Great entrepreneurs: How lambs become lions

Lion and Lamb, Hoxton, N1
Image by Ewan-M via Flickr

“Rise and rise again, and lambs will become lions”
Ridley Scott’s Robbin Hood (2010)

Entrepreneurship is a popular word now. In global view, the increasingly popular discussion around the dawn of a new post-crisis economy put this word as a centerpiece of economic growth. We need more jobs, and that’s why we need entrepreneurs. We need new economic vehicles that support sustainable economy and decreasing our carbon fuels addiction, and we need new entrepreneurs for this purpose. The age of social media delivers the unprecedented opportunity for businesses in the borderless cyber-world. This inspires the tide of techno-preneurs.

Thomas Friedman‘s statement a couple years ago in a giant news network about economic booming reminds me of how we should see this in perspective. He suggested that every economic boom will lead to economic bubble, and this bubble will eventually burst. His arguments was that we should learn from the burst, and seek to utilize the advantage of what left from that burst. He gave the example of the 90’s boom in dotcom businesses now provide us a foundation strong players in ICT business.

This leads me to a list of notes:

1. The current trend of entrepreneurship is displaying a character of economic boom.

We will see lots of entrepreneurs, and that construct the entrepreneurial bubble. When it burst, it will leave us a bunch of strong and determined entrepreneurs. They will lead the tide of the new economy, until it reach the brink of its era, where the call for the new boom is waiting.

The dotcom boom is a good example in global context. In Indonesian context, we’ve seen real estate boom that leave us few surviving developers. And now we are witnessing the boom in creative industry, ICT, finance, retail and culinary, entertainment and hospitality, and more to come. They might be small and not yet outstanding, just like lambs. However, some of these lambs will turn into lions.

2. Unlike the myth we love to hear, not all entrepreneurs start from the same point.

Every successful entrepreneur starts from small steps, that’s what people said. Is this true? Some believe it is. As for me, I have a bit different stand on this. I agree that all entrepreneur have a starting point, but I don’t think every entrepreneur had similar level of starting point. Some might start from the lowest point of their life, and their story results as a ‘zero to hero’ life experience. Some other had better foundation to start from, and they outsmart others in the race to fame.

In his Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell even said that legacy is a prominent in defining successful personalities, such as Bill Gates. Legacy is something these successful people already had before they embark to the their succesful enterprises. Bill Gates’ affluent and well-educated parents provide strategic connections to deploy his historical move of buying from Seattle Computer and sell it again to IBM. This was the story behind MS-DOS, the ancestor of the world-renowned Windows (it was told that his mother, Mary Gates, helped the not-yet-20 years old Bill to get in touch with IBM). Gates brilliant moves results from a history of a family with visions combine with his own brilliant ideas. Hence, some do jump from a higher ground than others.

3. But, they went through rises and falls, and their courage defines them.

Yes, no matter how they started, their journey were always bumpy roads. They had failed, and they failed several times. But they rose again each time they failed. Despite the legacy factors, they all are courageous people. They have the courage to take risks, to acknowledge their own failures, and to learn from it so they can rise again.

Contrary to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs of Macintosh had a different family background that put him out of college, but still developing his ICT skills through his friends. His brilliant ideas was supported with his strong relationship skill and entrepreneurial skill in his quest to establish Apple as top-of-mind in design and technology. It’s about courage. They might be lambs at their first step, different kind of lambs in fact, but surely their courage turns them into lions.

4. Courage and brilliant ideas are more as results of life experiences, rather than school.

Most of great entrepreneur are people who are critical to whatever they learn. Some of them are even critical to anything education has to provide. This is no way of saying that they are uneducated. In fact, most of the entrepreneurs are brilliant learner, and that’s why they tend to be critical and think in a lateral manner.

So, is school education the enemy of creativity and entrepreneurship? That’s not it, even though there is a little truth in it. Sir Ken Robinson once explained in TED Conference about how school system kills creativity. The rigid and industrial school system trying to embody ‘industrial process in producing skillful people’. This put creative experience at risk, since freedom and creation require more passionate attitude, adaptive values and uncertainty in learning process. Entrepreneurial example such as Richard Branson of Virgin explicitly said that passion is more essential for his success than business calculations.

