Are You an Entrepreneur at Heart?

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I was one of forty people sitting around a very large wooden conference table in a very large beige colored conference room. It was an internal room, so there were no windows. No natural light, just that awful, harsh florescent light of industrial ilk. It was called the Executive Conference Room, but it felt like a Soviet era interrogation facility. Not exactly a welcoming space for new ideas.

It didn’t go unnoticed that the walls were padded. I suspected the padding was to allow people to hang things and easily remove them without tearing unsightly holes in the drywall, but that didn’t stop me from commenting on the sanity of our executive team.

We were meeting to “ideate” solutions to break through our years-long stagnant growth pattern.

The leader of our division blurted out the name of someone sitting at the table. It was that person’s time to offer up a solution. There was nothing special about his approach. He just said, “Do you have any ideas?”

One by one, the smart, well-educated people around the table would proudly describe their revolutionary idea. And one by one we heard a familiar, regurgitated suggestion from the past… tweaked ever so slightly.

Our leader was growing frustrated. No one was offering anything new. There were no transformational ideas, just the slow and painful death of a thousand incremental cuts.

I was the last to go. Not because the leader wanted to save the best for last, but rather because he assumed that he would dismiss my idea outright and he could quickly end the meeting.

The solution was obvious. It was big and scary, but obvious. So, I said it… the idea never spoken: “We’ve been going left for a long time with the same ole sluggish results, why not try going right?”

I was that guy. The why guy. “Why don’t we try this….” The one always looking to challenge the status quo. The one with the big ideas that nobody wanted to execute. I was the nail that stuck out and I was constantly getting pounded down.

There was a silence in the room that seemed to last forever. I could see the wheels spinning in our leader’s bald head. He was thinking of all the ramifications of doing a complete 180-degree turn. Then he abruptly adjourned the meeting.  

And nothing ever changed.

That describes my corporate experience in a nutshell. Very few people were willing to try new ideas and approaches, even when they suspected it was the right thing to do.

Because failure is not an option. At least, that’s what I was told, time after time after time.

That never made any sense to me. Failure is not only an option, it’s part of the process. Everyone has heard that Thomas Edison “failed” at 1,000 attempts to invent the light bulb before coming up with his famous solution. But, try telling your boss that you are going to fail 1,000 times before successfully completing your project. See how that goes.

I always looked at it differently. Anyone who has traveled internationally can relate to this analogy. Finding a solution is like taking a journey. Even when you know your destination and have carefully planned every detail, there will be obstacles in the path. Every single time.

The destination in this analogy is a goal.

I guess I was comfortable with taking ambiguous paths because achieving the goal was more important to me than the pain or embarrassment of a temporary setback. There have always been and there will always be problems, difficulties and mishaps. That’s life. Figure it out.

It’s not about winning every battle, it’s about winning the war.

So, I found little ways to innovate while working for others. I’d break silly rules and frequently color outside the lines, but only to get around obstacles to my projects and achieving company goals. And I was able to achieve great things while “going rogue.”

It began with small projects, but over time I took on bigger and bigger and bigger undertakings. I was the guy who could get things done, but my way was often unconventional. It could be messy.

My victories were always celebrated, but with a hint of consternation. My bureaucratic superiors were giving me just enough rope to hang myself, but I was using it to lasso bulls.

Then one day, after the completion of a massively successful new product introduction, they had had enough. My greatest achievement was also my coup de grâce. The very people who benefited from my success resented my approach. I was forced out the door.

And it turned out to be a blessing.

I had always been a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. But that last project was the culmination and result of years of personal growth. I knew more about myself at that moment than ever before.

  • I am independent.
  • I am creative.
  • I am a problem solver.
  • I am action oriented.
  • I am willing to take calculated risks.
  • I am willing to fail as long as I learned from it.
  • I understand that change is opportunity.
  • I want to stand out and make a difference.
  • I want control over my own destiny.

These are the hallmarks of an entrepreneurial mindset.

I left corporate America and I opened my own business. There have been challenges and obstacles, ups and downs, good times and bad, but I’ve never ever regretted becoming an entrepreneur. These have been the happiest years of my life.

If this sounds like you… maybe you are an entrepreneur, too. Maybe it’s time to take control of your life.

Breaking eggs is fun, and omelets are delicious. 

Ken Taylor