An entrepreneur’s value system

Editorial Staff Startup Guidance

Are you an innovator who feels that few of your friends and employee friends really understand you or share your values? You may very well have an entrepreneurial personality and not know it yet. Most entrepreneurs have a world view and a value system that differs from those of others around them. How many of the following values resonate with you?

Individualist, not collectivist

Many people view society as a kind of family in which each individual is part of a larger social whole. In this worldview, we are all responsible for ourselves, our loved ones, coworkers and the rest of society — particularly the least well-off. Life will mete out rewards to those who play by the rules that the majority deem socially acceptable. This way of seeing life might be described as collectivist or communitarian.

By contrast, the entrepreneurial outlook is inherently individualist. Entrepreneurs see society not in terms of amorphous collective structures, but as a large group of disparate individuals who exchange value with other people in pursuit of their own happiness. Each of those individuals is ultimately responsible for his or her own choices, contracts and obligations. If an entrepreneur is responsible to his or her workers, customers and investors, it is only as a result of choices he or she has made. This feeling of self-responsibility drives entrepreneurs to invest heavily in their own knowledge, skills and financial prosperity.

A collectivist value system can be antithetical to innovation: someone who only does what is considered socially acceptable is, by definition, never going to disrupt the status quo. The entrepreneur understands that innovative products and services are almost never immediately welcomed by the general population. Before the collective accepts a new idea, it must first receive support from the pioneers and early adopters in the collective. The disruptive entrepreneur has to be content to live with the discomfort and social disapproval that comes with creating products that most people think are crazy. The further the new product departs from the status quo, the truer this is.

Focused on personal goals

Many people do not have personal goals that drive them forward on a day-to-day basis. If they are working towards any specific goals at all, it is likely to be those set by their employer. Even more common is striving towards goals that society deems valuable, such as marriage, homeownership and making lots of money.

Entrepreneurs may well be interested in money, but they are not interested in working towards other people’s goals or doing something just because it is seen as socially acceptable. As a minimum, they want to be their own boss and build something that they personally find valuable or satisfying. The best entrepreneurs are highly self-aware, having spent years on journeys of personal discovery where they develop a deeply-ingrained world view that they subsequently translate into action in their later life.

We weren’t going to find a place where we could go for a month to be enlightened. It was one of the first times that I started to realise that maybe Thomas Edison did a lot more to improve the world than Karl Marx and Neem Kairolie Baba put togetherSteve Jobs, after his 70's trip to India

The process of developing self-awareness is very specific to the individual, but it might involve any of the following:

  • Receiving coaching from mentors is a good way to learn quickly about your chosen area of interest.
  • Life experience – the more you have, the more you are likely to know what you personally find valuable and where you deviate from what other’s find attractive.
  • Bad experience in a particular industry can provide both the industry knowledge and the incentive for innovation in a specific field.
  • Bad experience in traditional employment might lead someone with an entrepreneurial personality to question how they might use their unique talents to become self-employed.
  • Openness to lots of different experiences is an attitude that is a predictor of the sort of creative problem-solving that inspires an entrepreneur’s personal mission in some way. Steve Jobs famously said that Apple’s sleek typography was the result of his dropping in on a college calligraphy class.
  • Therapy can be a useful way to understand how childhood and early developmental experiences shaped our personality, interests and skills.
  • Meditation and journaling are other ways of increasing mental clarity and focusing on what matters to you on a daily basis.
  • Psychometric tests such as the Myers-Briggs test are tools you can use to get to know yourself and your innate skill set better.

Goals could be anything from producing an app that facilitates the treatment of depression, to retiring in Thailand by the age of 40, to connecting journalists to PR requests on Twitter. The personal goals of small business owners are typically quite modest, whereas household names like Mark Zuckerberg are focused on solving huge social problems.

Courage to achieve the impossible

Developing self-awareness of one’s personal goals in just the first step; subsequently taking action to achieve those personal goals requires courage, particularly when the goals you set yourself take you off the beaten path in some way. Entrepreneurial courage has little to do with bravado or reckless risk-seeking. It’s more about making a continued effort to keep going during moments of uncertainty when most people would seek comfort in the familiar. This is an attitude that demands considerable amounts of self-belief.

Holding entrepreneurial values does not require one to be an entrepreneur. You might be reading this as a student, an employee or an “intrapreneur” — someone working to bring about innovation within an existing context. But if these values resonate with you, perhaps you should explore launching a venture of your own!