Eight years ago, at the end of the first personal finance class session I was teaching to college freshmen who came mostly from disadvantaged communities, and while they all left the classroom, one approached me. She had heard me say I was originally trained as an engineer. “I’ve never met an engineer” she said. “What do engineers do?”. I had to give her the short answer, as we were being kicked out by the next class coming in. “There are many kinds” I said. “There are civil, electrical, mechanical, industrial, chemical….” I was going nowhere fast. She was still frowning, puzzled. I then thought of the best simple answer I could come up with: “One thing they all have in common is that they solve problems, they figure out ways to solve problems with all kinds of things.”
In the realm of things, engineers, and most all technically trained people, will be able to make them work better. They will fix what is broken, they will improve a design. In many instances, your life will be made easier if you have a techie in your circle of friends.
My mind was wandering recently, looking for a past experience to help me get going with my writing. I played in my head the same scenario with that student after class, who this time may have asked me “What do entrepreneurs do?”. Entrepreneurs are similar but different. Some are techies, some are not. It is not a requirement for them to be technical to be good entrepreneurs. My answer would have been the same, or, better. In my daydream I pictured myself answering: “Entrepreneurs solve problems. They figure out ways to solve problems with all kinds of things. They solve these problems for other people. Since people are their customers, they are even better solving problems that deal with people than problems that deal with things.”
With the right training, debugging a subroutine on a program that fails on execution is relatively easy. Debugging consumer behavior patterns and what most people would choose given options on products is hard. Building a motivated, driven team of people around a product or service that provides a solution to a customer problem is hard. The leadership and consciousness in dealing with people required for this is hard.
Consciousness is the key. It is widely written about in the leadership and management literature. Consciousness makes us aware of our surroundings, and of problems. The more conscious you get, the more specifically you can pinpoint the root causes of problems. Cultivating this skill will help you make problems seems smaller by delimiting them. Smaller problems become manageable.
Successful entrepreneurs get rid of the roadblocks that appear in their path when building a business. They can do this because they are good solving problems. They are good solving technical problems, and they are good solving people problems. The people problems they solve can be their customer’s (because they are able to consciously gain insight into their needs) or their team’s (because they consciously are able to motivate them). The technical problems they solve can be solved by them or by their technical staff, which they can expertly manage because they have the right people skills to do this, the ones we are trying to make a point about here. Do you get the point?
I think the entrepreneurs that have the best shot at success cultivate consciousness. The best positioned ones among these cultivate it to the point of not only being aware of the people around them, and how they need to deal with them, but to the point of being more conscious of the mistakes they themselves make. Cultivating this skill becomes a process of enlightenment, and that is what makes them able to thrive in their environment.