A couple of years ago, following a lunch with my friend Brian Jenner, I posted an article outlining the ‘10 Commandments of Impractical Entrepreneurship’! This was based on an outline of a talk he was preparing, and he kindly allowed me to share his brilliant ideas. Recently looking back over these commandments (one always needs to refresh oneself sometimes) I realised that many of them have acquired new meaning in our current business, economic, and, indeed, cultural climate. So, I wanted to share these commandments again with some new thoughts.
The first commandment of impractical entrepreneurship is thou shall not be afraid. Brian reminded me at the time that God's most common exhortation in the Bible is: ‘Fear not’ or ‘Don't be afraid’. God says this some 80 times and more than any other piece of advice. Frank Herbert, author of the incredible Dune series, once wrote: ‘Fear is the mind killer’. And indeed, he was right. Fear shuts us down. It reduces our ability to think laterally, placing us in a state of fight or flight (on fact, there is also a third response, which is ‘freeze’). Of course, none of these responses are particularly helpful for dealing with modern day issues. I’ve been thinking a lot about fear recently, perhaps because right now you can practically smell it in the air. With the presidency of Donald Trump and the prospect of Brexit, many people feel less and less certain about their futures. Whilst I deeply sympathise with this, it is also frustrating to see people lose their heads. One would think we were entering another world war, or that the bombs were already falling, with the way people talk. A few days doing relief work in Syria or Africa might help people get a sense of perspective. The world is changing for us, not necessarily ending just yet (though all empires fall one day). It is also frustrating to see the media, rather than allaying fears, to be relishing in the fear-mongering. It is, truly, Orwellian to watch the spread of misinformation, speculation and outright lies. One might almost think they want us to be in a state of blind panic. But, I digress. If you want to weather the storms, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur in these uncertain times, you need to shed your fear. You must look at the chaos of our era as opportunity rather than be afraid of what might or might not happen. After all, we have to overcome fear if we're going to be able to achieve anything in life.
Commandment number two is: Thou doesn't need to have a job! We are, certainly the UK, conditioned into the idea of thinking that education is all about finally getting a job that will solve all our problems and make us happy. This is really just a fixed idea which is not helpful, and furthermore many people don't even enjoy their jobs, so seeing the ‘job’ as our inevitable future may be irrelevant. Jobs and the job’s mentality can often lead to endless and unsatisfying activity; whereas creating your own business can more easily lead to purposeful goals and real service. In our current climate, this is truer than ever. People spend so much time bewailing the lack of opportunity, the lack of good jobs, and yet how is it, then, that many groups of teenagers can be making, if not millions, a more than satisfactory living wage off of YouTube videos? Talking about what they love, playing video-games, reviewing exciting new films. This is not even the golden era of YouTube content creation! Yes, there are problems with that lifestyle too (burnout, isolation, to name just two) but there are pitfalls in any profession. Coaches and mentors burn out! I did myself. What I am trying to say is, as one door closes (stable jobs-for-life in the public sector, for example), another door of potential opens for those willing to make the leap of faith. In a few years’ time, YouTube may not exist. This doesn’t mean it is the end. We must adapt and change to our new environment.
The third commandment is Thou shalt try things out. You cannot discover profound and useful things unless you do things other people don't do; you need to experiment and need to innovate, and unless we do we won't get anywhere. It was Drucker who said that only two things made money for a business: marketing and innovation. So trying things out is really important. There might be an activity you do which suddenly sparks a new idea, or else puts you in a great mind-set for working. Not everything has to be work related, but at the same time, the things you do in your free time might well feed into your work and feed that passion. I myself love classical music. I can’t play, but I love to listen and have an eclectic collection. This is nothing to do with my work. Or is it? I regularly listen to this music when I am writing, or creating new content for the business. It stimulates and relaxes me in a way rock or pop music rarely does. What kind of music might relax you when you work? Try it out!
