Girls, my car, getting a summer job, graduating, going to college and girls.
Those were my priorities in high school. Of course, I understand not all boys (or girls) have the same interests in high school, but I can tell you that entrepreneurship was not on the minds of most of the people I knew. The thought of running a business when I was in high school was as fleeting as becoming a professional baseball player.
These days, however, education is different. Youth are encouraged to learn about entrepreneurship at a much earlier age, and they are inundated with the idea through reality shows (Shark Tank) and celebrity fascinations (Mark Zuckerberg). There are also countless organizations that offer valuable resources toward supporting youth entrepreneurship.
This fact was driven home to me recently when I spoke with a group of highly talented and ambitious high school students who are part of an organization called Each 1 Teach 1, a youth leadership program that serves to provide students with the tools they need to build prosperous, successful futures in education and business.
While most of the students indicated that they one day wanted to run their own business, almost all wanted to finish college and/or get valuable work experience before endeavoring to do so. I find this is a common pattern among many professionals, including me at one point early in my career.
In today's highly competitive and crowded workforce, however, training yourself to think like an entrepreneur now will actually give you a competitive advantage while preparing you for your long-term goal of starting your own business.
Here are eight tips to get you started at thinking like an entrepreneur:
1. Be a solution finder, not a problem finder. The world is full of people who are really good at identifying problems. They are called complainers. What business needs are individuals who are not only adept at identifying problems but also great at finding a quick and feasible resolutions. Never raise an issue unless you are ready to suggest a solution.
2. Take responsibility, not credit. We have become a culture of blamers, always looking to shield ourselves from failure. The individuals who will rise in an organization know how to step up and take responsibility for issues and, as important, understand the importance of dishing out credit when things go right. Even if your employer does not recognize you for this great trait, it will pay off when (not if) you land in a leadership position.
3. Leverage failure. Most great companies these days understand that you cannot stay static and survive. Innovation, however, involves risk, and with risk comes failure. If you are willing to take calculated risks to better yourself and the business, you will shine above the rest of the group. Just be prepared to accept responsibility for failures and learn how to turn them into learning lessons that will make you a better leader.
4. Embrace teamwork and collaboration. Running a business and getting ahead at your job is difficult to do if you are an idiot. Understand your weaknesses and be willing to own up to the fact that you do not know everything. Find trustworthy partners who will work with you and supplement the areas you are weak. More importantly, surround yourself with people who will not say "yes" to everything you do.
5. Embrace fairness. It is also very difficult to run a business or get ahead in your job if you are obnoxious. In today's highly connected and hyper-social climate, you can no more run from your injustices than hide from them. To get ahead, you need to treat everyone with fairness and respect.
6. Build your network. Success often derives from who you know more than what you know. For this reason, it is important to start nurturing professional relationships early in your career, surrounding yourself with a group of people with shared interests and ambitions. Even if you do not use this network for entrepreneurial endeavors, you never know when it will become useful when changing vocations.
7. Curate your inner creative. Many people claim to be uncreative. Being creative, however, does not necessarily mean being able to design stand-out logos or create immortal brand identities. At the basic level, it means being able to look at problems and find solutions. Many of the same creative processes that go into developing a stylish logo can be applied to attacking obstacles and challenges in a business.
8. Do something you enjoy. If you one day plan on starting a business, do so by doing something you enjoy. Why else would you take the time and put in the effort? Same with work. While it is not always possible to land your dream job, always keep in mind the end game and excel at the opportunity you have in front of you. In the end, remember the lyrics of the great Stephen Stills song, "If you can be with the one you love ... love the one you're with."
Even if you do not think you have what it takes to start a business right now (I would argue that you do), these tips for thinking like an entrepreneur will help your career and differentiate you from your peers. When you think you are ready to take the plunge into entrepreneurship, you will be prepared mentally to do so after years of practice.