Whenever I’m asked what is the most important trait an aspiring entrepreneur must possess in order to be successful, my immediate response is “curiosity”. I’m not sure if it is an innate quality or something one can practice and hone but curiosity, the unstoppable urge to question and need to find out more is, I am certain, a vital characteristic for the successfully self-employed.
Last week on a camping trip with two college age girls, I witnessed this so clearly that I feel confident predicting which of these teens is more likely to be an entrepreneur. Both girls are very bright, good students, outgoing and personable. But the real difference was evident when we visited my son at his eco-community in the mountains. As he gave us the tour, explaining the solar showers, compost toilets and told us how to dispose of waste, one girl kept asking questions about how this works, why that matters, where it all goes and who does what when. As he demonstrated how to light the strange stove, Miss Curious asked if she could try it while the other girl kept checking her cell phone for bars even though she knew there was no reception.
At sunset, the mosquitos attacked like air force fighter jets. When my son explained that we should use particular herbs and candles, Miss Curious wanted to know why they don’t use pesticides and what effect the chemicals had on the fragile environment. The other complained and snuck off to spray insect repellant anyway, figuring if no one was looking, it wouldn’t matter.
Now I ask you, which girl do you think will always be an employee and who will be able to make a living without a job? I kept thinking about how the parents of the curious girl are concerned that she is a theatre major and will have to live the life of a starving actress or wait tables. The other teen”s parents are happy she is in nursing school so she will always have work. I thought, if I were their parents, I wouldn’t be concerned at all about Miss Curious because if she is unable to find work in theatre, she will likely ask enough questions to create her own roles.
It was common for teenagers in the upper middle class suburb where I grew up to be given a new car on their 16th birthday.
My sisters and I knew that my father could afford to buy us a car but we never expected it. You see, my dad had a firm conviction, based on his own upbringing, that people who have to work for what they receive are more successful than those who are handed a gift.
I noticed the same thing when I got to college. The students who had to work in the cafeteria or elsewhere on campus studied harder, despite having less free time than those of us who had parents footing the bill.
For decades we’ve been seeing the same thing in public housing units and developing countries. Even brand new Chapter 8 housing is often neglected and defaced but when occupants have to work for their rent, they take pride in keeping it up. Non-profits or philanthropists who bring food, tools, and other supplies to inhabitants of developing countries often return later to see the gifts unused, misused or destroyed. But a funny thing happens when the same people have to pay for the same tools with currency or labor. They work hard to learn to use the equipment and to keep it in good operating shape.
Finally, some social entrepreneurs are getting the message and are selling rather than giving aid to their chosen beneficiaries. Martin Fisher, a San Francisco entrepreneur, sells pumps to poor rural farmers in Africa, through his Kickstart Program. with the promise that they can make money with them. For a small farmer, replacing a bucket with a pump can lead to cultivating a wider variety of crops and creating work for family and neighbors.
Mark Bell who teaches international agricultural development at UC Davis, agrees with Fisher that the tradition of non profits in developed countries giving tools and equipment to poor people in third world countries — is a poor model. “If you go in and say, ‘Here’s a freebie,’ then people are going to say, ‘Sure, give it to me.’ And when you leave, who knows what happens to it. But if a farmer is given the opportunity to buy, I think that’s the real proof that this is something that’s beneficial to them,” Bell said.
Are there things you would like to do for people less fortunate? How can you set up a situation where they have to work for it so that they don’t develop an entitlement mindset? If you sell, rather than give, the equipment to them and set up a program teaching them how to use it, can you run a for-profit company that improves lives? Absolutely.
My friend and mentor, Barbara Winter, is talking a lot lately about readying her home and office for an impending move. Pruning her library, flipping through books she hasn’t read in a while, she comes across valuable insights and quotes which she shares on Facebook, Twitter and on her Buon Viaggio blog. I’m reminded of my son’s toy-closet cleaning when he was little. He would discover trinkets he hadn’t seen in a while and hours later, he would be joyfully engaged in a project, having found renewed interest and new uses for nearly forgotten gadgets. I did the same with photographs and art supplies. When we haven’t seen those treasures in awhile, they’re fresh and new again. Or we remember why we were so fond of them.
Sometimes the same thing happens when we attend a reunion or hear from old friends. With some, we quickly realize we’ve little in common. Others feel like a comfy old pair of loafers or bring out exciting parts of ourselves we’d like to revisit.
Thinking about this re-discovering of old books, treasures and friends reminds me why we should periodically revisit old ideas and dreams. Will we remember why we chose to store them away for a while rather than discard them? Will they feel fresh and new, full of interest and possibility?
Are there aspirations you’ve put back on the shelf because maybe the time wasn’t right, you weren’t sure they were valuable or you didn’t have the energy to do anything with them? Or because you didn’t have the support to make them happen?
What dreams have you pushed to the back of the closet that you might revisit now and find renewed possibilities in? Could a change in life
circumstances or other factors make it possible to see these ideas from a new perspective? Now might be the right time to reexamine those aspirations. If you’re ready to take those dreams off the back burner, check out the Idea Generator Sessions. With brainstorming and support, you just may find that vague idea could be a profitable business.