Fourth, Thou shalt accept failure. Accepting failure in the right way is the potential catalyst for learning. The famous Edison story tells how he perfected 10,000 ways how not to make a light bulb before he went on to establish how he could do it. Sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish between success and failure. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter observed, 'Everything looks like failure in the middle. In nearly every change project doubt is cast on the original vision because problems are mounting and the end is nowhere in sight'. It's only with hindsight we realise the problem is a necessary part of the solution; so it's important not to get demoralised by what appears to be failure at some point during the process.
Then most interestingly, Brian shared the Fifth commandment: Thou shalt not give anything away for free. In our current era of relentless charity, and the way we are more connected than ever to people in need via online services, this might sound cruel. The fact is, you cannot help others if you cannot first help yourself. Abraham Lincoln once said: ‘The best way to help the poor is not to become one of them’. The majority of entrepreneurs providing a service are certainly under-charging. The majority of writers, artists and creators in the UK and US are paid less than a living wage (the 2018 ALCs study revealed the median income of a professional author is now at under £10,500 a year). We must get creative on how we can offer assistant to people at fair prices, but still run a viable business. Do we have multiple revenue streams from different projects? One project which is more altruistic and one more profitable in the traditional sense? If we really think about helping people as our top priority (whether we’re providing business or financial advice, counselling services, writing coaching or something else entirely) then we can create new ways to add value to people’s lives, and adding value is a sure way to increase your own value.
Thou shalt account for every penny, commandment number six. This shows a healthy respect for money and actually values its value. We can be driven by ideals, or large humanitarian goals, but still value money and not be wasteful of it!
Commandment number 7 is Thou shalt move with the times. This is more important than ever before! My good friend Ross Thornley is writing a book about just how rapidly our modern era is changing. How many organisations do you know that use old ideas, old methodologies, old technology, and wonder why they are becoming less and less competitive? If an organisation or business isn’t growing, then it’s dying.
Thou shalt not sacrifice thyself. This is the timely commandment number 8. We see it all the time, don’t we? The entrepreneur that mistakes stubborn stupidity for savvy persistence. Some ideas need to be abandoned as soon as it is clear that they are not going to work. But we get attached to ideas and won’t let them go; we sacrifice ourselves, re-mortgage the house and even our relationships, on the altar of some flawed idol that is never going to deliver. The counter to this is good information and accurate intelligence.
At number 9 we have: Thou shalt learn some psychology. Brian Jenner recommends Robert Cialdini’s famous book, Influence, and so do I. Getting to Yes is also another classic in the same mould. And if I may be immodest, try my Mapping Motivation, published by Routledge. But without understanding people, we may not be quite dead in the water, but the swim is going to be one hell of a harrowing experience; but if we understand people and can get them alongside us, then we really will gain leverage and buoyancy.
Finally, Brian recommends as his tenth commandment: Thou shalt walk away. This of course is one of the key negotiation principles of Getting to Yes. But you will experience indifference, opposition, and competition to your ideas and sometimes the best option is to walk away rather than confront these negative situations. As they say in martial arts: ‘What you resist persists’. Letting go can be much more effective and harmonious.
So ten brilliant commandments, all with plenty of meat round them. But as I said to Brian as we sat there, he with his coffee and me with my mint and ginger, ‘There’s one missing commandment, Brian’. So here is my extra bonus.
Commandment number 11: Thou shalt have a story – for the story will excite and energise, the story will create friends and allies, and the story will expand all our horizons and possibilities. The story will let us all understand what is going on and why! In times of turbulence, fear, uncertainty, stories become more important than ever. In fact, they become fuel which people burn through the long winter. We need stories, to feed our imaginations, to stimulate our creativity, to remind us what heroism looks like. Why do you think shows such as Game of Thrones have become so popular? It is because the brutal and treacherous world of Westeros gives shape to our fears and shows us how real heroes, like Jon Snow (played by the stoic Kit Harrington), deal with them. So, stay strong as we head towards the future, and remember, do not be afraid!