For the last five years, I have been a full-time entrepreneur, building a company which today, has over 400 people on the payroll. Prior to that, I had been an academic for 10 years, and prior to that, an engineer for 5 years. Other than getting on with ageing over this period, I have found that at some point, without warning, things have moved from being somewhat overwhelming to becoming somewhat easier. I would like to say easy, but that would just be looking for trouble and I frankly don’t need more of that now.
Malcolm Gladwell popularised the concept that “mastery” of any field requires 10,000 hours of practice. That is quite a number of hours, and usually equates to about 10 years if you dedicate a few hours a day of practice. Doing the same thing for 10,000 hours can be both boring and fruitless. You can dedicate more hours to shorten the time to mastery, but it may affect your ability to earn a living and get a date on any given night. So obviously, just repeating the same thing, like a mouse on a spinning wheel, is not enough. Enters the concept of Directed Practice.
“As in the story of Hansel and Gretchel, when you find the first reliable path through a forest of chaos, it reduces uncertainty.”
Directed practice implies that practice is not just the mindless, repetitive doing of something while your mind wanders to better pastures, which is more or less what I did practicing the piano, and subsequently didn’t have much to show for it.
Directed practice is actively engaging in whatever it is you are trying to master, identifying the bits you’re not good at, finding ways to get better at those bits, and practicing those bits until you’re good at it. It is also constantly engaging with what you are unfamiliar with and getting used to dealing with it, then put it all together as one masterful whole. And then repeat, until you’ve filled your share of 10,000 hours. And almost in the blink of 10,000 you have mastery.
But what does this have to do with my life as entrepreneur becoming less difficult? A lot, actually.
I did the calculations and found the following: During my five years as an entrepreneur, I worked at least 8 hours per day (mostly more, but let us just take out lunch and driving). Over a 5-year period, this equates to 10 000 hours.
But that was not all. As entrepreneur and CEO, I was confronted by so many new situations and fields related to the business (such as Legal issues, HR, finance, politics, engineering, mentoring, leadership, sales). Each time I had to figure out what it was, how it works, and practice it by reading books, talking to experts, experimenting, failing, falling and standing up. This was very difficult, very time-consuming and mostly painful.
But then at some point, things started to fall in place. I had achieved some form of mastery. Many day-to-day business issues and problems still lingered, but I had learned how to handle them better and how to tackle the unknowns with a lot more confidence and grace than in the past.
Playing Out In Real Life
Although I developed more expertise about our specific business, the market we play in, how the model fits together, the intricacies of how to sell and how actions link to profitability, it is also true that the market started to notice the business over a period of time. I think the market just started to get used to us being there, and started believing in our staying power, our longevity as a business. I’d like to believe we had built trust with our clients, enough for them to understand how and where to engage with us, and what to expect of us.
We Had Started To Build A Track Record, Establish A Reputation.
As a business, return customers, account growth, and pipeline management became the norm. We created names for our systems and processes, developed and tested these a bit more. We started to look past cash flow to break-even and profitability. Some of our employees actually received five-year long-term employment certificates! We defined our market into smaller niches which means we no longer shuffle everything around. Our board meetings would make Prof Mervyn King proud.
A Most Valuable Resource
All of this made me realise why experienced (or Master) entrepreneurs are so valuable in our country. They are literally worth more than gold and oil. It takes time and a special breed of people to go through the difficult process of mastering such a wide and encompassing field such as entrepreneurship.
It is so much easier and stable to do a specialised job well, get promotion and receive bonuses as part of employment. You can study for it, gain invaluable experience through work and focus on one aspect of business (such as sales or finance).
Entrepreneurship mastery is not achieved by attending a “master class”, doing a degree or reading books. It is also not achieved by doing the same kind of job repeatedly. These are but a few small components which undoubtedly help. But we have evaluated so many incubation programmes that just provide space, and/or short theory- based courses, and we have found that few good entrepreneurs exit.
Entrepreneurship is a profession, a lot of hard-earned know-how coupled with experience on all aspects of running a business.
Master entrepreneurship requires entrepreneurs who have gone through the whole process of starting a business and growing it to scale. This often requires establishing more than one business to achieve full process mastery. And this takes time, special people, special circumstances and often includes some financial losses. Master entrepreneurs have played all the levels of the game.
At Resolution Circle, we have seen this over and over again. As our own business matures, we have recognised similar issues in other businesses. We see many innovative ideas and great inventors. As a technology commercialisation company, we also see the severe lack of experienced entrepreneurs driving businesses.
But every so often, we see a magician walking in, and almost instinctively, we just know that magic will be created. And that is our big reward, to help create the magic. And in the process, to see yet another Master Entrepreneur being birthed. Products come and go, businesses will be formed and they will die. But Master Entrepreneurs are valuable.
And that, I believe, is our most important contribution.