In the past ten years, I’ve worked with myriad types of entrepreneurs, from walks of life as varied as industrial belt manufacturers to human rights activists. But it wasn’t until I walked down the beach of Donegal, Ireland, with big wave surfer Easkey Britton, that it struck me that actually, entrepreneurs really only come in two flavours. And once you know which type you are, you can make it your unreasonable advantage.
The first type of entrepreneur draws inspiration from the market, and sees an opportunity where an unmet need exists. I call them the Analytical Entrepreneurs. These are usually the business savvy guys & girls who live to build new ventures, conquer markets, increase margins and dream to scale to global domination. They are focussed on one thing, and sleep underneath their desk if that is what it takes to be first to market.
The second type of entrepreneur is focussed inward, combining a personal passion with a professional expertise. This entrepreneur has to hope that eventually there will be a market that values what they do, or they will have to work really hard to make that market themselves.
Don’t get me wrong: the Analytical Entrepreneur needs quite a bit of creativity to get to an original insight, and to deal with unexpected setbacks. And the Creative Entrepreneur will need a lot of analysis and rational thinking to make their plans reality. But indulge me for a moment.
Of the category Creative Entrepreneurs, Dr. Easkey Britton is a formidable example. Britton is an accomplished athlete, holds a phd in marine science, and is an advocate for social change. This combination of talents seems irreconcilable. And for many years, people have been telling Britton to make a choice: it’s either surfing or science, it is either activism or research.
I’m very happy to have arrived at Britton’s doorstep this November to be able to listen to her story, and tell her, Easkey, please don’t ever change.
The trouble with the Creative Entrepreneur is that he/she is on a personal journey, one that is very hard for others to understand. This category of entrepreneurs is creating something that is the combination of talents and interests that were sometimes planted in them as early as childhood. They are not satisfied by traditional mechanics (find the biggest audience) or rewards (find the biggest financial gain). From the outside, these people are searching, and they could seem lost. Once the outside world finally gets it though, things could move very fast.
Why? Here is the deal: your combination of professional expertise and personal passion is where your unreasonable advantage lies. Your combination of talents is so unique, that you can carve out an entirely new niche for yourself. Think of people like Daan Roosegaarde (tech artist who calls himself a hippy with a business plan), Emer Beamer (educating children to design better futures using new technologies) or Nalden (online lifestyle curation turned to global creative empire). These talents combine very different fields of interest into an entirely new product or service. When the world recognises this, it falls in love.
But let’s be honest: these success stories are few and far between. Just because you want to combine your passion for eradicating poverty with your expertise as a horse trainer doesn’t mean that you can build a successful venture on that combination. And the plain truth is that people need to be able to understand what you are about in order to support you. And that is difficult in a culture that is hard wired to box people in using roles or job titles: for the average audience, a doctorate title clashes with that of professional surfer. And we might want to judge such shortsightedness, but it is human nature.
So what is the answer to a stronger positioning when you don’t want to make a choice in your activities? You could create an artificial focus: choose what is most valuable for you, communicate that well, and do all the other stuff underneath the radar. But that rarely is the right path. Its much more interesting to really dig down deep into what the red thread underneath your combination of activities is. Often, there is a greater vision you are working towards. Often, you are on a mission that transcends your job title or activity. Once you find your essence, you can really start to power forward.
In her cottage in Donegal, Britton and I spent two days by the fire, digging through all her roles, activities, future projects and dreams. And arrived at an essence that blew our minds with the possibilities that would flow from it. New project ideas emerged, and a whole new market emerged from between our post-its.
We defined Easkey's unique approach to conservation and empowerment as the 'surfer's way to social change'. In everything she does, she channels the surfers attitude, values, and way of operating. Now, training women to surf in Iran, and the Pink Nose Revolution, find their rightful place on her resume. Her next steps since defining the essence? A Surf+Social Good Summit.
For anyone following the same process process, the next step, selection, will be hard. Check your activities: which activities are aligned with your essence, and which do not? Activities that are aligned with it will amplify it, activities that are not aligned with it will detract.
My position on the creative entrepreneur finding their own positioning does not imply one can go through life without making any choices. If you are serious about making your vision a reality, stop doing what detracts from it, and start doing what adds to it: you can only get to where you want to go if you know what you want to achieve. With a clear mission woven through everything you do, and communicating it well, people will take notice.
I can’t wait to see what will happen now Dr. Britton introduces the world to the surfers way to social change. One thing I know for sure: the world will take notice.