I can honestly say that I have never gone into any business purely to make money. If that is the sole motive, you are better off not doing it. A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise creative instincts.  ~ Richard Branson

When you decide to follow the path of self-employment, old notions that you can only make a living working for someone else may not be the only thought you need to leave behind. Your idea of what it takes to be an entrepreneur may be as outdated as the typewriter, too.

Listen in on a conventional business conversation and the first thing you’ll notice is how often sports are used as a metaphor. You’ll hear things like, “That’s just par for the course. You gotta step up to the plate. We need more team players around here.”

Business as a competitive game reflects another outdated image.

Much of the information about starting a business reflects a limited concept, too. When the idea of starting my own business took root in my mind, I began doing research.

What I discovered was the assumption that everyone wanted to grow a massive enterprise. Did I really want a building with my name in six-foot high gold letters? Employees? Pension plans? None of that appealed to me.

The idea of working for myself wouldn’t go away and I decided there must be another way of doing things—a way that’s high on satisfaction and simplicity. Happily, Dr. Schumacher came along and affirmed my hunches.

The philosophy of small scale enterprise gained global attention in the seventies when economist E.F. Schumacher wrote his visionary book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. Schumacher mainly caught the attention of the counterculture, since conventional business was still focused on a Bigger is Better mentality.

Yet his ideas made sense to those concerned about global issues, as well as those who suspected that one of the functions of business was to help people actualize their potential.

He argued that those benefits could only come from small scale enterprises that care about people and the planet. It’s an idea that suddenly seems ripe and ready to replace the old model.

Meet the 21st Century Entrepreneur

The signs are everywhere that a new kind of businessperson is emerging. The venerable Wall Street Journal even named an editor to cover Lifestyle Entrepreneurs, as they call them. These are people who start businesses for reasons other than amassing a fortune and building a large organization.

These visionaries don’t resemble athletes at all. In fact, they look more like gardeners.

Paul Hawken, a successful entrepreneur and writer, goes so far as to suggest that every business student should study biology since the lessons learned in the plant world directly apply to successful businesses.

Penelope Hobhouse, a real hands-on gardener and prolific writer, shared her life rules for garden design and the parallels to good business design are obvious. (I’ve added a couple of comments in parenthesis.)

1. Never go anywhere without a notebook. Be a perpetual student.

2. Find a mentor—one or many.

3. Do your homework.

4. Trust your own experience. Keep notes of what works and what doesn’t.

5. Don’t get hung up on plants (or products or services). A garden is bigger than all that.

6. Never think you’ll get it right the first time. If a plant isn’t happy, don’t hesitate to dig it up and move it to a better spot.

7. Encourage self-seeding plants to seek their own place in the garden. (Find your own metaphor in that.)

8. Don’t forget that sunlight and shade are design elements. (Your business needs variety and contrast, too.)

9. Avoid fussiness. Above all, simplify.

10. Focus on the garden you really want.

4 Responses to “Challenging Worn Out Ideas”

  1. Dee Relyea

    Wonderful post! In my experience teaching small business startup workshops, I have found that the vast majority of students are not motivated by money. They want to use the gifts and talents they have to make a difference. Happily, I do see a new model evolving.

  2. Bob Wilson

    Barbara – I really love what you wrote here. That’s right on target about how the business world has changed/is changing. Also, instead of the business owner being like an athlete, they are more like a gardener – that’s brilliant. Thanks for sharing this with us.
    Bob Wilson

    p.s. I’ve started on your book (Making a Living Without a Job) and am really, really enjoying it.

  3. Suzann Grogan

    Barbara, you’re ‘right on target’ about entrepreneurs and small businesses. For those of us who run a very small business (micro-businesses, I’m seen them called, though ours is literally a mom-and-pop shop), all the how-to business books insist we’re doing it wrong by not aiming to be a 500-person company. We feel we are doing just fine by keeping it small, hands-on, and quality-oriented. Our customers must think so, too, as business is steadily going up, and we just bought two new pieces of equipment. Keep on pointing out that small (or micro) can be a right answer, too.

  4. Barbara Winter

    Thanks for all your kind comments. I find it exciting–and encouraging–that so many people who are or want to be entrepreneurs are also challenging the old paradigm. Alas, there are still too many people selling formulas and ignoring the creative adventure that is the big prize for being self-employed.

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