The Making It! Institute 
For The Advancement of Business 
Making It!
We Are All Entrepreneurs

Over lunch at my desk, I just read an article about an entrepreneur whose business teaches wilderness survival courses. The one that caught my attention had to do with how to survive 36 hours in the killing cold of the arctic, and it struck at least two chords with me. The first is that we are all thinking about survival in the economic malaise that has seeped into our consciousness and balance sheets. The other is that regardless of our present business ownership or employment situations, we really all are entrepreneurs and have to operate that way.

Recent weeks have been riddled with financial challenges in Washington and Sacramento. Here in California our legislators have been wrangling over a strange budget that resembles a fiscal suicide pact with heavy new taxes in the midst of a recession. In Washington, President Obama has signed a messy bail out bill that may eventually prove to be a major fiscal Albatross. In both cases the Valentine that was sent to business owners was an arrow aimed at the head rather than the heart.

What is an entrepreneur? The simplest definition I’ve seen is, “someone who organizes a business venture and assumes the risk for it.” These days, people who work for even the largest corporations are getting stark and jarring lessons in risk, reward, and business organization or reorganization. I don’t think that everyone has the mental and emotional makeup to be successful in business for themselves, but I do believe that everyone can benefit from understanding and embracing the entrepreneurial spirit in their lives.

Two weeks ago I was invited to a hearing in Washington DC on “The State of the SBA’s Entrepreneurial Development Programs and Their Role in Promoting an Economic Recovery.” Though I couldn’t be there with Chairwoman, Nydia Velazquez, my opening sentence would have been, “To survive the crises facing us we must all think like entrepreneurs now.” And you say, “There goes Davis being glib again. What does that really mean?”

For me it means taking primary responsibility for what happens in your life and being prepared to pursue desirable outcomes on your own if necessary. Of the thousand business owners we’ve profiled on the Making It! TV program, I’ve seen many people take their professional lives into their own hands when a long term job ended for one reason or another. I know an ex utilities executive who went into an entrepreneurial business situation when her tenure at the large company was over and that person became more than a millionaire in less than five years. She learned how to think and prosper like a true entrepreneur.

Despite governments best efforts to convince you that they make smart decisions and have your best interests at heart, things are happening right now that support the idea that we can’t count on them anymore. In a recent meeting I suggested to a banker that it’s as if the stucco has suddenly been chipped off our economic house, and we are shocked at all the cracks and fissures that have been growing, unseen for decades. The Madoff scandal and other Wall Street follies are simply the tip of the iceberg.

I had a brother-in-law who worked at the River Rouge Ford assembly plant for most of his adult life until he took an early retirement. With little to be beneficially engaged in his life went downhill from there with idleness and alcohol taking a severe toll. He’d had decades to learn additional skills or to prepare to pursue one of his passionate pastimes as a business but like many of us he gave up too much life responsibility. If you are working as an accountant but really want to be a professional photographer, with a few years of study and preparation, you can do that. “What can I do right now to set my own course for the future” is what personifies entrepreneurial thinking to me.

“They will take care of me” thinking has become so pervasive in our country and now we see many of those stories ending in tears. I read a quote from a man who was being furloughed by General Motors, “My grandfather worked here, and my father worked here,” he said. “The one thing my father told me is you work hard to make things better for the next generation, but now I worry that we won’t be able to do that anymore.”

There is a lot of anger, confusion, worry, and hurt punching home how the recession is raising anxiety levels among workers across the country. Some of those laid off employees are returning to school, seeking to reboot their lives by studying welding, nursing, cooking, and many other fields. They get my applause and they deserve yours for being proactive at creating another professional life. Some of them will finally muster up the courage to live their dream by launching their own enterprise. Several years ago we interviewed a successful beauty salon owner who shared a thought I’ve never forgotten.  She said that even if a person starts a business and fails, they will make a superior employee if they choose to return to holding a job.

At the business and economic level many people are facing a potentially fatal Arctic chill that will require strong survival skills. People are looking for something they can count on as all levels of government are being revealed as dangerously dysfunctional. To become “that thing we can count on,” we must all think more like entrepreneurs.

- Nelson Davis | Small Business Expert