5. Owning our own business will not automatically make us successful entrepreneurs. Having independence and creativity as our character and put it into results will.

We can’t deny that most entrepreneur are smart and intelligence. Some of they might not graduated from school/college, but they are brilliant nevertheless. Some came from wealthy family, and some other came from standard or even poor economic background. However, they have similarity, which shows that all of them are independent and creative.

Successful entrepreneurs always have impressive personal brands. Some of them were creative employees before they decided to establish their own enterprise. They are artist with amazing ideas, and they are great marketer because they can market their ideas as something valuable for the market. If you only great in making ideas, but not in ‘selling’ them, you are an artist. If you are great in selling and marketing other people ideas, not yours, then you are a marketer. Successful entrepreneurs possess both characters.


There are many exemplary entrepreneurs we can learn from. Not only Gates, Branson or Jobs. We can find lots of great entrepreneurial figures in local settings. An owner of locally produce outfit store in your town may not be popular in media, but she may be a great entrepreneur. Or you might find it closer, such as the next door neighbor. These people are great life learner, because they have entrepreneurial characters. Characters are developed through life tampered by challenges and tough times. Things you can not learn from school only.

They are independent people with creative ideas and capability to turn those ideas into valuable products or services. They are people who passionately and restlessly trying to win the market with their vision. They are courageous people who decide not to take everything they hear or see without question. They want to create more than to consume. They were lambs who had rose and rose again every time they fall, and now they are no longer lambs; they are lions.

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14 thoughts on “Great entrepreneurs: How lambs become lions

  1. I have more interest to social entrepreneurship than business or commercial entrepreneurship. People who give their life to create more social justice in the society in terms of education or health. They give their ability of creative, critical, and rational thinking to create a better society, and if it necessary, sacrifice their own personal interest. I think we need more of this type of entrepreneurs than Gates or Jobs. We can find so many of them at TED.

    1. Yes, I agree. To improve economic and welfare, we need plenty entrepreneurs. To ensure the economic welfare has low disparity, we need collective effort. That is where social entrepreneurs are necessary, and the vehicles are social enterprises. There are many examples of social enterprises that is highly effective in their business. Mohammad Yunus of Grameen Bank is one examples. In North America, there are several co-ops showing great business performance (and I mean profit here), which contributes to the owners’ welfare.

      The only difference about these enterprises is that the owner are the members. The owner is a collective of members. REI is one example of a big and high profit co-op in USA’s northwest area. There are also many local co-op that gain success there, and we are talking about the most capitalistic country ever made in history.

      Yes, we have koperasi in Indonesia, and yes, we are not serious at all to use it as economic vehicle. Why? Because of the framing used in the knowledge and language. That frame is strongly influential, and it also appear in the first sentence of your comment: distinction between social entrepreneurship with business and commercial. This makes our koperasi is more like a group with low effectiveness, rather than a members collectively-owned business vehicle for creating welfare its members.

      My point is, entrepreneurship, business and commerce are process, that may benefit private individual or collective welfare. Either way, it’s still a process of improving economic welfare. The fine line between both lies in this set of questions: Who’s welfare? Certain individual or the whole society? The same analogy applies for power or organizational structure. Are power and structure bad things? No. Both are means and processes. What matters is the intention: for whose interest we use power and structures?

      The current challenge is that most media, audience or readers are highly familiar with Gates, Jobs or Branson; rather than Yunus of Grameen or Sally Jewell of REI. It is a fact that our global culture like to celebrate ‘mighty individual’ personality rather than ‘strong collective’ (thanks to our education system who emphasis strongly to individual achievement). That’s why, in order to reframe people’s mind, I have to go through individual examples most people know. I hope this will inspire people that everyone can be entrepreneur, and it’s about character; not just having some money as capital and sell things.

  2. Thank you for your nice comment there. I still feel we have to distinguish between Yunus on one side, and Gates or Jobs on the other side. The first use his whole capacity and virtues to achieve social welfare, and the former use theirs to achieve individual greatness and wealth. For the former, social welfare is just a consequences, and not the main purpose. Maybe I’m wrong though. My deepest dream is to create something with the benefit of society as the main purpose, and not just consequences. That’s what I think as a good entrepreneurship.

