Here’s a question I’ve given much thought: why do some people bring their ideas to life and most don’t?
Is this the domain of serial entrepreneurs? You know, people who are always bringing their ideas to life?
Sarh Blakely, of Spanx fame, wasn’t a serial entrepreneur. She was working for Xerox. But, she came up with an idea ran with it. She, of course, is not the only one. Still, why don’t others move on their ideas? Why don’t the majority turn their ideas into income? The simple idea, although the execution was difficult, of cutting off the feet of a pair of hosiery has made her a billionaire.
So, why are most people stuck?
You know, I’ve thought about this question a lot during the past twenty-plus years.
Here’s the thing. I have friends, colleagues, associates, and business partners who span the racial, religious, educational, income, and political spectrum.
What’s cool is, I learn something from all of them. And, most of what I learn comes through observation. Here’s what I mean.
I noticed nearly twenty years ago that I had friends who held degrees from some of the world’s most revered universities. I’m talking Harvard, Duke, Stanford, MIT, and the like.
I have another set of friends who never went to college and if they did they never even finished a semester.
My educated friends are attorneys, management consultants, physicians, corporate and non-profit executives, and school administrators.
My so-called uneducated friends are primarily entrepreneurs, business owners, and investors.
One of the biggest things I’ve observed is the marked difference in wealth between the two groups. For example, I could pick any one of my uneducated friends and compare their wealth to five of my educated friends. Now, I’m talking about one versus five of those who hold law, medical, engineering, and MBA degrees.
In almost every case, just one of my uneducated friend’s wealth was greater than FIVE of my educated friends’ wealth. Let me repeat this: one of my uneducated friends is worth more than five of my educated friends, combined.
By the way, this is not an exaggeration.
So, I began wondering, why? How come one of my uneducated friends could make more in a month than I did in a year when I was a management consultant at Ernst & Young? Believe me, I wasn’t making chump change back then. Still, his income and wealth squashed mine at that time.
Well, I knew formal education didn’t account for the difference. Again, these men and women didn’t have college degrees.
Okay, maybe it was intelligence?
No, from a standardized testing standpoint, my educated friends won that one easily.
Alright, what about superior knowledge?
Uh, no, again. In fact, my uneducated friends laugh about how little they actually know about many subjects. This belief, or truth, explains why they are so quick to partner or collaborate with others who do have superior knowledge or skill in an area.
By the way, I always found this “superior knowledge” thing to be quite interesting. To this day, my educated friends can’t wait to show you how smart they are. Sorry guys, it’s the truth. My uneducated friends don’t give a damn whether you think that they are smart or not. They just want to get the deal done.
If it wasn’t education, knowledge, or intelligence that accounted for this marked difference in wealth, then what was it?
Still looking for an answer, I thought about my grandfather, Willie “Vandy” Reed, Sr. He never received any formal education. None. He never stepped foot in an elementary, middle, or high school. He was illiterate. He couldn’t read or write. But, he was a wealthy businessman.
So, how does an illiterate black man, in Camden, South Carolina, in the 1940’s, with fingers missing on both hands due to diabetes, become a successful businessman?
Remember, during his time, the only work available for Black men was physical labor.
Anyway, one day, while thinking about the similarities between my grandfather and my uneducated friends, it hit me. The light bulb came on.
I finally had an answer.
It was his, and their, mindset. That’s it. Their mindset.
See, my grandfather and uneducated friends saw the world differently than my educated friends.
Where my educated friends saw risk, they saw a challenge.
Where my educated friends saw a problem, they saw an opportunity.
Where my educated friends wanted to wear fancy labels, my uneducated friends wanted to sell them.
Where my educated friends wanted to be right, especially about what they knew, my uneducated friends wanted to be effective.
Where my educated friends wanted to drive fancy cars, my uneducated friends wanted to sell these cars to them.
In the end, most of my educated friends had an employee mindset – a mindset of building someone else’s dream.
My uneducated friends had an entrepreneurial mindset. And it is this mindset that led to them consistently moving on their ideas. It is this mindset that led to them becoming multimillionaires. It is this mindset that rubbed off on me.
Okay, cool. What exactly is an entrepreneurial mindset?
Since we were young school kids, we were trained to be employees. As such, we have an employee mindset. That is, we have structured our entire lives around working for some else. Let me explain to you how this all happened.
It all started when we entered the educational system as little ones. Yup. The public education system.
See, it was there, school, where we were indoctrinated with a social construct that still shapes our lives to this day. Specifically, we were taught to ask for permission and wait for approval and instruction.
We asked for permission, for example, to go to the restroom and raised our hand to get permission to speak. We waited for a teacher to tell us what lessons to complete next and waited to learn if we got the part in the school play.
Of course, this waiting and asking in a school setting was, and is, necessary. You can’t have a bunch of 12-year-olds running the joint. There would be chaos. Yes, there would be learning. But, there would be a completely different type of learning, if you know what I mean. So, some order was/is absolutely necessary.
But, the same happened in high school. Of course, we were afforded more freedom, especially as seniors. But we still had to ask for permission to leave class early or to miss a class and we waited for the principal to approve a trip and to learn our end of the year grade. Most important, we waited to learn if we were accepted into the college of our choice.
