Entrepreneurship pushes civilisation forward. It is the driving force of human evolution and the vanguard that leads us into the future.
In the late 1800s, Nikola Tesla enabled the production and distribution of electricity, which today provides the fundamentals for our everyday lives. Alan Turing played a pivotal role in developing a machine during the Second World War that would intercept and decode Nazi messages, enabling the Allies to win pivotal battles, turning the tide of the war. Turing’s inventions would go on to be called ‘Turing Machines’ – today we call them computers.
Henry Ford had a significant impact on society when he introduced efficiencies around the manufacturing of the automobile.
Oprah Winfrey has touched billions of lives through the medium of television, telling stories that we each see ourselves in.
J. K. Rowling is credited with doing more for childhood literacy than any other person in history through her book series, Harry Potter.
And today, Elon Musk has humans landing on Mars by the year 2025, through his private space exploration company, SpaceX.
Entrepreneurship is about innovation, and innovation is certainly not limited to those who run their own business. Innovators come in all shapes and sizes, across all walks of life. An innovator is anybody who is consciously building the future. This may be driving a project, building a team, improving a process or creating anything of which you are proud. To innovate is to create something new, something that wasn’t there yesterday.
To create something truly original requires a deep sense of courage and vision. In his book Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull quotes his friend and colleague Andrew Stanton, a movie producer with Pixar Studios, as saying:
"It’s gotten to the point that we get worried if a film is not a problem child right away. It makes us nervous. We’ve come to recognise the signs of originality. We have begun to welcome the feeling of, ‘Oh, we’ve never had this exact problem before – and it’s incredibly recalcitrant and won’t do what we want it to do.’ That’s familiar territory for us – in a good way."
In this sense, those seeking to truly innovate find reassurance in the discomfort of originality.
This is not to suggest that innovation requires us to make reckless and wild decisions about what direction to take in the future. Rather, great innovation is often the result of good judgement and a calm wisdom that has been steadily acquired over many years.
This judgement comes from hard-fought experience, and that experience is the outcome of learning from the many ‘bad judgements’ made on our journey to create something new. Mastering innovation is the pursuit of a lifetime – so best to start now.
Those who strive to create new things are quickly confronted by the stark reality that we live in a world that finds comfort in doing what is tried and tested.
When your plans are not supported by data and the reassurance that evidence provides, you can find yourself being ridiculed, criticised or even completely ignored, by those who simply do not believe what you are setting out to do is plausible. They all too easily close the door on your way of thinking because it’s new, it’s unfamiliar and it challenges the rules, in which they are invested. The battle against conventional wisdom, therefore becomes the innovator’s greatest encounter.
My message is certainly not ‘everyone should start a business’ – far from it. My message is to develop a strong sense of who you are and live a life that gracefully aligns with that.
If that life resembles a more traditional path, and you have evaluated it and chosen it, as opposed to accepted it on autopilot, it must be viewed as a wise decision. It was Socrates who said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ It’s not the path itself that matters the most; it’s that it has been consciously created and is therefore a reflection of who you are.
This is how innovations are made and legacies, however big or small, are created.
As always I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this topic, let me know in the comments below: How do you define entrepreneurship? How is an entrepreneur different to a business owner?
My team and I recently developed a free audio series, The Making of a Great Entrepreneur. This course will take you through the 7 traits you need to develop to become a successful entrepreneur. You can download your series here.