The Mature Entrepreneur – Part II

(This post is the result of a collaboration between Amy Shelton and Nicole Radziwill. Image Credit: Doug Buckley of Hyperactive Multimedia at

In our previous post, we talked about the 30+ entrepreneur who, after building a career working for others, is now ready to be his or her own boss. Presumably, you’re reading this post because this person is you. (If not, imagine for a few minutes that it is.) Whatever your start-up is, it probably represents a passion for you. You have innovative ideas and you’ve branched off on your own because you need the freedom to realize your vision. But how did you reach this point? How did you figure out that starting a new initiative was your calling?

You’ll have your own answers. We’ll share ours.

Nicole’s favorite definition of quality is from the now-deprecated ISO 8402, which defines quality as “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and unstated needs.” Now, imagine the entity is you. What characteristics of your self or your environment will help you satisfy stated and unstated needs – in other words, get things done right and produce solutions that customers or users will really love? Nicole needs an environment that’s flexible enough to hear her out on her craziest ideas and maybe even work with her on them, respect her for the times when her crazy ideas have panned out big, and provide extra support for her (sans unconstructive criticism) where she needs it, and the benefit of the doubt when she can’t totally explain her intuition.

Amy also needs freedom to explore intuition. But above all, she craves an environment where everyone brings their A-game to form a collaboration greater than any one of the individuals, with each of the individuals committed to collective betterment of the company and to creating useful products customers love. So what happens when your work environment works against you? You might find yourself reading this post.In “The Curve of Talent,” Eric Paley talks about A players. We all know an A player when we see one. They exude optimism and skill, their ideas are big and risky, and they can create absolute magic given the opportunity and right environment. The problem is, according to Paley, that “few large corporations create cultures that give A players room to win.” What happens to A players when they aren’t given room to win?Paley doesn’t really go into much detail here. But from personal experience, we can give you a synopsis of the downward spiral:

1. The A player comes up with some revolutionary idea that could solve some really pertinent problems. In most cases, he or she is really interested in sharing that idea with other A players (or open minded B players), sculpting those ideas into even better ideas, and creating a shared plan for doing something awesome.

2. Often, there are few A players around. The A players who are around are usually interested in hearing the idea, adding their awesome ideas to the idea, and brainstorming until a totally new and even more amazing idea emerges that everyone’s all psyched to work on. This A team (no pun intended) will figure out how to bootstrap the time, effort, energy, and funding (in most cases) to realize their idea. At this point, they’re all super excited and can’t wait to go.

3. In the absence of other closed-minded B players who would get in the way of the awesome idea, the A’s will fly and do great things! But usually (in a large organization), they will have to convince some B and C managers that their idea is worthwhile. Often, the B’s and C’s will resist the idea. There’s not enough time. Not enough manpower. The way we do it has worked just fine for a long time. Maybe they’ll drag the argument on for a few months. Or a year or two. Lots of talk and time lost in idleness.

4. The A now has to make a choice between two options: Option 1) Do it anyway, and hope that when the B’s and C’s see the idea in action, they’ll pretend it’s their own and forget that the new idea was not originally part of the accepted plan. Option 2) Abandon the idea. Feel contempt for the shortsighted B’s and C’s who wouldn’t (or weren’t able to) see the genius in the vision. Try to ignore that sinking feeling in the gut that comes when your new idea is shot down.

5. Since Option 1 rarely works out in the A’s interest, Option 2 is probably more likely to be selected. So what happens after an A player selects Option 2 a few times? He or she might sink into a terrible depression, lose all sense of professional confidence, feel no satisfaction in any work any more, change jobs to get away from the naysayers, get on mood stabilizing medication, bring the professional dissatisfaction home where the dark cloud will linger over everyone who lives there indefinitely, or all of the above.

Or, the A will go launch a startup.

So what environment is best for A players? Answer: Startups and other entrepreneurial ventures, of course! Paley states:

To succeed, most startups need some core team of A players; folks who can “write the book and not just read it.” These are an incredibly rare breed of people who not only have a clear idea how to competently accomplish their functional objectives, but actually lead the organization to innovate and be world class within their functional area.  They raise the bar on the entire organization.

Moral of the story: the Mature Entrepreneur is likely to be an A player. If you have a great idea – coupled with the guts, energy and knowledge to go make it happen, you might be an A. So if you’re a little nervous about striking out on your own at your “advanced” age, take comfort in the fact that you wouldn’t be doing this unless you were part of this rare breed.

And just think about how fun it will be to finally work with other like-minded A’s.

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