Over lunch, prior to giving a guest lecture a few months ago, a college professor friend of mind told me I had always been entrepreneurial.
It was a mixed message to me.
The same observation had been made by others but I always took it to mean that during my now concluded career, I had specialized in startups for community marketing three different destinations.
The mixed message came from other friends and associates who criticized me for being too data-driven, for not “thinking big,” for being too strategic and process oriented, even too altruistic.
To them, the latter were not hallmarks of being entrepreneurial which contrasted to their view of me they instead fashioned themselves to be.
It wasn’t until the last few years of my career, when I met Christopher Gergen, who walks the entrepreneurial walk and also teaches innovation and entrepreneurship at Duke University that I began to grasp why he and others such as Dr. Dana Clark at ASU saw me as entrepreneurial.
The idea that entrepreneurism could, in part, be altruistic was also becoming clear to me by then. The organization I led until retiring five years ago spearheads the Durham’s Annual Tribute Luncheon, in lieu of an annual meeting.
The idea was and maybe still is to shine a light on people who fostered and shaped Durham values and unique sense of place. In the year I retired, the event honored social entrepreneurs such as my neighbor Kevin McDonald.
Being entrepreneurial has become one of those traits that without any idea of what it means now gets salt and peppered into resumes.
For others who boldly claim to have this trait, I am reminded of a saying by a friend of mine had that “there is only room for one person at a time to stand on principle.”
Actually, being entrepreneurial, as a trait, exists along a spectrum.
Over three decades of research and analysis, Gallup has zeroed in on the ten talents exhibited by successful entrepreneurs. On a scale of 1 to 10, I score higher than six on all but one of them and through working hard brought that one up to a 4 or 5.
Turns out I score much higher on “thinking big” than I was given credit for by detractors, because as Gallup has ascertained, I took an “analytical approach to challenging or uncertain decisions.”
“Replacing emotion with a rational thought process,” according to Gallup’s findings, “helps accurately calculate their odds of success.” By this this they mean in the long term and in association with other needs.
Looking at a distribution of entrepreneurial talent nationally, Gallup calculates that just 5% have it at a level that produces “significant superior business performance.
Gallup also calculates that of those working adults in the US who currently do not own a business, about 2.5% have very high-level entrepreneurial talent.
Or a few may get scooped up by community marketing organizations tasked with generating visitor-centric economic and cultural development by guarding and leveraging sense of place.
Judging by Gallup’s calculus, that means for those community DMOs wanting to scoop up an exec with talent for innovation and entrepreneurialism, there would currently be about 15 in the entire U.S. currently at the helm of community marketing organizations.
I know of two and possibly even three running DMOs in North Carolina which matches Gallup’s calculation. Most communities won’t despair because they don’t value those traits anyway beyond lip-service.
Even those that do and are fortunately to land someone with those talents must be eternally vigilant against some in the community who instead will try to undermine them.
Hopefully, my friends in the program at Appalachian State University are fostering students with natural talent for innovation and entrepreneurism in quantities sure to increase that pool beyond just replacing those who retire.
Training, support and development such as education won’t create a talent where it doesn’t exist but they can move someone with those traits up the scale.
That’s why, for instance, I was only able to get one of those traits up to average while some that came easier moved much higher on the scale.
But the challenge for educators seeking to generate a new generation of DMO execs with these traits, it is a challenge. The typical management program may find that 17% are interested in tourism including 4% who are inclined to DMO management.
Between 2.5% and 5% will have the innate talents to work with that will make them highly successful in as entrepreneurs and innovators.
Of course, many communities only give those qualities lip-service but for those seeking leadership with those capacities, the odds are very tight.
I hope that colleges now use tests such as Gallup’s StrengthsFinder to help students understand their particular latent talents so they can work at improving them and avoid thinking these can be accumulated merely with coursework or certifications.
When he was younger, one of my grandsons used the term “talkers” to describe news and sports analysts and commentators. Perhaps I am considered one in retirement (smile.)
Many communities now have boosters capable of being “talkers” about the importance of drawing talent. Being a “talker” is a talent in and of itself.
But this doesn’t mean these people realize how rare entrepreneurial talent is let alone understand the community attributes and values people with those talents find most essential and appealing.
More can often be ascertained by the values a community consistently exhibits across each and every touch point than from any volume of marketing materials.
When it comes to fostering community brand appeal, it is as much about “storydoing” as “storytelling,” and many who are only “talkers” when it comes to attracting talent are betrayed as otherwise by their “storydoing.”
Hubs such as American Underground with two sites in Durham nurturing 158 startups and a satellite in Raleigh with 32 are pivotal.
But venture capital and nurturing become less relevant to retaining entrepreneurial talent when communities fail to exhibit other core values and traits that are important to them.
Only with that understanding and alignment at every touch point across both public policy and every organization related to economic and training will the best and most consistent decisions be made.