I’m often asked by physicians considering starting a business: “Where or how will I find ideas for a business?”, and I’d like to share this old blog post with those asking that question.
Consider this discussion as one option available to you.
One of my favorite entrepreneur role models is Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop International. She embodies the gritty, idealistic, pragmatic, dogged, opinionated and socially conscious characteristics of a visionary leader and businesswoman, and I love her for these traits!
Some time ago, I came across an article published in the Financial Times, written by Dame Roddick, with the provocative title of Don’t get a business degree, get angry.
She pooh-poohs the idea that entrepreneurship can be taught effectively in business school. Instead, she argues……
……. potential entrepreneurs are outsiders. They are people who imagine things as they might be, not as they are, and have the drive to change the world. Those are qualities that business schools do not teach. An MBA can give you useful skills that can be applied to a life in business. But they will not teach you the most crucial thing: how to be an entrepreneur. They might also sap what entrepreneurial flair you have as they force you into the template called an MBA pass.
…..I am not at all convinced it is a subject you can teach. How do you teach obsession – because often it is obsession that drives an entrepreneur’s vision? How do you learn to be an outsider if you are not one already?
In the business school model, entrepreneurs are most at home with a balance sheet, a cash-flow forecast and a business plan. They dream of profit forecasts and the day they can take the company public. These are just part of the toolbox of re-imagining the world: they are not the defining characteristics of entrepreneurship. The problem with business schools is that they are controlled by, and obsessed with, the status quo. They encourage you deeper into the world as it is. They transform you into a better example of corporate man. We need good administration and financial flair, after all, but we need people of imagination too.
Her prescription for becoming an entrepreneur?
Become angry. Feel your outrage. Notice what frustrates you.
- What infuriates you about the way healthcare is delivered? By the health plans? In your hospital? In your own practice?
- What is so broken it makes you want to scream?
- What would be worth your time and passion to fix?
- What really sucks for you as a doctor? For your family? For your patients?
- Whose lives could be dramatically improved by one small change or tool?
Passion and caring are the oxygen and dry wood that fuel the flames of outrage. And outrage is often what produces deep social change.
As a South African by birth, I would never have believed it possible to see the downfall of apartheid in my lifetime. As a citizen of the world, I did not dream that the Berlin Wall could come down so quickly brick by brick. As an American, I didn’t imagine recently witnessing the great change that has come to the USA. Now I know better.
By harnessing your fury and channeling it into worthwhile entrepreneurial outlets, you stand a good chance of succeeding as a social entrepreneur – defined as one who “identifies and solves social problems on a large scale, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.” (from a PBS show entitled “The New Heroes”).
And being a social entrepreneur is NOT incompatible with being profitable. Look at Dame Roddick!
In her article, Dame Roddick does more than pontificate about becoming an entrepreneur. Here is some of her wisdom, from the article, to help make your business start up possible.
- Tell stories. The central tool for imagining the world differently and sharing that vision is not accountancy. It has more to do with the ability to tell a story. Telling stories emphasizes what makes you and your company different. Business schools emphasize how to make you toe the line.
- Concentrate on creativity. It is critical for any entrepreneur to maximize creativity and to build an atmosphere that encourages people to have ideas. That means open structures, so that accepted thinking can be challenged.
- Be an opportunistic collector. When entrepreneurs walk down the street they have their antennae out, evaluating how what they see can relate back to what they are doing. It might be packaging, a word, a poem or something in a different business.
- Be passionate about ideas. Entrepreneurs want to create a livelihood from an idea that has obsessed them; not necessarily a business, but a livelihood. When accumulating money drives out the ideas and the anger behind them, you are no longer an entrepreneur.
- Feed your sense of outrage. Discontentment drives you to want to do something about it. There is no point in finding a new vision if you are not angry enough to want it to happen.
- Believe in yourself and your intuition. There is a fine line between entrepreneurship and insanity. Crazy people see and feel things that others do not. But you have to believe that everything is possible. If you believe it, those around you will believe it too.
- Have self-knowledge. You do not need to know how to do everything, but you must be honest enough with yourself to know what you cannot provide yourself.
As Mahatma Ghandi said: You must be the change you want to see in the world.
Now have you got any ideas?