10 Big Words (If You Want to Change or Start Something Cool)

Merriam Webster defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” 

I don’t love that definition. I don’t like the emphasis on risk.

Because frankly, if you’re not an entrepreneur, and you instead work for someone else, you’re taking some massive risks on the strengths, character, and good fortune of whomever you’re working for.

(Sorry to all the business owners whose employees I just made question their working relationship.)

Anyway, here’s my favorite definition of entrepreneurship, although it too has some challenges. It comes from Howard Stevenson, a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School:

"the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled."

I interviewed Stevenson a few times for my 2010 book, The Intelligent Entrepreneur, which was all about entrepreneurship and Harvard Business School.

I think I had to say his definition out loud 10 times before I began to understand it. There are really only two parts, though:

  1. “Pursuit of opportunity." I like this part. There's nothing intrinsic in there about making money or changing the world, or building a better mousetrap. Nothing about success, even. It's just about the attempt. The pursuit.

  2. “Without regard to resources currently controlled.” This one is both inspiring and problematic, but then maybe inspiring again.

It’s inspiring because theoretically, it suggests that it doesn't matter what you have at the beginning.

No money? No connections? It doesn't matter.

An entrepreneur pursues opportunity without regard to what they already have.

Only: Well, that’s kind of rich because, who are we kidding? This was literally a professor at Harvard Business School who came up with the definition.

Fun facts about HBS: (a) $3.8 billion endowment, (b) "average" professors probably make between $300,000 and $500,000 a year in salary alone, (c) students and alumni have access to and “currently control” a LOT of resources.

My book, The Intelligent Entrepreneur, did pretty well, but I think this point about HBS is probably the most valid criticism I heard: basically that it’s not exactly the place where you’d go to find a bunch of scrappy, lovable underdogs pursuing their dreams against all odds.

Anyway, so that’s the inspiring part and the problematic part of “without regard to resources currently controlled.”

But the inspiring again part?

It’s that if you can get because if you can get past the HBS-related cynicism, you probably have access to or control over a lot more things than you might think.

And where you don’t, well, to paraphrase Chris Matthews, back when he was an astute Congressional staffer (and not yet an MSNBC pundit):

It’s not who you know. It’s who you get to know.

That's the kind of definition, and advice, that can change lives.

Postscript: I think it was almost exactly 10 years ago that I first interviewed Stevenson. This next part isn’t directly related, but I find it interesting.

Because the quote featured prominently in my book.

Then, I used it again in a book called Breakthrough Entrepreneurship, that I cowrote with Jon Burgstone in 2012.

The then-editor of Inc.com, Eric Schurenberg, read Breakthrough Entrepreneurship. He liked it a lot. So much so that he pulled out the 10-word quote, and wrote an article calling it "the best definition ever" of entrepreneurship.

(I believe he told me later that this article became one the most viral things he’d ever written at the time.)

Schurenberg is now the CEO of the company that owns both Inc. and Fast Company. Anyway, he offered me my column on Inc.com as a result. Eight years later, I'm still writing it.

That led to me writing the "Inc. This Morning" newsletter, which in turn lead to me branching off and writing this newsletter.

There’s not a real moral to that part of story or anything. I just think it’s kind of funny that I can trace a decade in part to those 10 little words.

7 other things worth a click:

  1. Scientists just discovered why stress turns hair white. (BBC)

  2. Not at all sure why, but apparently kids today want to be lawyers, managers, and other jobs that probably won’t exist when they’re old enough to work. (Bloomberg)

  3. The hardest place in America to grow up is Bakersfield, California. The best is Madison, Wisconsin. (Axios)

  4. Tesla is now worth $100 billion, which means Elon Musk is on the cusp of making a heck of a lot of money. (Reuters)

  5. New rules could kick emotional support animals off of planes. (ABC News)

  6. As impeachment opened, President Trump broke the record for most presidential tweets in one day: 142 times, which works out to 5.9 tweets per hour all day long. (The Washington Post)

  7. Seattle will now allow voting via smartphones. Well, at least for one election as a test. (NPR)

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