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Entrepreneurs as insurgents?

Gary Schoeniger, Founder and CEO, The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative

Still a bit wrankled by Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article, “The Sure Thing,” in which he (mis)characterized entrepreneurs as “predators.” I began to search for a more accurate metaphor; one that might be negatively construed, yet more accurately describes the behavior and attitudes of successful entrepreneurs.

Here’s what I came up with: I decided that, rather than describing entrepreneurs as predators, I think a more accurate description would be to describe entrepreneurs as insurgents.

Think about it. Entrepreneurs are fueled by their ideology and determined to make a difference. Armed with little more than a laptop and cell phone, fueled by their ideology, caffeine and a few credit cards, they set out against the status quo, breaking rules and blazing trails – redefining the world as they go.

And rather than going head-to-head with their competitors, they know their limitations and learn very quickly how to take advantage of their strengths while exploiting the slightest weakness of their much larger opponents.

They are unencumbered by conformity; free of policies and procedures, the layers of management that dampen curiosity and discourage innovation and initiative. They are hungry and curious, determined and lean. They learn to become self-reliant - constantly engaged in creative solutions to the myriad of challenges they face on a daily basis. They are early adopters who build networks that enable them to communicate and keep their ears very close to the ground.

Rather than predators, entrepreneurs, like insurgents, are the quintessential underdogs, determined to make a difference in the world. And, as Mr. Gladwell will tell you, underdogs win far more often than you may realize.

Gary Hamel once remarked that “Somewhere in a basement, a garage or an apartment there is an entrepreneur forging a bullet with your company’s name on it.”

As the economy continues to shift and large organizations continue to falter, the organizational mindset that we have so carefully cultivated - the mindset that fosters obedience, order and efficiency, may blind us to opportunity and hinder our ability to succeed in this new entrepreneurial economic environment.   

And, while our military leaders are struggling to learn how to combat insurgents on the battlefield, our CEO’s might want to take a few lessons from the playbook of a successful entrepreneur in their own backyard.


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