About the Author: Noam Wasserman is the dean of Sy Syms School of Business at Yeshiva University and a former professor of entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School, is the author of Life is a Startup: What Founders Can Teach Us About Making Choices and Managing Change.
A student who was taking my entrepreneurship class at Harvard Business School a few years ago came up to me after class only a month into the semester to tell me that he would probably never start his own business.
“Sorry,” I said, “maybe you’re on the wrong path.”
“Not at all!” he said. “Your course has already changed my marriage!”
Naturally, I asked him to explain himself.
He said he and his wife had struggled as newlyweds to create a new life together. They had tried to establish who plays what roles, how decisions are made and how everyone can contribute equally to the family.
Originally, in the interest of a just division of labour, they aimed at equality of effort. They each rotated to clean the apartment and cook from day to day.
But in my class, students learn that it’s often a mistake for startup founders to insist on equality with co-founders. In the most successful new ventures, partners play to their strengths, even if they contribute unequally.
My student quickly realized that some days the prepared meals ended up burning and that the floor, although cleaned, was still dirty. The husband was better at cooking than at cleaning, and the reverse was the case for his wife, his “co-founder of life”. From now on, they decided that he would cook and she would clean. No need to score points anymore.
In short, he applied the lessons covered in our course on how best to partner with a startup to his marriage. And they worked.
What he thought was a entrepreneurship course, insisted the student, was in fact a course of life. Or, rather, a course in how to apply an entrepreneurial spirit to life outside the office. He helped me open my eyes to the big picture.
I had long viewed my job as an entrepreneurship teacher as educating the next generation of founders on how to start a business. But like other business school professors, I had neglected to see how embracing an entrepreneurial mindset can benefit students beyond a business environment.
Entrepreneurship education traditionally focuses on how to start a business. Budding entrepreneurs learn how to research the market, create a business plan, and raise capital. But the very characteristics that define an entrepreneur can have personal as well as professional value.
An entrepreneurial mindset consists of certain attributes – skills and attitudes – considered essential for success in business. For example, entrepreneurs know how to recognize an opportunity and use it to their advantage. They have developed a high tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, and the ability to make decisions despite this uncertainty. They are resilient enough to absorb setbacks – more than 80% of all start-ups fail within the first three years – learn from their mistakes, grow stronger from misfires and pivot quickly to adapt to unexpected challenges.
Entrepreneurs are exceptional at “divergent thinking,” otherwise known as thinking outside the box, which often leads to unconventional ideas. They are also strong in “convergent thinking,” taking a linear and analytical approach to generating a solution to a problem. Perhaps most importantly, they can get out of autopilot. It’s all too easy to take for granted that a service or product can – and should – be improved.
These skills are useful not only in launching an initial public offering, but also in marriage, friendship, and even maintaining a house. Entrepreneurship can be useful in our personal lives, beyond the corporate boardroom and innovation incubator. Let’s face it: life itself is an entrepreneurial business, whether we decide what college to attend, when to get married, whether we want to have kids, and how to pursue our careers. Entrepreneurship can make you better at negotiating your first home purchase and leading a board of directors in your church or synagogue.
If you maintain and develop an entrepreneurial spirit, you can learn to take risks and collaborate with others. You can address tensions, reconcile differences and achieve collective goals. You can plan for success while strengthening yourself after failure.
You’re going to live your life around the clock. As you move forward as an entrepreneur, you’ll find that all the skills you’re mastering between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., whether it’s time management, money and stress or improving your emotional intelligence, will be equally important. in how you live from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. As my student taught me, entrepreneurship can bring tangible rewards that lead to happiness at work and everywhere else. Now I know. And you too.
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