Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. If you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, then you want to hire someone who thinks like one to work for you. I know I say I am an entrepreneur and you think you know what I mean by that. But what does it really mean? I am a student of language and I was curious to see what Merriam-Webster had to say on the subject.
According to Merriam –Webster, the word entrepreneur comes for an Old French word “enreprendre”, which is a verb that means to undertake a project. The definition goes on to say that an entrepreneur is someone who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise. Right away I am wondering where this all leads. Do I understand the origin of the words used in the definition and what their deeper meanings are?
What about the word enterprise? It has been the name of great vessels, real and imagined. It is used in conjunction with broad based and business focused software and systems solutions. Merriam –Webster says it comes from the same root word as Entrepreneur. An enterprise is a project or undertaking that is especially difficult, complicated or risky.
There is another interesting use of the word enterprise. That is when you show enterprise. In this sense of the word you are showing a readiness to engage in daring or difficult action.
So an entrepreneur is someone who is ready, willing and maybe even able to take on risky, difficult endeavors. So far it only sounds like hard work with the possibility of failure.
There is another use of the word enterprise which is to define something as a systematic and purposeful activity. From this point of view, the entrepreneur is the person who manages useful and systematic and purposeful activities.
No place in the definition does it define an entrepreneur as someone who starts a high growth tech related company and then sells to Google for a zillion times revenue.
I am curious why English adopted a French word to describe the people who start and run businesses. I realize that English is a mish-mash of French, Anglo and Germanic words. But perhaps there was more of a start-up culture in France way back in the day. I can imagine that the rulers of France may have allowed their favorite friends of the court to create enterprises that could become profitable or useful, offering the protection of the throne and an exclusive license in the land. The catch would be that the King would assume none of the risk and take half of the profit. The person taking on the enterprise would assume all of the risk and then take half the profit. It is likely a whole class of business people or entrepreneurs thrived under a whole parade of monarchs.
Actually this system is not much different than how some venture capital partners operate. I am just teasing. I realize that the investment partners risk a lot. But they do not risk it all, as many entrepreneurs do. A Venture Capital firm or an Investment Bank spreads risk broadly across many different projects. An entrepreneur often is only working on one project at time and will rise or fall with the enterprise.
Prize is another word that is related to the word enterprise. We all understand what a prize is. It is something striven for in a competition or in a contest of chance. This is a great way to view “success” It is a goal, a prize if you will. To capture the prize we must compete in a conflict with our rivals. We must also compete against the odds in the contest of chance called business. The chances are often not in our favor. Many new businesses never make money. Many have trouble even getting off the ground.
Initiative is a word that comes up in relation to Prize. Initiative is the energy or aptitude displayed in the initiation of action. To initiate action means to cause or facilitate the beginning of something or to do the first part of an action. This tells us that the prize goes to the people who start their project with energy and aptitude. This may not be news to you, but it does tell us something about what makes an entrepreneur successful. It is not so much the idea or the product. It is not so much the talent, but the way in which the thought becomes action.
Anytime you take action, there is risk. Merriam-Webster defines risk as the possibility of loss or injury. The exposure to risk is called Peril. Those of us who start businesses and run new businesses certainly act at our own peril. One word that pops up as relating to risk and peril is fear. Fear is defined as a reverential awe of an unpleasant emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger. Isn’t’ that interesting? Fear is a reverent position. Do you think this is accurate? When you are thinking about the many ways your business could be harmed or could fail, are you feeling a sense of reverential awe? Perhaps that is why many an entrepreneur feels such a deep connection to his or her project. The awe we feel for the consequences of failure and the awe we must also feel for the consequences of success are not small and insignificant emotions.
Fear also implies a loss of courage. I am not sure I agree. I think fear does act to heighten your awareness and to help you be more cautious and deliberate. What is courage anyway? Merriam-Webster defines it as the mental or moral strength to persevere or withstand danger, fear and difficulty. It is the people who “hold it together”, who think clearly and who act appropriately and calmly in a crazy situation that we see as courageous. Courage implies a firmness of mind and will. The fire fighter who walks into a burning building to pull out the child yelling for help shows all the qualities of courage that you can think of. The entrepreneur who signs the insertion order to promote the new service also shows great courage in the face of potential embarrassment and failure.
Mettle is a word that also relates to courage. Merriam-Webster says that it suggests an ingrained capacity for meeting strain or difficulty with fortitude and resilience. This may describe what is at the heart of the successful entrepreneur. I do not define the success of an entrepreneur only by the financial success of the project. The fact that an idea was massaged into reality and was launched is in and of itself a success. Perhaps it is the ability to take on projects with fortitude and resilience that makes and entrepreneur great.