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 3: Building a Better Larry

In my previous posts, I talked about the need to change how we think about the region.  We need to avoid thinking we're doomed, while at the same time avoid deluding ourselves into thinking things are great or that a miraculous comeback is going to return us to the status quo ante.  Rather, we need to embrace the cold hard reality of our situation and realize that we have severe challenges and a tough road ahead of us, but we're equipped with skills and our very existence should infuse us with the will to carry on.  The region is like a 45-year-old middle manager, parent of three, who just got laid off. The region, and each of us, is Larry.  In my most recent post, I detailed the entrepreneurial mindset and offered it as a way forward for Larry.  I'd now like to talk about some additional shifts in mindset, as well as practical tips for implementing the entrepreneurial mindset in your day-to-day life to be the best Larry you can be.

Nobody owes you nothing

Before diving into the practical tips, there's a big mindset shift I'd like to encourage, and that's to drop your sense of entitlement.  I grew up in a family of car mechanics and truck drivers and the phrase was 'Nobody owes you nothing' which presumably was meant to convey that no one owes you anything.  If we learned anything from Hurricane Katrina and the Great Contraction (that's what I’m calling the last two years), it's that we're on our own.  If the best we can expect from the government is a helicopter to get us off the roof when our house is under 20 feet of water, then we're all in trouble.  I'm not saying the way things are is right, but this is very clearly the way things are.  Complaining about the weather doesn't make you any less wet.  

The benefit of dropping your sense of entitlement is that you'll stop waiting for  other people to provide for you and start to do what you can to provide for yourself. By accepting responsibility for your own fate, you give yourself the power to impact your fate.  Armed with a newfound sense of responsibility and power, here are some things you can do starting now.

How to innovate everyday: Be awake and aware

Entrepreneurs value innovation - and so should you, Larry.  The practical way to innovate everyday is to be awake and aware.  Cast a half glance at every action you take and every thought you have and ask yourself "Is this the best way, or just a way?" More often than not, the way we do things, the way we think, isn't the best way.  It's just the way we do it, and we aren't awake and aware enough to ask whether there's a better way.  I'm not saying you should relentlessly pursue a new way to do everything, but rather to be open to opportunities for improvement.  Notice that I'm talking not just about doing, but also about thinking.  Innovation can be found not just by doing things differently, but by thinking about things differently.  Think about that for a while.  Done? Great, let's move on.

Taking action: Do one small thing

If you started walking a mile a day, then by the end of the week, you'd be seven miles from home.  I bring this up not to display my damaged and antiquated sense of humor, but to emphasis the cumulative power of small actions.  Any small action, performed again and again or taken in conjunction with other small actions, can achieve a huge effect. So look for some small action you can take (on anything really - even if it's moving the garbage can closer to the curb by an inch) and take it.  You're trying to build a propensity for action within yourself, so force yourself to take some extra inch of action every day.

How to embrace failure: Keep score

We can't begin to embrace failure until we acknowledge failure.  The way to acknowledge failure is to keep score.  Each day ask yourself - did you do better than you did the day before? Score yourself against yourself by comparison.  Now here's the crucial part - some days you're going to lose and lose big.  Don't beat yourself up when you take a big loss.  Remember the entepreneurial trait we're trying to apply is embracing failure - not choking the life out of it.  Failure is always an option.  Figure out why you failed, or how you failed, or whether you really failed given that you may have in fact learned something from the failure.  The more you engage in this process of self reflection and assessment, the more you'll realize your opportunities for learning and improvement.

Expect instability: Prepare for another crazy day

Entrepreneurs are conditioned to expect instability.  They know that each day brings new challenges and new opportunities.  Emulate this behavior by starting each day acknowledging the reality that something is going to happen today that’s going to be unexpected and interfere with your plans for that day, even if just for a moment.  What you're doing in this exercise is building up your ability to mentally adapt to change.  Change comes whether we want it to or not, and by preparing for that change, (i.e. expecting instability) we are better able to deal with and master that change.

Focus on serving others: Say yes.

Each one of the previous tips were very internally focused.  Little bits of thought and action that involved you and your entrepreneurial, mental muscles.  On this final one, I'm encouraging you to apply some of that focus externally.  Do that by trying to say yes to one request a day.  Once a day, when someone asks for help, say yes.  Make it your goal to say yes to a request for help once a day.  Here's the tricky part: don't expect this to achieve anything or benefit you in any way.  Focusing on others, whether it's helping someone open a door, helping your team leader on a challenging assignment, or helping a client, is its own reward.  It's good to do good.  Remember, as discussed earlier, drop your sense of entitlement.  Don't expect or demand that good things will happen to you because you say yes to others.  Having the opportunity to help is the reward for helping.

Final Thoughts

In my capacity as Training Leader at Bizdom U, I work with entrepreneurs every day trying to maximize their potential and the potential of their enterprises.  In many ways, I've learned far more than I've taught.  The main lesson I've learned about entrepreneurs is that they have no special magic.  There are certain patterns of behavior that they engage in, and while some of them naturally engage in those behaviors, just as many have made the conscious decision to engage in those behaviors: valuing innovation, taking action, embracing failure, expecting instability, and serving others. 

By relentlessly and ruthlessly engaging in these behaviors, entrepreneurs take responsibility for and control over their fate.  Our region unfortunately has an overabundance of deferring responsibility and surrendering control of our fates.  If we break ourselves of this habit of passivity, and each of us take responsibility for ourselves, and behave entrepreneurially, in school, at work, in all the aspects of our lives, we will be able to overcome our challenges and maximize our opportunities, and hopefully be the best Larry we can be.