Jim Collins on thriving in 2009

I finally read the Jim Collins interview from Inc. magazine called “How to Thrive in 2009.

I’m a fan of his books Built to Last and Good to Great so the fact that I loved this article is no big surprise.

Here are some tidbits:

How do you define entrepreneurship?

I take a broad view of it. The traditional definition — founding an entity designed to make money — is too narrow for me. I see entrepreneurship as more of a life concept. We all make choices about how we live our lives. You can take a paint-by-numbers approach, or you can start with a blank canvas. When you paint by numbers, the end result is guaranteed. You know what it’s going to be, and it might be good, but it will never be a masterpiece. Starting with a blank canvas is the only way to get a masterpiece, but you could also blow up. So, are you going to pick the paint-by-numbers kit or the blank canvas? That’s a life question, not a business question.

I like paint-by-numbers. It’s a great feeling as a first born to “get it right.” But, personally, I’d really prefer to create a masterpiece.

Here’s another one:

It has to do with your ability to handle risk, no?

Not risk. Ambiguity. People confuse the two. My students used to come to me at Stanford and say, “I’d really like to do something on my own, but I’m just not ready to take that much risk. So I took the job with IBM.” And I would say, “You’re not ready for risk? What’s the first thing you learn about investing? Never put all your eggs in one basket. You’ve just put all your eggs in one basket that is held by somebody else.” As an entrepreneur, you know what the risks are. You see them. You understand them. You manage them. If you join someone else’s company, you may not know those risks, and not because they don’t exist. You just can’t see them, and so you can’t manage them. That’s a much more exposed position than the entrepreneur faces. But there’s lower ambiguity on the paint-by-numbers path: very clear but more risky. The entrepreneurial path: very ambiguous but less risk. Of course, the truth is that it’s all ambiguous, anyway. If you think you can predict the future, you’re crazy.

Isn’t the difference between ambiguity and risk a helpful distinction?! Those of us who’ve grown up seeing companies layoff employees know that cradle-to-grave security left the social contract decades ago. Having all your eggs in the “job” basket is indeed risky.

Check out the rest of the interview on Inc’s site. Hopefully it’ll spur your thinking as it has mine!