Blog: Dan Izzo

The labor laws for Michigan's workforce are decidedly DIY now. Here to speak to this is Dan Izzo, training leader at Bizdom U, a tuition-free academy for entrepreneurs in Detroit. This week Dan writes on avoiding broad stroke metaphors for the region, and how thinking like an individual and an entrepreneur will get us out of our current funk.

Post 2: Understanding the Entrepreneurial Mindset

In my previous post, I talked about how we need to change our metaphor for thinking about the region.  Rather than bemoaning the 'death' of the region, celebrating the 'life' of the region, or waiting expectantly for the 'rebirth' of the region, I proposed thinking of the region as a guy named Larry: middle aged, middle manager, with lots of obligations and financial issues.  By thinking of the region this way, we can approach the region, and more importantly our individual parts in it, with an honest and realistic assessment of the limitations and the possibilities before us.  Personally, I believe the best way to overcome our limitations and take full advantage of our possibilities is by adopting an entrepreneurial mindset.

The entrepreneurial mindset is perfectly suited to conditions of limited resources and uncertain prospects.  Running a business is always a matter of resource allocation - you never have enough time, money, or attention to do everything you'd like.  Even if you had enough time, money, and attention, you're not on a well worn path – you  can't be certain of the success or failure of your actions.  You make decisions, you try things, you hope you don't fail – but you just might.  Entrepreneurs thrive in these situations – and you should too.  If you're not living in a world of limited resources and uncertain prospects – you're probably not living in Michigan in 2010.  

So what do entrepreneurs do to survive and thrive in these conditions? They value innovation; they take action; they embrace failure; they expect instability; and they focus on serving others.

Why value innovation?  When you have limited resources, it helps to be clever about how you allocate those resources.  Ultimately, starvation induces innovation.  When you lack resources, you don't achieve success by acquiring new resources, you achieve success by stretching out the resources you do have.  That's the essence of innovation – adapting something to a new use either through wholesale invention or clever re-purposing.    

Why take action? There are two widely different reasons why a bias for action is a key entrepreneurial activity.  The first is that very often the only tool at your disposal is your own will to action.  If that's the only tool you have – you need to use it, and no better time than the present.  Stop thinking – start doing.  The other reason to do something (anything really) is the antidepressant quality of activity.  Nothing invigorates like doing something – and when you're in a world of limited resources and uncertain prospects the last thing you want is to be depressed.  

Embracing failure doesn't mean becoming complacent with failure.  Instead entrepreneurs treat failure as a successful experiment.  When you fail – and properly analyze that failure – you can definitively know what doesn't work.  By failing you start to gain an understanding of causality and move out of a world of uncertain results into one of more and more definitive results.  

If I can offer a quote in this regard, it's this one from Walt Disney: "Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."

In our region, you'd think we'd have no problem expecting instability.  You need only look to the coaching and quarterbacking woes of the local minor league football franchise to see how endemic instability is around here.  And while we can certainly rail against that particular bit of instability, we should embrace instability – it's the new normal.  We can't rely on our government for stability (how many mayors have we had recently? How balanced has our state budget been?)  We can't rely on our local industries for stability (examples abound).  Instability is our new status quo and embracing it means we'll spend more time adapting ourselves and our behavior rather than hoping external circumstances will change and stabilize.

Finally, entrepreneurs focus on serving others.  This is one of the least acknowledged aspects of entrepreneurship - but easily the most crucial.  To achieve success entrepreneurs need to satisfy and serve their clients.  To keep clients happy, entrepreneurs need to keep their team members motivated, maximized and happy.  Entrepreneurs therefore have no choice but to be focused on serving others.  It's a damn shame that the people who create companies that create opportunities for others and create the stuff we want are viewed as self-centered and greedy, when in fact the only way to achieve what they've achieved is through service to others.

Having detailed the entrepreneurial mindset, my next installment will focus on practical tips for implementing this mindset even if you're not feeling much like an entrepreneur.