Before I make the case for hiring failed entrepreneurs, I must state that I have heard this - for the first time - from someone else.
Sure, I can passionately argue about the failed entrepreneurs, having been an entrepreneur and having failed a few times. But that I heard this first from Jim Sphor, Global Head of IBM's University Partnership Programme makes it more than my own idle chatter. When Jim Spohr said that, in a workshop about Higher Education's future where I was present, there was a visible excitement in the room, hashtags rippling into Twitter with surprise and deja-vu feeling in equal measure.
That very cold morning in Utah, Jim's main point was about T-Skills, how the ideal employee for IBM should possess one or two deep expertise and a lot of different abilities and interests at the same time. He would go on to arrange the annual T-Skills summit at Michigan State soon after. But it's really when he made the comment about failed entrepreneurs being better T-skilled individuals, having lived through the life of doing everything by themselves, it hit a collective nerve and Twitter lit up.
Writing about it today, that moment seems very far off indeed. In the intervening six years, a period I spent (mostly) trying to bring the hiring managers' expectations and educational outcomes closer, I have come to realise that this - the case of hiring failed entrepreneurs - may be obvious in theory but usually shunned in practice. Because, on the hiring manager's desk, a failure is a failure: The distinction between entrepreneurial failure and messing up in a job are just too fine to consider. Besides, for many career managers, the whole idea of entrepreneurship stands for one big failure - why would you be an entrepreneur if you can get a job - and, as more than one individual confided to me, they are afraid of hiring entrepreneurs because the person may not be 'culture-fit'.
Therefore, I feel that the case of failed entrepreneurs need to be made, again.
Indeed, I have very little sympathy with the logic above, of trying to minimise hiring risks by hiring from similar companies (which is what the entrepreneur-shy hiring managers usually do). The big problem in this tried-and-tested approach is that this is based on a limited view of skills, emphasizing hard competencies over softer ones, and guarantees atrophy over time. But, for the sake of the argument, let's pause to consider the downsides of hiring a failed entrepreneur.
The first thing we ask when looking at a failure is WHY. This is because we take success as usual and failure as exception. The usual human tendency is to connect failure with a shortcoming - something surely was amiss if someone has failed. So, a failed stint at entrepreneurship, from a hiring manager's vantage point, is like missing years on a CV, or like being fired from a job (though almost no one admits to that on a CV).
The other problem of hiring an entrepreneur is precisely what should count in their favour. Entrepreneurial CVs show journeys, of having done different things, because entrepreneurship rarely starts with a job description. Hiring managers trying to fit entrepreneurial lives into straightjacket career paths struggle, concluding that the failure to fit indicates lack of skills. An entrepreneur, therefore, often appears as a non-specialist, a jack and no master.
And, finally, entrepreneurship, rather counter-intuitively, appears to signal lack of commitment. Why do you try something to abandon it finally, if you are committed to it, is a question that pops up at the interviews. Can you really be there, year after year, building things, if you haven't done anything for longer than a few years?
These are all good questions, but, they are all based on an erroneous view of entrepreneurship. First, failure is usual, rather than an exception, in entrepreneurship. As one of my early mentors once said, if you have not failed, you have not tried hard enough. Failed entrepreneur is common, though the magazines would have us believe that it's all about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. While we should celebrate all those successes, it's important to remember that they were lucky, even if it just means being at the right place at the right time.
Second, we may want to see jobs in terms of pure skills, but it's hardly that way on the shop-floor. Without perspective, pure skills are in fact counter-productive. What's a salesman without a sense of the product, an engineer who does not care about the customers, an accountant who doesn't get company strategy or an administrator who forgot what the business is for. The implicit assumption that those soft abilities - having strategic sense, communicating, taking measured risks, responding quickly and sensibly etc - can be taught is one of great mistakes which hiring managers are prone to making. These are things entrepreneurs usually excel at, while excelling at one or the other core functions.
Third, entrepreneurship is commitment. In fact, that's one big thing our popular tale of entrepreneur in search of valuation and exit misses. It's true that entrepreneurship, as it became fashionable with the rich, often looks like gambling, but at its core, entrepreneurship is really an effort to escape alienation which is at the core of modern work. I must explain:I chose to do my own stuff because I hated the fact that ideas and relationships that I vested so much into, which were as part of my life as my limbs, can become, at the will of my corporate lord and master, suddenly items to be reorganised, to be handed over, to someone else as if I, and my emotions and ideas, am replaceable. Once it happened few times to me, I did not want to spend time on doing things which I can't be involved with long term. This, rather than the dream of making money, led me to entrepreneurship. And, many entrepreneurs are like this, trying to build something they love and want to hold onto.
So, what does one get when one hires a failed entrepreneur? First, they get humility; failure is a great device of generating that rarest of skills. Second, they get joined-up skills, not the one-eyed accountant or a programmer, but someone who can see the entire value chain. Third, they get attachment, someone who is in search for something they would love doing.
There are organisations which will still not want these people, who are flexible, enterprising and committed, and would rather go for the pompous, the pedantic and the flighty. But the latter category may only work for the Consultancies and the Banks; any real business creating value in real life perhaps need the former sort more than anything.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Reli
India's employment data is sobering ( see here ). The pandemic has wrecked havoc and the structural problems of the economy - service sector dependence, uneven regional development and health and education challenges - are more evident than ever. Something needs to happen, and fast. To its credit, the government acknowledges the education challenge. Belatedly - it took more than 30 years - India has come up with a new National Education Policy. It is a comprehensive policy, which covers the whole spectrum of education and perhaps overcompensates the previous neglect by advocating radical change. As I commented elsewhere on this blog, it shows a curious mixture of aspirations, cultural revival and global competitiveness put under the same hood. However, despite its radical aspirations, the policy document often betrays same-old thinking. One of these is India's approach to foreign universities. The NEP makes the case for allowing foreign universities to set up operations in Ind
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Italy recently apologised to Libya for its occupation of the country between 1911 and the Second Word War and offered an investment deal of $5 Billion over next 25 years towards reparation. This is largely symbolic, and investment deals could have been done without adding this moral halo . But the apology itself is an important step. The key question is one of principle, indeed. It is about whether the occupying countries do accept that their colonial exploits did enormous harm to the occupied, and whether they are ready to accept the responsibility. As the world becomes more sensitive towards the wrongness of occupation [even George Bush was heard saying that occupation of Georgia by Russia is unthinkable in the 21st century!!], and the world justice system gears up to try the leaders causing genocide and violence, paying for past crimes - including occupation - becomes ever more relevant and important. There are several issues which are still hotly debated - slavery, for example,
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.