Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Rational Entrepreneur

Usually, I don't consider myself smart enough to take on the folks at the Harvard Business Review. But this article, passed along by my good friend Barry Moltz, caught my attention. It describes entrepreneurs as being in the grip of a compulsive disease, from which most fail miserably.

You see, I've always thought of being an entrepreneur as a very sober, rational choice, while having a job seems risky and crazy to me.

Take my case. I am one of five children, all with engineering degrees. And the only one to be self-employed since my great-ancestor John Gallagher sold pots and pans from a cart in Portland, Maine in the 1800s. I've now spent more than a third of my career working for myself, most of it selling my own services (writing) or content (books, speaking, webinars, etc.).

From where I sit, I have seen so many of my friends and family members lose their jobs over the last couple of years – most after long tenures of working really hard. Good people whose only crime was making too much money, being 52 years old, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time when some executive decided to "align the company with our future strategy." Many of them had to wait months to get back to work again. And the percentage of smart people I know who have gone through this is, to me, stupefying.

Me? I don't have a job that can get whacked at any time. I have 20 or so clients. If one client or three happen to drop out, big whoop. And much of my work is booked in advance or on contracts, so it doesn't feel all that insecure to me. Plus, I rather like the boss. I even get to kiss the vice-president every day.

Perhaps this is a terminology issue. If being an entrepreneur means launching the next Silly Putty or creating a new social media paradigm, perhaps it is a disease that carries a high risk of failure. But if it means selling things people normally buy, whether it's dinner or freelance writing, I feel it's a very rational, practical, and risk-averse mindset - especially as we age.

Does that mean that I feel everyone should go out and be entrepreneurs? Nope. If the thought of living in a world of cash flow rather than paychecks makes you blanch, keep punching in with my blessings. Ditto if you love your job. And double ditto if you aren't sure what you would do and where your clients would come from.

It does mean, however, that I don't think - I'm looking at you here, Harvard - we should look at entrepreneurs like some strange species of zoo animal. I personally think we're pretty normal myself. If not a little moreso.

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