Not only have I reinvented my business, but I have reinvented myself and I have reinvented (and reinvested in) my relationships — something I will do again and again in the years to come. I am often asked this question about my own path in business: “How did you go from being a winery owner to a marketer, and then from being a marketer to a venture capitalist?” My answer is actually quite simple: “I did it by innovating as an entrepreneur. It has been the evolution of me and my interests.”
Our generation isn’t married to the past — we’re not stuck doing whatever that major is on our college degree, and we’re not frozen by a fear that a potential employer will look at our eclectic and ever-changing resumes as an indicator of some sort of character or motivational defect. Smart business people know that someone’s skills, and the ability to look beyond the conventional wisdom and innovate, is far more important than any degree or title or fancy business card.
So the most important question for someone who wants to be successful today — and far into the future — is this: How do you evolve? To be more specific, how do you explore your passions and your creativity, and how do you figure out ways to continually develop or reinvent yourself and your businesses — both in a creative way, and to have a creative edge?
Whatever evolution you make in business has to be creative in order for it to be interesting and catch other people’s attention, whether working as an entrepreneur or in a corporate setting. The largest Fortune 500 companies today are including words like “creative,” “innovative,” and “entrepreneurial” in their position descriptions and job postings. For these large companies, this is something new. In the past, corporations valued and rewarded people who would conform to their company cultures and stay within the strict boundaries that the companies defined for them. That’s no longer the case — they now want people who think like entrepreneurs, who are intrapreneurial.
To me, versatility means that you do the following:
- Leave your job description and comfort zone and do whatever is needed to maximize value creation. The more you step outside your comfort zone, the more value you can potentially create. You can do this either by realizing (1) a new passion, or (2) new capabilities. I have learned that when you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t get the option to say, “Well that’s not my job.” No — everything is your job, at least in the very beginning. If there’s nobody else to do it, then there goes your company.
- Be reliable. You will build trust and good will by doing what you say you are going to do — when you say you are going to do it. Reliability helps you create a firm foundation from which you can quickly pivot when necessary as conditions demand it. Be straightforward. Most people in business prefer their business partners and colleagues to be honest and candid with them, and not to beat around the bush. Being straightforward enables you to get to the heart of issues quickly, and makes solving them much more efficient.
- Show that you’re self-motivated and naturally curious, and that you don’t need to be motivated externally to learn or assist in solving problems. Companies put a premium on people who are self-motivated, who will pick up the slack and treat a company like their own, and who will solve problems that they’re not asked specifically to solve. They are willing to pay a premium for people who are naturally curious and motivated to effectuate change or get a project right.
- Be highly motivated, skilled, and engaged. It takes these kinds of people to make a business successful, no matter how big or small it may be. You can work for Colgate-Palmolive, and when you walk into a meeting, you’re still John Doe who works for Colgate-Palmolive. However, when you leave, people may remember Colgate-Palmolive, but they’re going to really remember how John Doe conducted him- or herself — that’s where the greatest impression will be left. Your representation as an employee of a company is your placeholder, but you’re always representing yourself whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur.
- Show that you can identify weaknesses and create solutions. Every company wants a doer or a creator. Know your value-add and get to work. I think one characteristic that’s made me successful is that I clearly say when I’m not good at something, or if it’s not my area of expertise, or if my time is better spent being productive on another task. I am the first one to raise my hand and say, “This is not my area of expertise.” And rather than being penalized for my inadequacies, I am respected for telling people where my strengths are and ensuring that they are being leveraged to the greatest degree possible.
- Be a good and clear communicator. Quality communicators are transparent yet tactful, eloquent, and non-condescending, which I think goes back to my belief that success is a result of being assertive and deliberate, but not being aggressive and abrasive. Get comfortable communicating what you want to do strategically to the people in your network who you feel can open doors or who are close to opportunities that you’d like to be considered for. Note: This isn’t begging for work or looking desperate, it’s putting out feelers in your network. A warm intro is better than a cold call when you have your sights set on a business opportunity. And, if you apply for a job where a friend or colleague works and is highly regarded and you haven’t enlisted their assistance beforehand, it speaks volumes about how you explore and leverage opportunities as a businessperson, so don’t let pride get in the way.
What does versatility mean to you? How can you be the kind of person that thinks like an entrepreneur, even if you’re in the heart of a conservative, one-hundred-year-old multinational corporation?
All of these intrapreneurial skills are transferrable to any position in any company — from start-up to the Fortune 500. Almost every company today seems to want people who are entrepreneurial in their thoughts and actions. Employers want people who will step up and make things happen—not sit back and wait for things to happen to them.
This post is an excerpt from The Path Redefined: Getting To the Top On Your Own Terms by Lauren Maillian Bias. Reprinted by arrangement with BenBella Books. Copyright © Lauren Maillian Bias, 2014
Lauren Maillian Bias is a serial entrepreneur, and the author of the business memoir, The Path Redefined: Getting To the Top On Your Own Terms. In 2011, she was recognized at The White House by the Kauffman Foundation as an Empact100 Award honoree, the top 100 entrepreneurs under 30 and named by Essence magazine to the Class of 2013 African-American Shot Callers, she is the Founder and CEO of Luxury Market Branding, a strategic marketing company, and is an investor and advisor to early-stage venture-backed mobile and consumer facing technology-enabled companies.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.