Editorial: Entrepreneurial thinking

Feb 26, 2015

tiger-shark_w520Show paints difference between risk-takers and everyone else. Mark Zweig shares some additional food for thought.

Watching “Shark Tank” episodes back-to-back last night was a great case study in the differences between entrepreneurs and most other businesspeople. It really got me thinking of entrepreneurs versus managers in the AEC business. If you’ve never watched the show, you should. The “Sharks” (Mark Cuban et al) listen to pitches from people who have businesses or products they are trying to get the sharks to invest in. The sharks then either destroy them because of the lunacy (or idiocy) of their request or make them an offer – with or without the cooperation of another shark or sharks. Pretty cool deal. The sharks all put their own money into these businesses. Although I’m sure some aspects of the show are staged (I don’t believe in reality TV that actually is reality), the main premise of the show is real. These sharks invest in business ideas pitched on the show. One of the things you immediately notice about the sharks is they are quick to make a decision. Sure, they may ask a question or two, but they can decide whether or not they like a business or idea very quickly. Being quick to make a call is not how most people operate. They see that behavior as risky or irresponsible. But the sharks see any indecision as what it is (you can’t make a decision) and lose interest quickly when would-be investment partners cannot immediately respond to their offer or offers. Sometimes I really feel sorry for the people who couldn’t act when the opportunity was right in front of them. Another thing you see with the sharks is they understand the value of a proven concept versus an untested one. When people who have actually gotten their businesses off the ground and running at a profit show up they are usually much more interested in them than in those who just have a product or idea. Credibility comes from what you have done. Regular businessfolk are often seduced by an idea or person. Sharks are more skeptical. They can be seduced – by performance. The sharks aren’t afraid to buck a trend. Just because four sharks may say “no” to someone doesn’t mean a fifth shark won’t say “yes.” They are each very independent thinkers and can do their own thing. While they clearly have some respect for one another they don’t shy away from disagreement. Nor are they shattered or disturbed if the other sharks don’t go along with them. The sharks are also very free with their opinions. Most of them aren’t going to hold back whatever is on their mind – good or bad. Sure, that makes for good reality TV. But I don’t think these people are acting. “Regular” businesspeople are typically much more reserved and fearful of hurting someone’s feelings than these sharks are. If you are reading this column, there’s a good chance you could be a “shark” in what you perceive to be a tank full of other kinds of fish. It may be frustrating to you at times that the other folks you work with don’t react as quickly as you do, or can’t make a decision on something, or seem to be more worried about others’ feelings than they are getting something done. Or maybe they just get easily seduced by unproven concepts that sound exciting. Whatever the case is, unless you are the majority owner and undisputed dictator in your firm you can’t just push a button and make things happen (Hell, you can’t do that even when you are the “dictator”). People have free will, they are intelligent, and they need to be convinced. Even though you may have a stellar track record in every single thing you’ve done, not everyone is wired like you. The skeptics may see your success in spite of brashness more as a function of luck than skill. You need to sell them every single day on your vision and your ideas. Here are some thoughts:
  • Data helps. People like information. Find the information that helps articulate the problem or opportunity at hand and share it.
  • Time helps. The time you spend with people better allows you to share your logic and put it all together for those who may not see it.
  • Validation helps. Small tests – and small successes – help build credibility. Big successes even more so! Look for validation and don’t be afraid to share it.
  • Freedom of expression helps. As the leader, it’s your job to create that culture – and not just for yourself but for everyone. Everyone needs to know they can air their opinions. If they are wildly divergent from yours, you have to tolerate them, just as they have to tolerate your opinions. This culture of openness is essential to moving forward in spite of differences.
  • Recruiting more “sharks” helps. Getting a critical mass of people who understand that growth is a mandate and not just something you do when everything else is perfect is also going to make life easier for you. It isn’t easy – but you have to keep recruiting. Entrepreneurial thinking really can spread; it is something people can learn. I’ve witnessed firms in this business go through a complete metamorphosis.
An important point: Contrary to pop culture’s generally accepted conventional wisdom, entrepreneurs are not better or superior human beings. They are different and like all individuals, each have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s kind of like the tools in your toolbox. A box-end ratchet isn’t an inherently better tool than a visegrip pliers. Different tools serve different purposes and we need many kinds of “tools” (i.e., “people”) in our tool chests. Entrepreneurs are simply often better equipped to run growing enterprises in a rapidly changing dynamic environment than more traditional managers. In my experience, we all need more entrepreneurial thinking! Mark Zweig is the chairman and CEO of Zweig Group. Contact him with questions or comments at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.
This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1093, originally published 3/2/2015. Copyright© 2015, Zweig Group. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.