    Although I agree with you, that entrepreneurship is all about character. However, it also reminds me of Machiavelli view, that our life depends on at least two factors, namely virtue (our own ability such as character) and fortuna (luck,, some good or bad coincidences: contingency of reality). I think it also apply to entrepreneurship.

    1. Absolutely! The distinction between the two types are the fine line I’ve mentioned in my previous comment. About Gates and Jobs, I don’t think they ever consider social welfare when they started their business, not even as consequences.

      I think they were aiming no 1 position in the business, and after they succeed, they start doing good things we often hear as corporate social responsibility. It’s not American value to think about social welfare first, and personal achievement later : ) The American Dream values are freedom in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This manifests strongly in the culture of individualism. This is the very opposite of collective-orientation Yunus has.
      So, you are not wrong, as long you plant your ideas and effort in a collective-oriented society.

      About luck, I’m fully agree. There are several conceptual approaches about it, I’ll write about it later : )

      1. Yes. I think I have a calling to this social entrepreneurship type of thing, to build something for the direct benefit of the people, especially those in needs. In this term, as Lakoff said, I am a liberal, because I really have passion to nurture and helping people.

        I will wait your writing concerning luck.

      2. This discusion remind me of something really important. Individual entrepreneurship applies in individually-owned business. How about businesses owned by collectives, such as a parish?

        I am thinking about the campus. It is owned by the parish or diosesan, which means a collective. That also means that management principle applied should be social entrepreneurship. And, they we run the campus as a social entreprise, instead of a privately-dictated by certain campus bureucrat and oligarchs.

        As a consequence, the campus should have a collective leadership assembly and regular stakeholder meeting; which we don’t have. What do you think?

  3. I think your idea connected with out discussion concerning trias political in university. The executive part, namely the rector, vice rector, dean, and vice dean, hold accountable by the judicative part, namely the board from the diocese, and they all have to obey the rule which made by the legislative part, namely the university senate and all the stakeholder which have regular meeting to evaluate their decisions and policies. This university is built to create an academic community that responsive to society’s needs. Diversity is the key, so every member of legislative part must be come from various background of society. Therefore, from its root, this university is govern by, from, and for the society benefits.

    What do you think?

    1. Technically speaking, that sounds more like a government than social enterprise. But, it shares the same substance. The assembly or members conference in social enterprise hold the same function with government’s balance of power.
      The main issue, though, is to ensure that the three branches of power (executive, legislative & judiciary) will not be the oligarchy of power. Contrary to social enterprise organizational structure where executive board are only speakeperson on behalf of the enterprise, while members has close and continuous engagement with policy making; triaspolitica use a formal representation mechanism. Thus, stakeholders has more limited access to the process of law making and executive actions. Once the three branches become elitists, and falsely think that their thoughts automatically represent the public interests; the system is essentially collapsed.

      In the past, diocesan leadership and university senate used to be a collective representation of the stakeholders (they represent academic community and the community at large). This is extremely common in many private university owned by collective owners. Now, senate and diocesan are just lame ducks, which had abdicate almost everything to their trusted bureaucrats in the ‘fourth’ and most powerful branches: The foundation.

      Honestly, the two lame ducks existence is close to none in the actual policy making. In many cases, elites are unconsciously swayed by power dynamic and losing awareness. This put the common stakeholder as the victim of falsified democracy. This makes the organization extremely ineffective, while universities owned by private wealthy individuals are functioning better, even without democratic process. It is not that they are better, because authoritarianism is less creative. They are better because they are effective strong authoritarianism, while we are false and dying democracy with no self awareness of our own condition. It’s not that they are stronger, but it is because we are so in denial about how lame we are : )

      This is a central issue of governance in any representative democracy, since the Rome Republic. We need to create a strong collective character, so the triaspolitica pillars will never be too comfortable, lazy, ignorant and consumed by their own elitist power, which turn them into lame ducks sitting the golden throne.

