nor keep the benefits mostly to themselves. They have to transfer both the value and the ability to create it to the many.
Transferring value begins with activating your entire organization to conceive and pursue it. But it doesn’t stop with your organization. The value you create has to align with what the audience you make it for actually wants. That match between value and need changes constantly in uncertain times. Even in normal times, it’s far too easy to get lost in your own ideas and fail to match them to what others value and need.
Check in with how you’re doing on this front. Because when you give people something they truly value, they not only want it, but they defend it, build on it to create new forms of value, and in the process, solidify your value to them.
Uncertain times undo the best of plans. Yet entrepreneurial ventures need to be able to perform no matter how much things keep changing. That’s only possible if you know what drives you– not just in the business plan sense, or simply out of a sense of duty to partners or shareholders, but in the deeper sense of the shared purpose you and your team pursue each day. As the entrepreneur, you don’t just catalyze this from the start, you have the unique ability to keep it front and center and to make its meaning clear.
What really drives you? If you can’t answer that, consistently and across an entire culture, it’s not just hard to inspire anything worthwhile, it raises the odds that uncertainty will define you, rather than you harnessing it to create the value you seek. See patterns, take action, create value, but be sure to tie it to shared purpose. It’s the thing that catalyzes all the rest.