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Entrepreneur or Entrepreneurial?

A few weeks ago, we were talking about the holiday work schedule and my daughter asked me if I was as lucky as dad to get the week off between Christmas and New Year’s. I smiled at the nuance of her question that she was oblivious to: As an entrepreneur, I now get to make that call rather than having someone else dictate it.

I’m surrounded by budding entrepreneurs – at least partly because I live on the outer edges of Silicon Valley. “Follow your passion,” we hear. “There’s no feeling like being your own boss.” Couple that with the cool factor of Shark Tank and never ending pitch competitions, why would you want to go work for the big corporate chieftain when you could be the decision maker, dress the way you want, and do something you truly care about?

Perhaps, I’m a little out of step because “Startups aren’t cool anymore,” but as someone who’s spent their career in both corporate America and startup worlds, I can confidently say that either can be a great choice – but that greatly depends on what’s important to you and your own set of skills.

When considering the skills needed to thrive in the workforce of the future, it’s interesting that the so-called entrepreneurial mindset is very much at the center. This reinforced an interesting read on the future of work co-authored by Dell. A few eyebrow raisers:

  • Today’s students will have 8-10 jobs by the time they’re 38
  • Freelancers are expected to make up 50% of the workforce by 2020 (that’s not a typo)
  • 85% of the jobs today’s students will be doing in 2030 haven’t yet been invented (that’s quite an increase from the World Economic Forum’s 2016 forecast)

When they boiled all of the expected changes down, here’s what they forecast this means for each of us:

“…the set of attitudes often associated with entrepreneurs—vision, perseverance, creative problem-solving—will be a critical trait for all workers to employ. The ability to take a measured approach to balancing the big picture objectives of the organization with an entrepreneur’s drive to design workarounds and circumvent constraints will differentiate the humans from the machines. In other words, the skills traditionally employed by entrepreneurs will be fundamental for all workers.”

So perhaps it’s less about where you exercise your entrepreneurial skills and more about making sure you develop them. Neither the corporate world nor startups are for everyone. My corporate experience taught me about process, leadership fundamentals, people development, how to handle conflict, and the very tangible value of diverse perspectives. And I learned about effective and efficient decision making along with collaboration and prioritization. On the other hand, my startup experience taught me the value of making educated decisions with imperfect information, creativity, on-the-job learning and the power of fast failure. I learned that too many resources can actually slow things down and that useful insights can come from surprising places.

Here, then, is the point: Cultivate the skills of an entrepreneur. Then know yourself well enough – your own values, interests and strengths – to assess whether a role in a company or self-starting as an entrepreneur is likely to fit. Either can work – depending on what’s true for you. Or as my dad used to say, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

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