      That perhaps is a never-ending power struggle we have to live with : )

      1. with this discussion, I remember in my bachelor thesis, I focus on the political philosophy of Juergen Habermas. He said that in contemporary society, we need the fourth power to make sure that trias political always refer itself to the needs of society. This fourth power is what he called communicative power, which can be found in mass media, NGO, university, and other branch of public sphere that can articulate the needs and wants of the society as whole. We can assume that this fourth power is the brake and control of trias politica, so it will never be the new oligarch.

        In the context of university education, we can said that the fourth power is the campus press, and critical community that articulate the ideals of education, the needs and wants of society, such as cogito community, system thinking, and a lot of others. This community will develop, and will also make sure that the trias politica of the university will always refer itself to the ideals of civitas academica.

        Of course, I also realize that this is the never ending power struggle within the university. But I hope you will be enthusiastically join our struggle. 🙂

      2. I agree! The fourth power in the university is academic groups and communities. But, that is the ideal direction we are working on.

        However, perhaps there is a little misscommunication in our discussion : ) What I consider as a serious challenge is that the three branches are lame ducks in the face of the university foundation who acts as the sole owner of the university. The foundation has become the actual fourth branches that dominates the power dynamic. As you can see, the power branches are supposed to be the diocese, the rectorate, the senate, and the academic groups. Instead of having the real fourth one, the foundation become the actual dictator : )

  4. Well, a little miscommunication is good for communication itself. 🙂

    But no, I think I got it right. That’s why we have to intensify the communicative power of our society, and also in the university, basically to balance the power relations within institutions, and crack little by little the oligarch and authoritarian character of foundation it self. As Habermas said, in the complex society (system) and democratic society, change only can come in the form of evolution in the pattern of communication, and it only can come gradually, not instantaneously. The alternative way is obvious, namely revolution in term of Leninism. However, as history already taught us, revolution always eats its own child. We already seen it in the cases of Tan Malaka and Sutan Sjahrir in Indonesia.

    My point is that is useless to blame the stupidity of foundation. What we have to do is to think the more effective way to organize the critical society in our university, and try to crack the hardheadedness of the feudalism and oligarch character of our leader in the institution. I think that is the recipe to overthrow any type of dictator, wherever we find it. All we need now is a strong motivation and the same paradoxically critical hardheadedness to intiate a change, and make it sustainable.

    However, I suppose you already know that. I just try to emphasize the argumentation of Habermas, and applied it in the context of our beloved university. We can find unjust power relations everywhere. What is important is how we react to it.

    1. This has been a wonderful discussion about how we should promote change. In organizational development terminology, we can say that we’ve been discussing system level intervention! Yes, we should empower Habermas’ communicative power to create fludity in the power dynamic, which will inhibit oligarchy and will wake up all the lame ducks!

      And there is a wonderful quote about entrepreneurial character you wrote there:
      “All we need now is a strong motivation and the same paradoxically critical hardheadedness to intiate a change, and make it sustainable”.
      That’s a word of an entrepreneur!

      1. Its a long process though. I hope we will have enough spirit and patience to maximize the potential of communicative power. Technically speaking, we need to create something, and frequently make the rupture in the context of present hegemony values and behavior.

        As you can see in my Prajab planning, I will create critical community, by design, and write many books to make a rupture in the present hegemony of what is mean to become an academician. In the long term, I have a dream to build a school which based on the genuine concept of education. 🙂 There it is the massive rupture in the present hegemony, and maybe will create some kind of paradigm change of what its mean by education. Its long way to go. I have to find sponsorship, because I think this school must be cheap enough without sacrificing the academic community inside.

      2. Well, you already have a vision and early plan about your social enterprise. That’s great! I would be happy to be part of that plan.

        Yes, true entrepreneurship is always aiming for a long shot. If it’s only for short term gain, that’s only profit taking activities; which usually does not have a strategic vision. If it is that short, then you only need tactical analysis, and social welfare is not going to be created.

        What you have to seriously build now is a strong base in social capital (trends, supports, and political ground for instance). Strong social capital will attract financial capital a.k.a. sponsors and investors and other kind of financial supporters. That process itself is a social change 😉

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