The realm of an entrepreneur is all about change, but in my experience as a mentor to business founders, I hear too much about incremental change, and not enough about revolutionary change. Adding a couple of new features to Facebook, and calling it something new, may seem less risky, but creating a whole new industry, such as smartphones, has far more potential.
Of course, many would argue that more fundamental innovations, or paradigm shifts, take a long time and cost more money, but from my perspective, these are what really move our society forward. We need more people who are willing to follow the mantra of business leader David McCourt in his new book, “Total Rethink: Why Entrepreneurs Should Act Like Revolutionaries.”
David is an award-winning entrepreneur, and often described as an early revolutionary in the telecom industry, based on early innovation in fiber networks, cable TV systems, and international communications. I was impressed with his many insights into what makes a world-class revolutionary entrepreneur, including the following:
- Never be afraid to think big – or to think young. Whenever you have a great idea, ask yourself why it couldn’t be made 10 times bigger, or even 100 times. Talk to everyone and think young. Too many people leave it to the younger generation to find answers to the problems of the future. Don’t be hamstrung by your biases or your past experiences. Today every small business can look big, via a modern website, visibility on social media, and taking an active role in popular causes. Uber and Airbnb are examples of startups that started the sharing movement, but quickly grew to challenge large conglomerates.
- The best are insatiably curious about everything. Some of the innovations with the biggest business opportunities, including the Internet of Things (IoT), are coming from technical advances in one industry applied to another. Great entrepreneurs cross industry boundaries to find synergies, and are constantly in learn mode on several fronts. Elon Musk, for example, not only runs Tesla and SpaceX, but has several seemingly unrelated other initiatives, including OpenAI, Neuralink, and The Boring Company. Sir Richard Branson has initiated over 200 companies, from airlines to music labels.
- Utilize the power shift from top-down to bottom-up. The top-down, centralized way we have been running the world for the last couple of centuries is no longer a viable model to follow. The shift is being caused by a combination of technology, social media, and the way people now absorb information, particularly the younger generations. When Uber met with opposition to their new model for transport, the company was able to harness the power of crowdsourcing and social media and use it to support a cause. The changes are happening because every individual can now make their voice heard.
- The power of diversity no longer requires immigration. With today’s world-wide instant communication and the internet, every new business is global by default, and distributed team members are spread across international boundaries without waiting for immigration. The diversity of ideas, cultures, and motivations is a powerful change agent. For example, Alibaba Group in China was able to become the world’s largest e-commerce company, serving millions of B2B customers around the world, by capitalizing on diverse cultural needs and strengths, both inside and outside the company.
- Achieving the impossible is within reach. Impossible has never been a fact, it’s an opinion and a mindset. These days, all of us have seen so many amazing changes, through new technologies, dramatic social change, and a better understanding of the universe, that we believe the impossible will be available just by persistent effort. A generation ago, who would have believed that we would soon have self-driving cars, robots with artificial intelligence, or people queueing up for a trip to Mars? As entrepreneurs adopt this new mindset, they are becoming fearless and more powerful.
Entrepreneurs thinking like revolutionaries, with the mindset outlined here, are the ones that will really reshape our future, and garner the biggest opportunities at the same time. The rest may see some short-term success, but face the greater risk of being trampled into extinction before their time. Which category do you want to be a part of?