Entrepreneurship is for everybody. That may strike you as an exaggeration. “Surely not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. It takes a certain kind of person to launch and run a business. Most people are better suited to earn their livings as employees.”
This formulation of entrepreneurship is far too narrow. Everyone is the sole proprietor of an enterprise: namely your own career. You are the CEO of “You, Inc.”
- Like any entrepreneur, you have customer(s): in this case, your “employer(s).”
- Like any entrepreneur, you have a product to sell: in this case, your labor.
- Like any entrepreneur, you spend money to create, improve, and market that product. You purchase human capital-enhancing products and services from suppliers like training programs, programming books, and online course providers. You also use your labor to barter for valuable experience in the workplace. When you buy a suit for interviews, you are spending money on marketing your product.
All these costs could exceed your resulting “sales” (your additional pay), and in that case you incur losses, just like any entrepreneur. Or your sales could outstrip your costs and net you a profit.
To successfully manage your career, to truly thrive in the labor market, requires all of the character traits normally attributed to people who are “cut out” for entrepreneurship:
- a passion for value creation
- insight into and anticipation of the wants and needs of “customers” (employers)
- good judgment as to what will satisfy those wants and needs
- alertness to opportunity
- the ability to cope with uncertainty and risk
It is tragic that most people don’t think of their careers as enterprises, or of themselves as entrepreneurs. Instead they too often have an “employee mindset.” According to this mindset, all of the above qualities are only required of their entrepreneurial betters. The employee himself doesn’t need a passion for value creation; the boss decides for him how he is to create value by assigning him specific tasks. It is for the employee to dutifully perform those tasks, and that’s it.
With such a “worker drone” attitude weighing them down, too many people find themselves in a rut in their career and their lives. They see work, not as an exciting opportunity for advancement through value creation, but as a drudgery to be endured. Keep your head down, do your assigned work, learn the routine, hope to get incremental raises for time served, and pray you don’t get laid off.
Imagine if Steve Jobs had treated his customers (buyers of Apple products) the way most workers treat their customers (buyers of their labor services). “Well, they keep asking for the Apple II computer, so I’d better just focus on continuing to give it to them.” He would have never developed the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, etc. The world, and more to the point, he himself, would have been much poorer as a result.
Consumers of personal tech care more about value than about any particular product per se. Similarly, any boss who is himself an entrepreneur, as opposed to a bureaucratic functionary, cares more about value creation itself than about rule following and task completion per se.
Workers should see task assignments not just as responsibilities, but as starting points: clues for potential opportunities for greater value creation. This may involve going above and beyond the original tasks. It also may involve innovating altogether different ways of doing things.
A bureaucratic boss would be annoyed by such deviations from routine as uppity insubordination, and as needlessly creating extra hassles. An entrepreneurial boss would eagerly embrace the value-adding innovations, and facilitate the creation of more innovations by giving the innovator a bigger role. She would also know that other entrepreneurial bosses would happily bid away the innovative worker’s services if given the chance; so, to prevent that, she would increase the worker’s pay.
By intelligently and assertively pursuing value creation (and by staying on the job market), the entrepreneurial worker finds him or herself in high demand, and so is faced with greater opportunities: for higher pay, better benefits, better working conditions, more fulfilling work, a more fulfilling life.
This mindset is not only financially rewarding, but invigorating as well. Human beings are not constituted to be programmed automatons or beasts of burden to be yoked and driven. When we relegate ourselves to such a role, we become dejected and neurotic.
Our nature is to be purposeful actors, to be intrepid discoverers, to boldly undertake ventures (“entrepreneur” is derived from the French equivalent of the English word “undertaker,” which was the term used by Adam Smith). Taking on life as an entrepreneur is what makes us fully come alive.
Down with the employee mindset. All workers should consider themselves “self-employed.” Your boss is your (current) customer (maybe one of several), not your “employer.” You are the ultimate employer of your own labor. Only you are ultimately responsible for your own value creation, your own pay, your own career. You are the entrepreneur in control of “You, Inc.” Entrepreneurship is for everybody.
The best way to learn entrepreneurship is to actually engage in it. But if you need a bit more inspiration to do so, try out FEE’s free online course “The Economics of Entrepreneurship.”
In this course, you will find further discussions of what it means to be entrepreneurial, as well as inspiring examples of successful entrepreneurs. In that course, you can also learn about the tremendous public service that entrepreneurs (including entrepreneurial workers) provide via their role in the market economy. Understanding that can contribute to your sense of fulfillment as you embark upon your career as a lifelong entrepreneur.
Originally published at fee.org on August 29, 2016.