GREAT LEADERS

12 Words That Will Change Everything You Think About Entrepreneurship

Are you a true entrepreneur at heart? This short definition could help you find out.
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There's a definition of entrepreneurship that has changed how I think about the way people choose their paths in life. It helped me to build a thriving business and find all kinds of great new experiences. Heck, it even helped me to meet my wife.

I believe it can have the same kind of positive impact for you, if you're willing to try to put it into practice:

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.

That's the 12-word definition of entrepreneurship that they teach at Harvard Business School. I first read it while researching my 2010 book, The Intelligent EntrepreneurI remember staring at it on the page and feeling like a boy noticing girls for the first time: There's something really interesting here, but I know there's a lot more to it than I currently understand.

I'd like to break the definition down for you, because it not only gives insight into why people like you are so drawn to the idea of starting and building something, it will also improve the likelihood that you'll be successful. (As a quick aside, seeing that definition in another of my books is what originally led me to meet Inc.'s editor-in-chief, Eric Schurenberg. A column he wrote about it became the most-read article in the history of Inc.com at that time.)

1. "Entrepreneurship..."

Let's start with the word itself: Entrepreneurship. It's an unusual word--a noun with few true synonyms. (Believe me, as someone who writes about entrepreneurship all the time, that lack of real synonyms can be a real pain in the neck.) It's not simply a matter of being a boss or a leader or owning a business. In fact, as we'll see, there's nothing intrinsic at all in this definition about business, or risk, or even making money. It's something different--a way of looking at the world.

2. "...is the pursuit of opportunity..."

There are two key words here: pursuit and opportunity.

"Pursuit" means there has to be action involved (hence, my reader-inspired decision this year to change the name of my column to Action Required). You have to have impact; you have try to change something. Simply thinking about an idea doesn't cut it, and neither does coasting along doing what you've always done.

Similarly, a true entrepreneur is always pursuing "opportunity." That means something new, bigger, nicer, better, smarter, more useful. Moreover, it often also means pursuing the most amazing, appealing, enticing opportunities you can find.

Here's where we really start to differentiate true entrepreneurs from everyone else. There are a lot of good people out there running very nice businesses. However, if they're not chasing new opportunities--if they're coasting along, doing what they've always done--then maybe they've given up the mantle of true entrepreneurship.

3. "...without regard to resources currently controlled."

This might just be my favorite phrase in the world. I suppose if Harvard Business School had wanted to make the definition more accessible, they could have said "regardless of" instead of "without regard to," but no matter.

"Without regard to resources currently controlled" means it doesn't matter how little you have at the start. It doesn't matter that you don't have money, or that you don't have all the required skills, or that you don't have a team to help you. At the very beginning especially, reach for the stars. Don't let the opportunities you pursue be limited by the assets you currently have. Instead, let the attractiveness of the opportunity serve as your guide.

There are so many implications of this part of the definition. For one thing, while capital is a necessary ingredient, the truth is that all of those would-be entrepreneurs out there who blame a lack of money for their inability to get started are playing the wrong game. In fact, there's an advantage to not having money at the start, because that scarcity forces you to be more resourceful. It means you have to sell your ideas to others--a possibly painful exercise, but one that pays huge dividends in the long run.

Here's the bottom line: For just about any decision you have to make in life, there are two ways to make choices.

Most people choose the first method of decision making. They look at the array of options that seem reasonably attainable, and then pick the best one. They choose a career because it's what their parents advised, or because there are jobs available. They live somewhere because it's what they're familiar with. They surround themselves with the kinds of people they've always known.

The true entrepreneur, however, sees things differently. Instead of choosing the best available option, he or she thinks big, and tries to identify the best possible solution, regardless of whether it seems completely implausible and unattainable. Then, he or she gets to work, trying to make that impossible dream a reality.

If you choose the first path, you might save yourself a lot of heartache, and a lot of ups and downs on the roller coaster of life. However, you also run a greater risk of achieving your goals only to find you didn't push yourself enough. Which path will you choose?

Want to read more, make suggestions, or even be featured in a future column? Contact me and sign up for my weekly email.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Apr 24, 2014

BILL MURPHY JR. | Columnist

Bill Murphy Jr. is a journalist, ghostwriter, and entrepreneur. He is the author of Breakthrough Entrepreneurship (with Jon Burgstone) and is a former reporter for The Washington Post.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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