The 10 Commandments of Impractical Entrepreneurship
Had lunch yesterday with my friend the speechwriter Brian Jenner and he gave me his outline of a talk he was doing in Oxford this Friday called the 10 Commandments of impractical entrepreneurship! Absolutely brilliant, and he gave me permission to share these ideas with readers now in my blog.
The first commandment of impractical entrepreneurship is thou shall not be afraid. This is really important. With books like ‘Fear the fear and do it anyway’ we know that fear is a huge factor in adult life; indeed sometimes it might be said to be the root problem that we all have. Brian reminds us of God’s most common exhortation in the Bible, which is: ‘Fear not’ or ‘Don’t be afraid’. God says this some 80 times and more than any other piece of advice. Thus spiritual wisdom aligns with business sense: the kingdom of heaven like entrepreneurial bliss is for those who conquer their fear. We have to overcome fear if we’re going to be able to achieve anything in life.
Commandment number two is: Thou doesn’t need to have a job! We are, certainly the UK, conditioned into the idea of thinking that education is all about finally getting a job that will solve all our problems and make us happy. This is really just a fixed idea which is not helpful, and furthermore many people don’t even enjoy their jobs, so seeing the ‘job’ as our inevitable future may be irrelevant. Jobs and the job’s mentality can often lead to endless and unsatisfying activity; whereas creating your own business can more easily lead to purposeful goals and real service.
The third commandment is Thou shalt try things out. You cannot discover profound and useful things unless you do things other people don’t do; you need to experiment and need to innovate, and unless we do we won’t get anywhere. It was Drucker who said that only two things made money for a business: marketing and innovation. So trying things out is really important.
Fourth, Thou shalt accept failure. Accepting failure in the right way is the potential catalyst for learning. The famous Edison story tells how he perfected 10,000 ways how not to make a light bulb before he went on to establish how he could do it. Sometimes to it very difficult to distinguish between success and failure. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter observed, ‘Everything looks like failure in the middle. In nearly every change project doubt is cast on the original vision because problems are mounting and the end is nowhere in sight’. It’s only with hindsight we realise the problem is a necessary part of the solution; so it’s important not to get demoralised by what appears to be failure at some point during the process.
Then most interestingly, Brian shared the Fifth commandment: Thou shalt not give anything away for free. He had established from Rabbinical sources that ‘free comes from the demonic’ – at least in business. Ephron offers to give Abraham the burial site for Abraham’s dead wife, Sarah, but Abraham insists on paying him the “full price”. The truth is that creative people don’t charge enough for their services. An astounding example of this came recently in the statistics for authors in the UK: their average earnings in 2013 were just over £11K per year, down from just over £15K in 2005. Criminal or what?
Thou shalt account for every penny, commandment number six. This shows a healthy respect for money and actually values its value.
Commandment number 7 is Thou shalt move with the times. Yes, how profound is that? How organisations do you know that use old ideas, old methodologies, old technology, and wonder why they are becoming less and less competitive? If an organisation or business isn’t growing then it’s dying.
Thou shalt not sacrifice thyself. This is the timely commandment number 8. We see it all the time, don’t we? The entrepreneur that mistakes stubborn stupidity for savvy persistence. Some ideas need to be abandoned as soon as it is clear that they are not going to work. But we get attached to ideas and won’t let them go; we sacrifice ourselves, re-mortgage the house and even our relationships, on the altar of some flawed idol that is never going to deliver. The counter to this is good information and accurate intelligence.
At number 9 we have: Thou shalt learn some psychology. Brian Jenner recommends Robert Cialdini’s famous book, Influence, and so do I. Getting to Yes is also another classic in the same mould. But without understanding people, we may not be quite dead in the water, but the swim is going to be one hell of a harrowing experience; but if we understand people and can get them alongside us, then we really will gain leverage and buoyancy.
Finally, Brian recommends as his tenth commandment: Thou shalt walk away. This of course is one of the key negotiation principles of Getting to Yes. But you will experience indifference, opposition and competition to your ideas and sometimes the best option is to walk away rather than confront these negative situations. As they say in martial arts, What you resist persists, and letting go can be much effective and harmonious.
So ten brilliant commandments, all with plenty of meat round them. But as I said to Brian as we sat there, he with his coffee and me with my mint and ginger, ‘There’s one missing commandment, Brian’. So here is James’ extra bonus.
Commandment number 11: Thou shalt have a story – for the story will excite and energise, the story will create friends and allies, and the story will expand all our horizons and possibilities. And Brian, the story will let us all understand what is going on and why!
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