Review

How not to be an entrepreneur

By Molly Flatt 3 September 2015
Summary

Molly Flatt finds out why entrepreneurship is "tarnished and hyper-masculine”.

There is something very British about The Idea In You, the new book which aims to help every individual to uncover and unleash their creativity on the world.

It’s not just the cultural references, which favour Hobnobs and Brownie badges over Starbucks and SXSW, or the case studies from home-grown companies such as Marsh & Mallow and Sugru. It’s more the way that authors Alex Pellew and Martin Amor – both small business owners and big business consultants for the likes of PepsiCo – attempt to reclaim the concept of entrepreneurship as something far more personal and eclectic than Silicon Valley would have us believe.

“The term entrepreneur is tarnished and it is hyper-masculine,” Amor sighs over a coffee in East London. “I spent years thinking that entrepreneurs looked like Donald Trump and Alan Sugar, then there was the new archetype of the tech hipster. I couldn’t relate to any of them. I thought you had to be a type-A personality, comfortable with risk, bashing doors down.

“Instead, our ideal readers are an army of eccentric individuals, mums and retirees, people doing amazing things which enrich their communities, make wealth and create jobs, but who aren’t necessarily going to hit the pages of Fast Company. I think there are many more people in that space, but too many of them have written off the idea of creating their own thing and have settled for working for someone else’s dream.”

“We tried to write the book in a way that de-risks the concept of becoming a creator by encouraging you to do things that are deeply related to your interests,” Pellew agrees:

Scale may come later but you’re not borrowing money, you’re keeping your costs down and you’re focusing on getting maximum personal reward for your idea.

The book’s premise is that human beings are by nature creators, so true fulfilment is only possible if we’re activating our own ideas in some form in our lives. Its opening section sets out the authors’ unorthodox approach; far from providing the usual blast of get-rich-quick rhetoric, it offers a condensed course in positive psychology techniques, drawing on everything from Paul McKenna-style positive visualisation to Neuro Linguistic Programming-influenced meta-cognition exercises.

“We pitched it to Penguin as a mixture of self-help and business smarts,” explains Pellew.

“One thing is abundantly true: if your head’s not straight, you can have the best idea in the world yet nothing’s going to happen. Mental attitude is the biggest barrier.”

With this in mind, there are dozens of practical exercises scattered throughout each chapter that exhort readers to break their inertia and DO IT NOW – from taking a new route to work, to writing out a concrete concept for a vague idea. The book is also accompanied by a free online Creator Community featuring a support forum, videos from inspiring creators, extensive resources and monthly webinars.

One of the authors’ heroes is Paul Sinton-Hewitt, a passionate runner who started a free 5K run in his local park in Teddington in 2004. Initially, parkrun didn’t even have a website; Sinton-Hewitt used washers from a local hardware store as tokens and spent months hassling local newspapers to publish times and scores. Thirteen runners showed up the first week, 50 the next; now 100,000 people participate in parkrun every week around the world.

The maker movement

“Find something that you love, then start, then persist”, is how Amor sums up the not-so-secret secret of Sinton-Hewitt’s success. “Start small, make connections, and your idea will grow at its own pace.”

This maker movement mentality might seem another love-letter to the freelance economy, but the authors emphasise that their approach isn’t just for people who want to quit their jobs. They strongly believe that employers should encourage a self-starting attitude too.

“If you create the conditions where your employees have a side-hustle or a passion project, they will bring that value back into your business,” Pellew explains. “They’ll be more rounded, they’ll look at the world differently, and they’ll teach themselves new skills that you won’t have to pay for. Do you run the risk in time that they may leave? You do. But you equally create the opportunity for them to collaborate with you on an ongoing basis, you may even be able to fund their ideas and become an incubator within.”

Both Amor and Pellew predict criticisms from the industry that The Idea In You is too humble, too hippyish, too soft-nosed. But they emphasise that part of being a creator involves forging your own path in a personally authentic way.

“We wanted to write a book for where we were, five years ago.” Pellew says. “Success for us is that people begin to believe they can make their ideas happen, and have just enough to start. That they go from Hobnob eating on the sofa to taking that small first step on their creator journey.”

In other words, reading this beautifully designed, accessible little manual might not turn you into Travis Kalanick overnight, but it might just help you become more you.

The Idea in YouPortfolio Penguin | 3rd September 2015 | £12.99