Reading anything by Bill Bryson makes me smile and laugh out loud.
As a young man, Mr Bryson discovered the joys of hitchhiking. Driven by a thirst for adventure he spent two summers travelling around Europe with the aid of his thumb. He didn’t know it at the time, but the accumulated experience when combined with his journalistic skills (acquired later) would make him a best-selling author (and a mint)…
Whilst Bill Bryson has made a real success of his working life, he probably doesn’t see himself as an ‘entrepreneur’. Yet, his desire to explore and discover, his preparedness to learn and ultimately his ability to apply his talents, are the exact qualities needed to succeed in your own business. So what stops us matching Mr Bryson’s achievements?
Poor use of talents
Sir Ken Robinson who I referenced in ‘Present Yourself: Principles and Pitfalls‘ talks eloquently and brilliantly on the TED website about the world facing a crisis of human resources because we ‘make poor use of our natural talents’. What he means is that as human beings we are all gifted but many of us fail to make use of what we have.
Sir Ken adds that he meets all kinds of people who don’t think they are any good at anything and ‘endure their lives’ and ‘wait for the weekend’. In contrast he also meets people who ‘love what they do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else’.
The latter group he contends includes people who have worked hard to discover their talents and have then been able to put them to good use. Robinson says that just like natural resources (gas, oil etc.) talents are not not just lying around; as individuals we have to ‘create the circumstances where they show themselves’.
Bill Bryson loves what he does and began creating the circumstances for himself by hitchhiking through Europe and seeing things from a new angle. I doubt he had any kind of long-term plan back then but by doing something different he created a reservoir of insightful knowledge that when mixed with an ability and desire to write, provided a literary edge. And he’s managed to fully exploit his talents and in doing so has had a ball.
Emotional discoveries create desire for change
It took several years of setting up and running businesses for my collective business and personal experience to lead me to discover my real passion in life. At 34 I had been running companies for 11 years but in doing so had discovered something about myself that was nothing to do with the focus of the work with which I was involved on a daily basis.
Being self-employed and in constant contact with like-minded people, I saw increasing evidence that traditional approaches to teaching and training budding entrepreneurs were not working; yet no one with the power to create change was doing anything about it. Even though many people were failing within the first 12 months of running a business (or making the same mistakes as all that had gone before) education and enterprise training courses were not learning from those failures and/or adapting their pedagogy.
Delivery methods centred largely on one person telling many what he/she believed they needed to know. And often I found people were being taught untruths because the teacher/trainer didn’t have the appropriate experience.
Despite suggestions, proposals and pleas for change, no one in local, regional or central government fully supported what I saw. Looking back, I think the moment I finally decided to have the courage of my own conviction (or put up with the status quo) was the day I was asked to be a judge at a business planning competition at a local university. Listening to uninspired student groups talk unconvincingly about their idea for a business made me realise I was becoming part of the status quo.
Game on for back bedroom passion
In my view, resources were needed that allowed people to practice creating and running a small business in an authentic way. It was critical to provide people with the opportunity to make decisions and deal with consequences. and then be able to talk about them and reflect with skilled people and others who could question and offer sound advice. An authentic business simulation seemed like an obvious answer.
Since I didn’t possess the skills I persuaded my brother Paul (software designer), to work with me. Long story short, we spent 4 years (2002 – 2006) building ‘SimVenture’. He was in Guildford and I was near York and in that time hours and pounds were used in their thousands. Ultimately we created a resource allowing budding entrepreneurs to create and run a virtual business, and thus be able to learn in a personal, authentic and hands-on way.
Fuelled by a common desire to challenge the norm and make a real difference, we worked tirelessly from two back bedrooms. The stakes were high but we always believed in ourselves and through those 4 years we learnt so much. On more than one occasion we nearly gave up.
But SimVenture launched in October 2006, went onto win several awards and has been a joy to work with ever since. The team is a bit larger now but we all love what we do, learn new stuff everyday and are making the best use of our talents.
Key Learning Points: Look around, look to yourself and dig to discover talents. When you combine skills with a real passion to do something, you are much better placed to make a difference and have fun with all aspects of your life.