Corporate World Or Entrepreneurship? It Doesn't Have To Be One Versus The Other
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It seems like everybody and her best friend wants to be an entrepreneur today. Whether we’re talking coding for six-year-olds, building leadership skills in tweens, or a 19-year-old with a staff of 20 developers, the focus on finding the next Musk, Zuckerberg or, closer to home, Sheikha and Olsson, is relentless.
And why not? Who wouldn’t want to be the next disruptor, changing the world, and making more money than you could ever spend while doing it? Who wouldn’t want to be the nation that can take great credit for creating an environment where such people could not only survive and take these risks, but also get supported in doing so? But that’s just the point- those disruptors don’t do it alone. They need support. Nobody can do it alone. Even the most successful self-made entrepreneur didn’t do it alone. Whether it was the state school system who educated them, or the Bank of Mum and Dad bankrolling rent and living costs, or the government funding that lead to the tech breakthroughs they use, all startups rely on others. We are all part of a wider ecosystem.
And, just like in nature, a successful ecosystem is a diverse one, comprising of startups (tech, e-commerce, agriculture, etc.), fast-growth companies in other areas, long-established firms and government agencies, as well as the myriad of SMEs that live to serve all of these. So, yes, we should encourage entrepreneurship, but we must remember that entrepreneurship takes on many different shapes and forms– perhaps we can consider it a mindset, rather than a job role to better understand its potential. It’s our job, in the “corporate” world, to help highlight which roles exists/will exist in the enterprise of the future– to identify and develop young talent who can thrive in these roles, and help us build and take full advantage of an innovative, knowledge economy.
Corporate may not seem “cool,” but even the coolest startup won’t be that way forever- as it scales, processes have to be put in place, investors must be kept happy, and while there might be a play hard mentality (foosball tables, beanbags, Xbox tournaments at lunch), it certainly comes second to work hard (late nights, pressure to meet deadlines, etc.) Working in an established organization, or for an SME has its own rewards. A track record of profitability, reputation, and stability to see a long-term vision turn into reality- these aren’t small things. And they might just outweigh the foosball table and Xbox in the long run.
And, of course, working in a corporate environment doesn’t mean giving up on innovation, or having autonomy- two of the most appealing reasons to join an entrepreneurial environment. It is possible to build a culture within existing organizations that supports failing fast, a culture of candor (honest, real-time feedback), and a culture that supports those who ask questions and “disrupt” at every level. When we support intrapreneurship –bringing an entrepreneurial mindset into a corporate environment– we can make big changes. Do you have any idea how much time and money is wasted every year on unnecessary processes, simply because nobody is speaking up? An entrepreneurial culture is one where everyone is expected to try and make things better- if we could do that in the corporate environment, perhaps we wouldn’t have a situation where tech startups are seen as the only answer.
Of course, it’s amazing that there are so many young startup founders, but guess what? There are lots of people who want to contribute differently, who want different experiences. Maybe they want to learn things on the “inside” to bring it outside later. Maybe not. Life doesn’t end at 30, if you’re not the founder of a multi-billion dirham empire. There is increasing research that shows the most successful entrepreneurs are older ones. It makes sense– think of all the incredible experiences you will absorb throughout your life, both professionally and personally. The smartest people understand that all experiences offer learning opportunities, even if they’re bad.
It’s truer now than ever before: you’re going to be working a long time, and in an environment that’s hard to imagine right now, doing jobs that may not exist. You’re going to do more than one thing over a long life. Just make sure you do something that’s right for you.