“All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in the human DNA.”
Entrepreneur is one of the least-understood words in business, and possibly the entire English language.
We tend to equate it with an elite and short list of icons. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Henry Ford, and Sam Walton, to name a few.
I see the word differently.
To me, life on Earth forces entrepreneurship upon us all. There are eight billion people alive today, and all of them will be called upon to be entrepreneurs.
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“An entrepreneur is someone who takes a risk to create something new.”
By that criterion, we are all entrepreneurs.
Life itself—the mere act of being born, coming of age, and then growing old—demands entrepreneurship.
My yearlong essay series is dedicated to the importance and potential of self-actualization. We are all born into a tribe. We each belong at birth to a specific family that lives within a defined culture at a set moment in time. That setting or backdrop pulls on us to speak a certain language, adopt a certain God, and acquire a certain worldview.
But within the social context of our birth tribe we are also here to individuate and learn to see the larger human and universal community to which we also belong. We are each in pursuit of our own true voice. That journey, which comes for us all, invariably requires entrepreneurship.
Most of the small and big acts of our lives are entrepreneurial. In school, when you write an essay, you are creating something new. In chorus, when you lend your voice to a performance, the music changes. On the athletic field the team you join is instantly altered by your presence. Everything around you changes when you engage with it, and engaging with the world around you involves risk.
This is true in the world of work as well. Our company, Hancock Lumber, has six hundred employees, and every one of them is an entrepreneur.
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Conventional thinking around multigenerational businesses is another example of misunderstanding entrepreneurship. For example, I am the sixth generation of my family to serve as CEO of our company. By a limited definition of entrepreneurship, only my great-grandfather’s grandfather was the entrepreneur, since he started the company. But the truth is, every subsequent generation must be entrepreneurial or perish.
During the Great Depression my great-grandfather built lakeside cottages to keep people employed and to keep the business alive. My own father built a brand-new sawmill, was the first to expand our retail business to multiple sites, and created a unique ownership structure to recruit and retail top leadership talent.
As for me, well—my favorite approach is to describe that which we have survived. In my thirty years with the company I was told more than once that each of the following events would mean the decline or demise of our business:
- The transitioning from a fifth to a sixth generation of family management.
- The emergence of Walmart, Home Depot, and other big-box stores.
- The dawning age of globalization and the importing of manufactured goods from a worldwide marketplace.
- The age of Amazon, e-commerce, and online sales.
- The near-complete collapse of the national mortgage and housing markets in 2007.
- The partial loss of my voice to a rare neurological speaking disorder.
And yet across the thirty years that have been defined by these events, our company has grown tenfold.
What created and enabled not just our survival, but our growth and expansion? The answer is entrepreneurship.
By whom? The answer is by everyone connected to our company—employees, managers, owners, customers, and suppliers. And should the company one day fade away, then we’ll all have to be entrepreneurs all over again—moving on and creating something new. In the absence of that, I will one day retire. This will require entrepreneurship, as well, for me to reinvent myself once again, and for the company to do the same.
The death of one thing is the entrepreneurial beginning of another. The Universe itself is entrepreneurial, and humans are manifestations of that universal energy.
Every day on Earth is an entrepreneurial day.
Every life on Earth is an entrepreneurial life.
You are an entrepreneur.
“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Nestled between our differences lies our future.
This is the thirty-fourth post in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!