2011 may go down in history as “The Year of Opportunity.” Venture capitalist Saku Tuominen, founder of the Idealist Group, says in the Monocle Small Business Guide 2010/11, “The world is more connected than ever before and production costs, especially on the digital side, are falling dramatically. With a good idea, great implementation and the right timing, practically anybody can challenge anyone these days. Never in the history of mankind have there been so many opportunities for small companies.”
Zoltan Acs, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at George Mason University, echoes that sentiment: “The world is at a sort of ‘ground zero’ in its struggle to create hundreds of innovative products — and in the process millions of jobs — to deal with an ever-growing population and the demands of emerging economies such as Brazil and China. This struggle has captured the aspirations of thousand of entrepreneurs around the world. Despite the impact of the economic downturn, entrepreneurs are enjoying a renaissance. A global entrepreneurial revolution is spreading like wildfire.”
The more you look around, the more you see evidence of this shift. A recent Nokia advertisement entitled “We’re All Entrepreneurs Nowadays” reads: “What is your definition of success? Being happy? Solving a problem? Helping others? We all define it in our own way, but what’s clear is that, in this new world, the important thing is to succeed on our own terms, and be participants in life, rather than spectators. For the vanguard of micro-entrepreneurs, success means empowerment and the ability to direct their own culture.”
Governments and large institutions are getting savvy about the importance of ensuring the success of an entrepreneurial world. The World Economic Forum, The World Bank, and Heritage Foundation are great examples of organizations actively engaged in creating incentives and the right environments in which small businesses and startups can take root, grow and flourish.
In Asia, especially in China and Hong Kong, small businesses going into technology, medical and pharmaceutical sectors are finding government support. The government of the United Kingdom has recently announced a program to create a network of technology and innovation centers to spread knowledge from academic researchers to entrepreneurs.
The GEDI (Global Entrepreneurship & Development Index) is helping by measuring how fast the global entrepreneurial society is spreading. By focusing on the “three As” of entrepreneurial development — attitudes, activity and aspiration — the GEDI can help determine what the right time and place is to launch a new business.
I for one have decided that this year is the year to launch and build a business that moves beyond the single-shingle, band-of-one, solo-adviser business model. Am I happy with what Seth Godin termed a shipping list for 2010? Sure, but I know that if I’m simply twice as bold, I can double my impact on the world. And to leave that potential on the table is, well, wrong. I know I can make a difference; it’s now a matter of scale and scope. I have committed to bringing Shibumi Creative Works into the world, and help companies struggling with design-driven innovation find their way.
Risky, daunting, difficult? Yes, yes, and yes. Is it a mistake — is failure possible, or even probable? It’s not a question worth considering, much less spending energy on answering. Why? Because it may just be the best mistake I’ve ever made.
I’m taking a lesson from James Dyson, founder of Dyson, who explains in the same issue of Monocle: “I’m an engineer. And given that I’ve spent my career making mistakes, some would say I’m not a very good one. It’s the best way to learn and we should encourage young people to make more mistakes. Don’t be afraid to take risks — or to swear like a trooper when things don’t go your way. Just make sure you learn why for next time.”
What would you do if you were twice as bold? Whatever your answer, make 2011 the year you do it!
By Matthew E. May
Matthew E. May is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change (Jossey-Bass, 2010), In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing (Broadway Business, 2009) and The Elegant Solution: Toyota’s Formula for Mastering Innovation (Free Press, 2006). Matt works with individuals, teams and companies to guide change through a focus on design thinking and problem solving. He spent nearly a decade as a fully retained advisor, master kaizen instructor and jishuken leader for Toyota, a company that implements over 1 million new ideas each year. Matt is a graduate of the Wharton School and The Johns Hopkins University, but considers winning The New Yorker Magazine Cartoon Caption Contest among his proudest achievements.