Once we were in college, we were afforded even more freedom. We got to select our classes, among an already pre-approved list, stay up late, and do a host of other things without seeking permission. Still, we needed permission to speak up in class or to write a paper for extra credit, among other requests.
Yup, despite this newfound freedom, we also learned we had to wait in college. We waited nervously for our exam scores and our final course grades.
Then a taste of the real world began. We started the internship and, later, job search.
We created our resumes, submitted them, and waited.
We waited to learn if we got the interview for that coveted internship. Then we waited to see if we got the internship.
Then we waited to learn if we got the interview for that coveted job. Then we waited to see if we got the job.
Once we landed the gig, we waited to learn what our salary and responsibilities would be.
But, we also asked for permission – a lot.
We asked for permission to miss work to take a sick child to the doctor.
We ask for permission to repair our car.
We ask for permission to take a vacation or get off a little early to volunteer at the local food bank.
We ask for a raise and wait to see if it is granted.
We wait for a promotion and to see if our budget was approved.
Yup, we wait and ask. Ask and wait.
Now, this is the kicker. If we didn’t adhere to these social rules, we were punished. We got a bad grade, got kicked out of school, got suspended, or got fired.
In the end, we were taught to relinquish control; to give up our freedom; to allow others to determine our fate.
See, this system was designed from the ground up to produce employees who work for the benefit of the factory, government, or school. It was designed to give power and control to a few.
But, in exchange for this power and control, we got some benefits, right? We got good grades, health insurance, social status, and, of course, a salary. And, for millions, that’s just fine and it works for them. Well, let’s be honest. How many people do you know who love what they do? It’s a really small number, isn’t it?
Look, having a wife who’s gone through cancer several times, I know the benefit of having good insurance. So, if you’re not careful, cancer and other catastrophic illnesses can wipe out your finances.
But, despite the benefits, so many people feel stuck and dream of getting out. I talk to professionals every day who hate their work. When you dig deeper, it’s not so much the work, in many cases, it’s the lack of control; the lack of freedom.
One physician told me that he has to ask an office manager for permission to take off for a day or two. I’ve since learned that that’s common practice. And, he had better not spend too much time with a patient. If he does, he has to wait to learn his punishment. No joke. Yet, the idea of going independent, despite having the resources to do so, is frightening to him.
See, my friend, the side effect of this social construct of asking and waiting is paralyzing fear. And, like it or not, that’s the intent.
Now, I’m not making a value judgement on those who choose to be employees. Far from it. I’ve been an employee and had great success. The insurance I spoke of earlier? Yeah, it’s from an employer. So, I’m not anti-employee. Far from it. In fact, I suggest to all the young folk I mentor who don’t have funding for their venture to work a corporate job, learn, and network. Their employer might be a future business partner and if not them, maybe a venture.
See, I’m simply making you aware of this social construct and pointing out what might have been holding you back. Get it?
The thing is, the effects are there even if you want to work within the corporate structure and climb the so-called corporate ladder.
While at Ernst & Young, I spent a lot of time around c-level people; CEOs, COOs, CFOs, etc. Chief Executive Officers, especially, were always entrepreneurially minded. They tended to break rules and make new ones on a regular basis. They never operated from a position of fear. They weren’t used to asking for permission or waiting for instruction. They weren’t wired that way, even though they were exposed to the same schooling as everyone else. They were different animals. Which is why they often became CEOs. Get it?
What’s scary is, many professionals won’t even try a fun side hustle because the voice in their heads says, “don’t color outside the lines. You will be punished if you do.” Of course, there is no such punishment or if there is, it is never as severe as they make it out in their heads.
Here’s the point: like CEOs, the entrepreneurially minded doesn’t ask for permission or wait to move on an idea. They just do it. And, they do it even when they are an employee. Yes, they adhere to the corporate rules but act on their ideas nonetheless.
The bottom line is, the entrepreneurially minded see their lives differently.
No, they don’t see themselves as being smarter, superior, or more knowledgeable. They see with a different set of eyes.
I noticed, for example, that a large number of independent physicians here in Charlotte, North Carolina with thriving practices are from Africa. Africa? Yeah, Africa.
Why is that?
After speaking with many of them, I learned that they were trained since childhood to be entrepreneurially minded. It’s expected that they would own their own practices.
We were trained to ask for permission and wait for instruction and relinquish control of our futures. They were trained to take control of theirs.
By the way, this is true of many immigrant populations. Here’s the thing: our entire educational system was designed to produce employees that will work for corporations. The corporate structure is modeled after the military. It’s about command and control. Top, down. Fear of loss is used as a control mechanism. This social structure of asking and waiting is directly from that military model.
Let me be clear: again, you can be an employee and still have the entrepreneurial mindset. I know former elementary teachers, high school coaches, and librarians who now run seven-figure blogs. They each started while at their perspective schools. The key word here is, started. It’s a matter of mindset. And, that’s all that I’m pointing out.
Here’s the thing, if you want to adopt the mindset that makes millionaires, you must first be aware of the social construct that has kept you in fear. Next, you must take small steps to gain courage. Sometimes it’s as simple as making a phone call to the McDonald’s franchise office to learn the process. In other words, you must practice the activities as if you were an entrepreneur. Soon, you will be.
Now, go aweken the entrepreneur inside.