Sandy Kennedy: Leading the Entrepreneurial Way

Things are just not working out as planned.

Looking back a year, our worries seem trivial, easy to overcome compared with the challenges that loom ahead. Yet perhaps that predictability, last year’s comfort, was just an illusion – a trick in the brain’s software, evolved to soften the edges of uncertainty, give us a sense of control. Our comfort was bolstered by others around us, our own confirmation bias and, apparently, the past being the best predictor of the future.

In those “normal times”, we convinced ourselves that we had it covered. In our rational view, with us all knowing humans as the heroes, we forecast, built plans, picked the optimal one, amassed our resources and team and went forward to glory. When things went wrong, we blame the forecasts, choosing the wrong plan, not enough resources, poor execution – if only they had seen that at the start it would all have worked out, silly fools. Perhaps.

Yet now assume your forecasts are already wrong, your plans are flawed, you have insufficient resources and the path is unclear. What do you do?

You need to think and act differently – call it the entrepreneurial way. The entrepreneurial way is not new and has much in common with the methods used by the scientific pioneers. Start with an idea, test it, learn, adapt the test and go again. It is an iterative process, great discoveries don’t happen in a flash but arrive in the wake of prior failure.

The good news is that anyone can become entrepreneurial. It takes a mindset, skills and connectivity. It takes lots of practice and experiential learning. As Professor Colin Mason of Glasgow University puts it, “you cannot learn to swim in a library”.

It starts with an entrepreneurial mindset. An openness to learn is essential. The best leaders are the best learners. That curiosity must be twinned with resilience to endure failure. Finally, you need to get going, you need to do stuff and not just talk about it.

You can develop a toolbox of skills, models and techniques to be more effective. A toolbox that helps you define your goal, sell, blend creativity with analysis, inspire customers and investors, build a team, sell, build minimum viable products, test and measure, gather resources and people around you, and sell. You will need that openness to learning to suck it all up.

And finally, you need connectivity. It is proven that diverse connections increase your creativity and the likelihood of serendipitous collisions. Your connections give you quick access to resources and feedback to test your ideas. Who you surround yourself with, your peers, your role models, directly affects your performance and is a pool of learning to draw on.

All successful start-ups learn the entrepreneurial way. Scale-ups are already on the path yet need to stretch their learning and fill in the gaps missed along the way. Corporates and family businesses can nurture those who show entrepreneurial promise and revive the entrepreneurial spirit dormant in their firms. For governments and the public sector to drive vital change, they need an army of entrepreneurial leaders and talent inside and outside.

When enough people think and act entrepreneurially together, it can shift the culture of the organisation. That entrepreneurial culture, in turn, will flow through the whole team and imbue new starts.

Imagine if this can-do, entrepreneurial culture branched into Scotland’s society at large. If it took root everywhere. Imagine what we could achieve. However, it comes down to people like you, starting, growing, experimenting, learning. Best start now.

Sandy Kennedy is CEO of the Entrepreneurial Scotland Foundation

(Article originally published in The Herald: