Entrepreneurship at its core is about creativity and newness. We often look to and write about great entrepreneurs in history such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs. The list is practically endless, and entrepreneurialism is alive and well. When you look beyond successful individuals, there is one group that continues to stand out that exemplifies entrepreneurial spirit: our military troops.
On Veteran's Day, I want to share an amazingly simple--but extremely important--example of this in practice. In late November 1950, the U.S. and its United Nations allies were outnumbered by more than two to one against enemy soldiers during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War.
The conditions at Chang Jin (often referred to as "Chosin") were nearly unbearable, with temperatures dropping to nearly -30 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit). At some point a call was put out for "Tootsie Rolls," which was the code name for mortar shells. The only way supplies could be delivered was through an airdrop; upon opening the boxes the soldiers found that actual Tootsie Rolls were dropped. Yes, candy.
Thousands of Tootsie Rolls filled the crates that were dropped. Someone had taken the request for Tootsie Rolls literally, and did not realize that it was mortars that were needed. Instead of despairing, the troops immediately put their entrepreneurial prowess to work to determine how they could leverage what was at their disposal. Remember, entrepreneurship is not just about business--it's about innovation.
With such extreme cold, it was very difficult to heat their food, which was frozen solid. The service members quickly realized that they could warm the Tootsie Rolls with their bodies, giving them an edible source of calories. Moreover, they soon found another use for the candy. When it was warmed it became pliable, but would quickly freeze. As a result they were able to use the Tootsie Rolls as a type of weld that was used to patch bullet holes in vehicles, hoses, and other equipment.
The North Korean and Chinese militaries were seeking the complete annihilation of the UN troops, which did not happen. The spirit, ingenuity, and entrepreneurialism of the "Chosin Few" allowed the troops to inflict immense casualties and break through the enemy lines.
Most entrepreneurs will never have unlimited resources or capital; most will not even have a revolutionary product or service. What they all do have, though, is their entrepreneurial creativity. Sometimes the best solutions involve using what you have. In the case of these Marines it was simply Tootsie Rolls.
With people making millions--and even billions--of dollars quicker than ever with new enterprises, it's easy to forget what entrepreneurship is about. It's not just about money. It's about creativity. It's about spirit and passion. In extreme cases such as Chosin, the stakes are even higher: successful entrepreneurship is the difference between life and death; it's about survival. Like any successful business entrepreneur, service members have a unique set of qualities that allow them to be successful in so many endeavors.
Today, remember and thank our veterans. Better yet, hire a veteran--you will get a great contributor, innovator, and leader.