by Christine Hamilton-Pennell, Rocky Mountain Chapter, Competitive Intelligence and Taxonomy Divisions
Associating with entrepreneurs is energizing! I have spent much of the last eight years working with entrepreneurs of all stripes. My definition of an entrepreneur is “someone who perceives an opportunity and creates and grows an organization to pursue it”—whether a for-profit business or a social enterprise. Some of these folks have been wildly successful, while others have struggled and some have experienced dramatic failures.
Based upon the encounters I’ve had with successful entrepreneurs, I have identified several characteristics and habits of mind they exhibit that I believe we as information professionals can incorporate into our own thinking:
- They are optimistic—sometimes to a fault. They are confident that they can change the world and create a successful venture.
- They are persistent. If one avenue, approach or method doesn’t work, or if they run into roadblocks, they look for alternatives. They don’t take “no” for an answer.
- They constantly look for ways to innovate in the products and services they offer, their distribution channels, and their avenues for marketing. They look for niches and gaps in the market—customer needs that no one else is filling.
- They take calculated risks, weighing the insights derived from both their intuition and analytical reasoning before making business decisions. This is what Roger Martin calls “abductive reasoning” in his book, Design of Business (Harvard University Press, 2009).
- They recognize the importance of building a good leadership team, one that possesses the complementary suite of skills required to successfully run their business or enterprise.
- They recognize that they cannot succeed alone. They are not threatened by collaboration, and actively seek out strategic partnerships. They see the value of teaming up with “competitors” and others in their industry space—creating a “team of rivals”—in order to construct a stronger value proposition in the marketplace and create a win-win scenario for all involved.
- They spend time both working in the business (doing the essential work of the enterprise) and working on the business—exploring new opportunities and developing the processes and strategies required for future growth.
- If their initiatives fail—even miserably—they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and say, “Well, I learned that next time I will try this instead…”
Thinking like an entrepreneur is about having “internal locus of control,” a psychological construct that refers to the practice of looking at what you have control over, and how to change it, rather than focusing on external factors and playing the victim.
An example in the library world of an entrepreneurial thinker is Sara Jones, director of the Carson City (Nevada) Library. She and her deputy director, Tammy Westergard, have created partnerships with business and economic development entities across the city and have made significant contributions to the city’s economic revitalization. Through their initiatives, the city created a Business Research Innovation Center that houses city business offices, business service providers, the local arts agency, and a business research center run by the library. I have written about her efforts on my blog, http://bit.ly/kWaBtw, and also included the case study in my e-book, Creating an Entrepreneur-Friendly Public Library, http://bit.ly/jIFQxp.
Special librarians and independent information professionals already understand that they need to demonstrate their value to their parent organization and clients. And there is no question that we are experiencing challenging times in our profession. But an additional shot of entrepreneurial thinking can help us develop a level of confidence and creativity that allows us to see these challenges as opportunities. We can identify niches that no one else is filling. We can team up with unlikely partners to expand our reach and impact. We can innovate by offering new products and services. Like a successful entrepreneur, we can learn to say, “What if…?” and “Why not…?” and know that we really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Christine Hamilton-Pennell, Growing Local Economies, Inc., is a librarian and information professional who currently spends her time consulting and training in communities and libraries across the country to support local economic and entrepreneurship development efforts. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.