How can you be more entrepreneurial in your career?

Starting a company requires seeing the world differently. It’s like a lens that helps you see the world sharper, better, giving you a fresh view no matter which direction you look. With that perspective, a garbage can full of trash might even look like something amazing. It makes the ordinary and mundane somehow new and useful. It’s a mindset. And anyone can cultivate it.

From a cubicle, home office, co-working space, corner office, or garage, you can adopt the way an entrepreneur sees the world. Anyone can be entrepreneurial.

Here are some mindsets that have helped me.

Problems are opportunities.
Problems are so annoying. They interrupt our days and cause, well, problems. And we get upset, get help—someone, anyone!—yell, complain, even whine. After some fiddling, we might even fix it.

But we shouldn’t see problems just as something to be eliminated so that we can move on with our lives. They are opportunities.

Many entrepreneurs say that they started a company because they were trying to solve a problem. My company launched the same way: My friend had a hotel that had a marketing problem.

Maybe you are facing a problem right now that isn’t isolated to just you. Maybe many of your colleagues are facing the same one you are. That means it costs the company minutes or hours of lost time. That could equate to real dollars being lost over that problem. And solving it across the organization would be an incredible opportunity for you and could save your employer money and time, which can result in thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars or more of regained resources.

Who knows, with this mindset, you might even get excited the next time you face a problem. In time, we might even find you at the helm of your company, solving huge problems.

Complaining is a waste.
When something is wrong at work, or, perhaps more accurately, when someone is, it feels natural to complain about it, or them. It just flows out of our mouths like sewage down a drainage pipe. There’s only one problem. It’s this. Complaining is useless. It can even make you look bad and appear negative. Complaining begets more complaining. And no one ever got a Nobel Prize for being a complainer.

I believe we complain because it gives us some false sense of control or power over a situation that appears uncontrollable. We can’t stop our coworkers from doing certain annoying things. We can’t stop the boss from making that wrong decision. Since complaining is so much easier than doing the hard work or confronting those problems, we mutter words under our breath or to other coworkers who may agree with us; and that makes us feel like we did something about the situation. But in reality, you just complained.

Instead, spend your time focusing on what you can do. You do have power. Use it. You can document what you see, research ways to do that thing better, experiment with another solution and present your findings. Focus on gathering data and facts to show to your boss or others around about the problem you are seeing. Sell your colleagues on your idea and make them allies. Recommend better alternatives. Create a better solution. Stay positive. Complain less. Contribute more.

Create value.
There is nothing more important in work than creating value. No matter what level you are at, corner office or broom closet, everyone needs to do it.

How do you know what is valuable? The easiest way to do this is by asking others, “What can I do to help?” That simple question provides incredible value. Your coworkers will love you for it, especially if you are sincere and help lighten their load. Your boss will see your willingness to be a team player. You may end up doing new things, and you will learn more about the work, process, and people. Who knows, you might even find the career path you’ve always wanted by asking that question. How’s that for value?

Another way to find what is valuable is to look at the bigger picture. For example, when I worked in a data entry position at Citigroup, we had a workflow. Although this wasn’t a part of my job description, I documented the flow of the work and provided new and more efficient ways to process the work. Was all of it used? No. But my manager appreciated the effort, and it made our work more streamlined.

Every viable business creates something that helps others, and the people in the company contribute various amounts and types of value to the overall value. If you create more of it, then you will likely be rewarded. That means you must exceed your job description by seeing a problem and doing something about it or spotting another opportunity that could be taken, and taking it.

You may not get that promotion or raise from one victory, but if you accumulate enough of them, they can’t ignore you. You may even become invaluable.

Time me.
Time isn’t just money. It’s more than money. Once you spend time, you can’t get it back. It’s not renewable. You can’t find more of it, earn more of it, make more of it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, baby. You can’t say that about money. Entrepreneurs know that acutely. You need to, also.

Peter Drucker, the famed business thinker and writer, said that business leaders need to know how they are spending their time, and Drucker recommends that they track it. I used to think he was crazy. Tracking my time sounded like a waste of time. But then I had kids. I was kid rich but time-poor. The idea of knowing exactly where every minute of my day went all of a sudden appeared ingenious to me. And I decided to track all of my time 24/6, excluding my one day off. I discovered how much time I spent working, eating, daydreaming, playing, reading, exercising, sleeping, etc. And I found incredible insights into my life and work habits. What I discovered was that I wasn’t spending my working hours where I really wanted to. The data helped me course correct.

