Why the Term “Entrepreneur” Should be Replaced

Having built five startups from scratch and invested in or advised around 100 others, you could say I’m in the business of “entrepreneurship.” But I don’t think that’s the right term anymore. At all.

The word entrepreneur was borrowed from the French language and implies an aristocratic polish. It conjures up images of backroom deals with white men in three-piece suits, perhaps even wearing top hats or donning pocket watches. Visions of the neatly-manicured and highly-coddled elite issuing orders from afar to sweaty and tattered workers round out this proper old-world ideal. But that just ain’t the way you win today.

Successful company-builders today don’t ring a silver bell to have their afternoon tea delivered by white-gloved attendants. Instead, they wake up at 5am and eat a bowl of nails for breakfast.

Both the term and the notion of entrepreneurship are outdated. If you believe that your idea to conquer Facebook is so good that eager investors will whisk you away in a limo to riches and stardom, you may want to consider playing the lotto or buying a bridge instead.

Truth is, building – or growing – a company is hard work. To me, a more fitting metaphor is that of a Streetfighter. The implications here are much more closely matched to what it actually takes to win. Here are eight lessons you can learn from the Streetfighter:

1. Rely on grit and determination – Be willing to get your hands dirty and do whatever it takes to succeed.
2. Get scrappy – Adapt in real-time and figure out how to do more with less.
3. Ignore tradition – Find fresh new ways to achieve instead of being weighted down by dogma.
4. Use what you’ve got – Lacking formal training or fancy tools, Streetfighters must use whatever is at their disposal. Often, these are internal tools (heart, passion, courage) instead of external ones (fancy tech, formal degrees, country-club connections).
5. Prepare to engage on a moment’s notice – Make sure you’re ready for battle and prepared for competitive attacks from any direction.
6. Have a chip on your shoulder – Embrace a healthy disregard for the status quo and a willingness to stick your finger in the eye of the current territorial leaders.
7. Learn and grow from adversity – Realize that your most important areas of growth are just outside your comfort zone.
8. Fight from behind – Have an underdog sense of urgency. Be ready to outwork your competition ten-to-one.

It’s probably time we returned the word “entrepreneur” to the European upper class and give a new term to the adventurous journey of building something out of nothing. Defying the odds, daring greatly, and leaving your fingerprints on the world are too big and too important to give them a label that is so soft and refined.

If you’re planning to win in today’s intensely competitive and complex world, it’s time to ditch the polish and get scrappy. It’s time to let your inner-Streetfighter out of the cage.

Read More

New Thinking for the New Era of Business

Albert Einstein famously noted, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.” In our post-COVID world of ...

When an Astronaut Needs a Pen

Ever get stuck on a problem, only to realize you're solving for the wrong thing? That's exactly what happened when the rocket scientists at NASA ...

How Shake Shack Drives Innovation

Do you prefer the crispy mozzarella, tempura watercress, and black garlic mayonnaise cheeseburger or the pumpkin mustard, bacon, cranberries, and sage hot dog? For something ...

Lady Gaga’s Secret to Creativity

Just before she won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, I watched Lady Gaga dazzle the live audience with a pitch perfect performance of ...

Creativity: Does Size Matter?

For some reason, we’ve been taught that for creativity and innovation to count they need to have a magnitude the size of the 1989 San ...

The Lexicon of Creativity

There’s more confusion around the meaning of the word innovation than the chaos at the airline ticket counter after a cancelled flight. Is there a difference between ...

The Brain Science of Becoming More Creative

When we hear stories about iconic leaders like Salesforce.com’s founder Marc Benioff, or widely celebrated virtuosos like Lin-Manuel Miranda for that matter, we immediately think ...

Correct the Overcorrect

When the misguided leaders at Enron, Tyco and Worldcom committed fraud and marred their shareholders with huge losses, the Securities and Exchange Commission rightfully swooped ...

Learning to Color

Fact: Creativity has become the most needed skill in business. It’s gone from a nice-to-have to becoming mission-critical. Fact: Creativity is a learnable skill. All humans have ...