The Entrepreneurial Mindset

By Kenneth Surbrugg, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Missouri Southern State University

The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI) defines entrepreneurship as “a self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. By creating value for others, entrepreneurs empower themselves.”

I like this definition of entrepreneurship. It’s simple and practical. When I first heard this definition, I smiled at its simplicity and practicality. There are four parts of this definition that stood out and are worth exploring:

  1. Self-directed pursuit. This is important. It is difficult to pursue something without being self-motivated and self-directed. You have to have a higher tolerance to ambiguity and be self-aware to pursue ideas that interest you. Resilience is an important trait in entrepreneurs. Are you pursuing your dreams or someone else’s?
  2. Opportunities. What is an opportunity? You have to have empathy to look at problems from the eyes of others to uncover opportunities. This is not about you – this is about others. Not every idea is an opportunity. You have to go deeper than an initial thought to see if there is a large enough market to pursue. What is the problem? Who is impacted by this problem? How are they currently solving this problem? What is your solution and why is it better? Opportunities can be thought of as explored and researched ideas.
  3. Creates value for others. Value is an interesting word. What may be of value to you may not be of value to someone else. Value is more than price paid – it is the difference between what you expect to pay and what you actually pay for an item or service. If what you expect to pay is greater than the price you paid, then you have positive value. If what you expect to pay is less than what you actually pay, then you have negative value.

    For example, suppose you find a pair of jeans selling for $100 and you would expect to pay $250 for the pair. You just found a value of $150 – the difference between what you would have paid ($250) and what you actually paid ($100). It is subjective and varies from person to person.

    Whatever opportunity you choose to pursue, you have to create positive value for others. If there is little to no value, then you need to reconsider your pricing strategy, customer markets, or maybe you need to pursue another opportunity. People buy when they perceive value.

  4. Empower. This can mean authority or confidence. It can build someone up and make them feel important – because they are important. When you are a part of a solution for a problem and that solution is perceived as a value to your customers, you gain confidence. You may gain wealth or sustain a certain lifestyle, but this is on your terms. You are the one that found the opportunity and created value. You are the one that organized resources to solve problems. You are the one that is empowered.

According to ELI, “Mindset is the underlying beliefs and tactic assumptions that drive our behavior.” Most of the time it is unconsciously acquired and operates effortlessly without our awareness. Our mindset is subject to bias because it draws from our past to navigate our future. Our mindset influences our motivations, cognition, emotions, and choices.

So, ELI defines entrepreneurial mindset as “my responsibility to figure out how to make myself useful to others, and by doing so, I can empower myself.”

Entrepreneurship is not about money or power. It’s not about likes on social media or self-promotion. It is about taking your skill sets, experiences, and knowledge to create value in solving problems for others. In doing that, you empower yourself. The uber successful entrepreneurs of our time started out doing this – solving problems by creating a product or service that is perceived as valuable by others.  Jeff Bezos started out selling books on the Internet. Richard Branson sold music records in his stores. Elon Musk started out providing licensed online city guide software to newspapers. They made themselves useful to others, and in doing so, empowered themselves.

Entrepreneurship is the “self-directed pursuit of opportunities to create value for others. By creating value for others, entrepreneurs empower themselves.” This looks different to everyone, but the meaning is the same: by helping others solve problems with value-driven solutions, we have the opportunity of empowerment.

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