The way we use our time is often the difference between us achieving our dreams or just dreaming.

Succeed through failure.
We can spend so much time and energy trying not to fail. Failure is like cancer to us. It’s dreaded, and we shun it at all cost. But an entrepreneur doesn’t see it that way.

It’s where you learn the most about yourself, the world, a problem. It’s easier to try to cover it up or hide from it, but that’s not what an entrepreneur does with their failures. They face it, look right into it, study it. Some of the greatest lessons gained in life are from failures.

My first company was a complete failure, but it helped me start my second one which succeeded. I’m convinced that my failure provided the essential learnings for my second act to succeed. Failure isn’t the end. If you have the right mindset, it’s often an opportunity to start anew with an edge.

But just because it can be a blessing doesn’t mean it should be a goal. Failure in itself is never the goal for an entrepreneur. It is often a part of the process, but never the product. Business isn’t about failing. But the path toward success is usually paved with it.

Take truth serum.
People hate reality. We may not want an outright lie, but getting the whole truth is too much. So we settle for half-baked truths when they are really just half-baked lies. Reality often hurts too much, so we hide from it; we even lie to ourselves.

Success requires that you see things as they are, facing the real world and responding to it, not a false reality. If you input bad data, you will get bad results. Embracing the truth will allow you to take in good data.

Truth helps sound decision making because it aligns us with reality. Seeing the world as it is really allows you to address real issues, create real solutions, and make real progress.

But getting the truth is hard. The simplest way is to ask questions. But oftentimes we are too busy talking to spare a second drawing out thoughts from others. Inquiring from people can and often does draw out the truth.

But sometimes it’s not enough. The best way is to find truth-tellers. These people can’t help but be honest. It’s hardwired in them. Surround yourself with them, in work and life, and cultivate a culture of telling the truth by modeling, seeking, and embracing it. When these truth-tellers are talking, listen to them and, for heaven’s sake, don’t interrupt them and certainly don’t defend yourself. Instead, encourage them to tell you more.

The truth can taste bad. But for the entrepreneur, it might be bitter, but it’s the medicine you need.

Agree to disagree.
Few people enjoy disagreements. We like to be liked. I know I do. But being agreeable doesn’t spark growth, innovation, success.

Having different perspectives and various angles, looking at the same problem, almost always yields better results. The only problem is that it’s painful getting there. Getting all of those various angles to understand each other is extremely difficult and laced with hard conversations. No one likes hearing that their idea isn’t good enough, isn’t right, or even sucks. But one of the best ways to know if an idea is great or not is to test it against other smart peoples’ ideas and criticisms.

Most people shy away from conflict because it elicits terrible feelings. But I believe that building something great is greater than coddling our feelings. We need to expose ourselves to the risk of feeling foolish and getting our feelings hurt so that we can create something bigger than ourselves. Now, this doesn’t mean that people’s emotions should be our stepping stones upon which we trample toward success, no. Feelings should be respected, but they can’t be primary. Finding the best solution should be. Truth is prime.

If you protect your idea like a precious treasure inside of your head, that’s when bad ideas come to life. But killing an idea at the whiteboard is so much easier than after bringing it to life.

Thinking like an entrepreneur is not simple nor easy. But it is rewarding.

And seeing the world differently makes all the difference.

If you keep on this path, you will be different.

And you will be rewarded.


  1. eb says:

    Brilliant article. Separately, you misspelled “cubicle.”


    1. John Pa says:

      Thanks EB! Appreciate it.


  2. Tom Collins says:

    Comprehensive list, John! May I suggest that the through line that connects them all is learning? From identifying problems and how to make opportunities out of them to taking lessons from failure to understanding what’s true and using it to resolve disagreements, learning enables innovation and entrepreneurship. The one caution I have flows from the same place: learning requires time. Time for study and time for unfocused reflection to let our brains’ default networks their role in learning. Whatever scheduling comes out of tracking our time should ruthlessly protect our time for reading and daydreaming! 😉


    1. John Pa says:

      Ha! Yes, Tom. Learning is definitely one of the best, and I can’t believe I left it off of my list. Great insight and value add ;). Learning does require time. And daydreaming is a must. Appreciate you reading the piece!


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