Friday, September 9, 2011

The beauty of innovation and entrepreneurship

Welcome back to our blog! As with many bloggers, I like to write about topics that interest me.  Recently, while doing the series on money, I started thinking about the challenges facing the South African SME business environment. Something I am passionate about. That led me to this series on a mindset for business success.      

Since I have never really worked in large corporates, I am mostly familiar with the SME industry in South Africa. I have some experience in the running of a small business,which makes me familiar with many of the challenges facing the management of SMME's in South Africa.  And there are many challenges facing small business owners.

My journey into the small business circles was not easy, not by a long shot, it rarely is. When doing something difficult, we often reflect on the reasons that led to us to choose the hard road. So I have, lately I wondered why I chose the road into small business in the first place.    

To me, finding employment after university was not easy. That was definitely a factor.  I completed an Honours degree in psychology; which I later found was not in very high demand among potential employers. So began my stubborn journey into small business and consulting.   

I am sure I am not alone in this situation.  I think many budding entrepreneurs and business owners, kind of, 'fall' into their own business at some point. Many of us started a business after having what Michael Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited terms an "entrepreneurial seizure", a sudden influx of entrepreneurial inspiration (excellent book by the way).  

Reading statistics on small businesses, we see that the picture is not pretty. While the stats are debatable, in essence, most small businesses are more than likely to fail. The chance of becoming the next Zuckerberg, Gates, or Branson is also very small.  So why then do small business owners take the road of the business startup?

Why start a business? Why start something that, more often than not, is a very crappy, high risk, low paying job for the first number of years. I am sure the answer will vary. Some may answer money. Yes, indeed, money is part of the motivation - many entrepreneurs are very wealthy, maybe also freedom - the ability to be set your own schedule. But during the startup stages, most owners will tell you, there often is very little money or freedom.

I  agree with Robert Kiyosaki, who tells us in one of his books that money is never enough of a motivation for success in business. So why start a business?  

I can only comment on something that inspires me.  That is the link between innovation and entrepreneurship. A critical part of the mindset of many entrepreneurs is the desire to innovate, to start something new and valuable. Steven Vanderleest, in an article, beautifully defines entrepreneurship as the 'art and science of innovation' - the innovation of new products, new businesses, and new approaches.

And we desperately need such innovation in South Africa. We need new ideas, new approaches, new businesses, and new systems. Entrepreneurs are at the beachhead of those. Maybe we don't need more funding, less taxes, and more support. Though those would be nice Mr Government!

What we need are new ideas. Ideas truly have the power to change the world. Ideas took the world from agriculture to industry, and from industry to the information age. Are there any limits on the value of ideas? I think not. A good idea could affect millions, even billions, of people.

The world needs new ideas. Like ideas on how to extract clean energy from see water.  Or ideas on how to effectively harness the energy of the sun.  We need ideas on how to solve the HIV/Aids epidemic.  There are a myriad of problems that need new ideas.  South Africa desperately needs new ideas.

Fortunately, ideas are the basic hardware entrepreneurs work with. It is from ideas new industries grow , I believe, It is ideas that will create the jobs needed to counter unemployment in South Africa.

Within this innovation mindset, problems always represent entrepreneurial opportunity. Pollution brought the opportunity for clean energy technologies. Communication problems stimulated the development of the internet and cellular phones.  Transport problems stimulated the development of cars, trains and air travel. A problem often is the seedling of opportunity, I wish we'll start seeing it that way in SA    

I am hoping that all of us looking to do entrepreneurial work will shift our attitude from a negative to a positive outlook.  I hope that we will stop seeing what is wrong, and start seeing the opportunities in our nation's problems. I am hoping that we will have faith that things can change and that we'll  keep our eyes open for the opportunities.

Thanks for reading and happy innovating! 

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