Own Your Future: A book review by Bob Morris

Own Your FutureOwn Your Future: How to Think Like an Entrepreneur and Thrive in an Unpredictable Economy
Paul B. Brown with Charles F. Kiefer and Leonard A. Schlesinger
AMACOM (2012)

Here’s an “owner’s manual for having a more successful life” on the job, at home, and everywhere else.

Many years ago, I realized that people cannot control the future but they can control how they respond to what happens in the future. This insight led to two separate but related conclusions: Most limits are self-imposed, and, What our life becomes is largely the result of the decisions we make. These remarks serve as an introduction to my thoughts about Own Your Future. It was written by Paul B. Brown with Charles F. Kiefer and Leonard A. Schlesinger and focuses on valuable life and work lessons that can be learned from “the best entrepreneurs”: those who have launched or re-launched successful companies.

Time-Out: Ted Turner did not launch Turner Advertising Company; he saved it after his father’s suicide. I think he is among the greatest entrepreneurs in business history. Those who have “learned about navigating uncertainty in order to increase the odds for success” in their personal and professional lives, as Brown characterizes it, include but are by no means limited to founders of start-ups.

Brown suggests this formula (i.e. ALBR) for success (“if there is one”) in the book’s Introduction: “Figure out “what you truly want to do. Then, once you know: Act, Learn. Then Build (off of what you find). And then Repeat (the process).” This is what successful entrepreneurs do. “After all, there is nothing more uncertain than starting a business, and these people have done it successfully. What has worked for them will work for” those who are unwilling and/or unable to launch a business of their own. My own opinion is the material in this book will be of greatest interest and value to those who are currently unemployed or underemployed.

These are among the subjects discussed in the book that are of greatest interest to me:

o How and why so many companies and even industries as well as jobs no longer exist
o The worker skills and talents companies will always need
o How and why six hours a day (about 300 a year) should be devoted to career planning
o More, much more than networking is necessary, indeed imperative
o The value of developing an entrepreneur’s risk-averse mindset
o How to test and then validate or reject or modify a career or job “possibility”
o Why becoming and then remaining employed is a never-ending process

My own experience suggests that changing a career (which I have done five times) is far more complicated and more difficult than changing a job. Also, if at all possible, retain your current job until you can replace it with another. Finally, if out of work, becoming employed is a FULL-TIME job.

These are among the lessons that Brown, Kiefer, and Schlesinger learned from dozens of interviews and additional research.

1. Entrepreneurs don’t like risk (much less seek it out) but realize that there really is a correlation between risk and reward. They are especially adept at minimizing risk without being risk-averse. They are bold but not reckless, prudent but not timid. They tend to make excellent decisions based on the best information they can obtain. They are masters of “Ready. Aim. Fire!”

2. They seldom (if ever) fall victim to paralysis by analysis. As indicated, they work hard and smart when making a decision and then are aggressive. They pounce on real rather than self-delusional opportunities. They also realize that, sometimes, making no decision is the best decision. According to the lyrics of Don Schlitz’s popular song, they know “when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.”

3. They are firm believers in taking “baby steps,” mini-initiatives that Peter Sims advocates in his brilliant book Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. “They follow this Act. Learn. Build. Repeat. model until they either achieve what they want, decide it can’t be done, or choose to do something else.” It is worth noting that leaders in almost all of the companies ranked the most innovative, however those companies may be in most respects, advocate a “fail fast and learn fast” process.

Everyone who reads this book will find something of substantial value. And again, a point that is made frequently in the narrative, a person doesn’t have to launch a new company qualify as an entrepreneur, although Ted Turner certainly does. Nor does a person have to be a corporate executive to think like an entrepreneur. People will own their future only to the extent they develop — and then — apply that mindset. Thomas Edison said it best long ago: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

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