The Pat Tillman Foundation's Leadership Through Action (LTA) program at Arizona State University began with introspection. Pat Tillman, we learned, was a man who deeply valued honesty, and particularly being honest with himself. As participants in the LTA program, we began to rigorously ask ourselves some hard questions, especially about what makes us tick, i.e. what issue(s) we are passionate about. For me, the answer resounded loudly, "Spreading justice and prosperity in the world."
The second component involved taking a concrete action to tackle the issue(s) we found ourselves to particularly care for. This led me to become involved with my campus' African Student Association, first as a webmaster and later as President. The leadership of the Association was one of my most memorable experiences in college, because I got to meet and work with some talented and passionate people, many of whom I'm still in touch with, ten years later. Once you get the ball rolling on your passions, it tends to accelerate on its own.
A few months later, some friends from the Association and I entered an Intel-sponsored business plan competition at our university. We were mostly undergrads competing against some very astute MBA and Ph.D. teams, and none of us had put together a business plan before, so we thought that the worse case scenario would be that we'd learn how to put one together. Plus, we enjoyed each other's company so much that working together did not seem like work anyway.
After a couple months of intense research, many meetings, and networking our way to build a partnership with a local manufacturing company, our business plan was complete, and we had a working prototype of our machine. We ended up not only learning how to put together a business plan, but actually winning the first place award. We then competed at UC Berkeley against about eighteen other winning teams from all over the world, and brought home the third place award as well as the People's Choice Award.
My journey later took me on three years of working as an industry analyst and further developing my understanding of business dynamics and product development, and then to law school. My graduate focus has been on the intersection between business development and government policy, as I took business and corporate law classes for my juris doctor (JD) degree, and many classes on public sector work for my Master's in Public Policy degree.
Tying everything together is the passion for building a more prosperous world. I operate on the premise that the more people in the world have a job and a way to earn a living by contributing something of value to humanity, however small, the more stable and peaceful the planet will be. The more people have skin in the game, the harder they will fight to make sure the game is fair and operates according to law.
As Jim Collins puts it eloquently in the video below starting at 39:49, we can only imagine how amazing the world would be if the majority of people spent the most of their time doing what: (1) they are passionate about, (2) they are genetically excellent at doing, and (3) has economical or social value. The goal of free society, he suggests, is to systematically increase the number and percentage of people in the world who work at the intersection of those three circles. Although I would surmise that talent and excellence have more to do with perseverance and practice than with genetic makeup, there is still wisdom in his discussion and outlook.
In a time when seemingly everyone tosses around the words "entrepreneur" and "entrepreneurship," like pieces of lettuce in a salad, it is understandable to take pause at their very mention. Instead of viewing people who call themselves "entrepreneurs" with skepticism and disdain, however, I would suggest that the opposite reaction is perhaps better. Ours is truly a time in history when more and more people can embark on entrepreneurial endeavors, whether part-time or full-time, because of the decreasing startup and opportunity costs of doing so, and because we are more aware of the many problems we face. The issue is whether we'll do anything about them.
The entrepreneur is just a person who (1) identifies a real social or economic problem, (2) embarks on the road of action to solve it, and (3) is persistent when most would have given up. Developing the right mindset--the why--is first essential.