UK readers will know that I followed the recent UK series of The Apprentice in some detail, blogging about the lessons learned and the strengths and flaws of the last six candidates, ultimately predicting the winner.
This year’s series was not about getting a job, but getting backing – in cash and kind – for an entrepreneurial venture. This meant that Lord Sugar was looking for more than jus an competent manager: he was after a business partner.
A Healthy Attitude to Risk
It also meant that he was looking out for signs of entrepreneurship, which includes a “healthy” attitude to risk-taking. By “healthy”, I mean that an entrepreneur has to be comfortable in the the presence of risk and be prepared to take risks, to reap rewards.
This is a fine balancing act: the entrepreneur must take risks without being reckless. They must also be able to not worry about risks, without treating them casually. Does this sound familiar?
“Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes”
So said one of Lord Sugar’s trusted advisors, referring to contestant Helen Milligan, who looked every bit the accomplished corporate professional, but little like the “classic” entrepreneur. I said much the same thing in a blog. The level of risk-comfort is one of the many variables and I like to think of myself as a risk-averse entrepreneur. I’ve started businesses and I have invested; yet I have always managed the risk profile to an objectively low level. For example, this blog is still hosted for free (Mr Cheapskate) by the wonderful WordPress.com.
So, it should come as no surprise that I consider Project Management an entrepreneurial occupation. We meet the criteria and certainly spend our lives assessing, balancing and managing risks. we also invest: not just our client’s money (which is far from entrepreneurial) but our time and reputations.
Project Managers as Entrepreneurs
Just like the many varieties of entrepreneur (I have catalogued seven types so far in my on-going project to understand entrepreneurship, and have so far put two into the public domain), there are many varieties of project manager. In Risk Happens!, I identify four types of project manager.
Can Project Managers truly act as Entrepreneurs?
It’s clear that entrepreneurs need to manage projects, but can a day-to-day project manager, working inside an organisation or for a client, be an entrepreneur?
By a strict definition of the word entrepreneur: no. My trusty Collins defines “entrepreneur” thus:
“the owner or manager of a business enterprise who,
by risk and initiative, attempts to make profits”
As project managers, we attempt to deliver products, deliverables, outcomes, and even, arguably, benefits. These benefits may be in the form of profits, but this is not necessarily the case. And neither is it the case that not-for-profit projects simply make us into social entrepreneurs. But there is one thing we can be…
Project managers as Intrapreneurs
If the word “intrapreneur” is new to you, take a look at the Wikipedia article on intrapreneurship (it’s far better than the overlapping article: intrapreneur). Essentially, an intrepreneur is someone who acts like an entrepreneur, but from within a stable organisation.
Employees who create their own projects in contexts such as research organisations like Hewlett Packard, IBM, Lockheed Martin and Google are entrepreneurs. But as a long-time fan of Tom Peters’ admittedly over-the top book, “The Project 50”, I think it is incumbent on all of us to bring some entrepreneurial flair to our projects.
I am not saying you should be increasing the risk profile of a project or changing its goals beyond those of your client or sponsor – either would be negligent. But I do think that the passion, flair and initiative that entrepreneurs bring to their ventures is valuable to project managers, as is their sense of absolute commitment.
The “so what?”
When you are leading a project, balance risks carefully, take the risks you must and manage them well, and bring a flavour of entrepreneurialism to your projects that feels authentic to you and energises the team around you.
Professionalism + Flair = Leadership