Scratching your entrepreneurial itch – Part 1

Photo of young woman looking on her phone with laptop and paintbrushes in the foreground

Want to do something more than you are currently doing? Got ideas that float around in your head but they aren’t something for your current workplace? Not concerned about getting wide-spread approval for your idea?

You may have latent potential to be an …. Entrepreneur!

What’s that you say!?

The term “entrepreneur” was introduced by economist Richard Cantillon around 1730. The term has had different meanings across the past three centuries, but to give you something relatable to work with today – think of it as someone who takes action, who creates and gets things done despite the presence of uncertainty.


What it means to be entrepreneurial

There’s two key aspects to being entrepreneurial: creativity and risk.

Relationship to Risk
You might know entrepreneurial people and thought of them as bold and confident because that’s want you can see on the outside. Entrepreneurial people can have doubts and fears like everyone else on the inside – but – they take action anyway. They don’t do it by ignoring risks – rather by being smart they manage the risks informed by the doubts and fears they have.

One significant way to manage risk in an entrepreneurial endeavour is not to take a big plunge, but rather dip some toes into the water. Elizabeth Gilbert phrases this in a lovely way, when relating a story of someone in her book, Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear: “He didn’t quit his day job to follow his dream; he just folded his dream into his everyday life.”

In his book, Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World, Adam Grant mentions a management study by researchers Joseph Raffiee and Jie Feng (PDF) about whether it’s better to keep or quit your day job when starting a business. They found that people who kept their day jobs had 33% lower odds of failure than those who quit.

Taking action is having momentum. It’s not waiting for something to happen to you, or for the perfect moment, or the right resources to appear. It’s taking action despite what has happened, regardless of what moment you have, and making do with whatever resources you have on hand. Sure some creativity results in art and aesthetically pleasing works, but much creativity is the product of working within some constraints that generate conditions for novel, interesting and unexpected choices.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, wrote a book Creativity: Flow and the Pyschology of Discovery and Invention, about his research to understand the qualities and processes of people being creative. He identified 10 traits that seem to be contradictory – like being both imaginative AND deeply realistic; and playful AND disciplined. You can read about all of them in this extract published in Psychology Today.

Oh, and by the way, don’t assume that being entrepreneurial is just something for those in their 20s and 30s, research done in the US indicates that the mean age for founders of fast-growing new businesses is 45! (PDF) Older people can have some advantages with greater access to money and strong established relationships (aka social capital).


Where to be entrepreneurial

Usually, the notion of entrepreneurial is associated with people who have left an organisation to do their own thing, or putting themselves on a trajectory to solely do their own thing in the future.

This article is the first in a series of 3 articles which are an invitation to the possibilities of doing entrepreneurial things while still being employed. In this article, there’s advice for doing your own thing on the side. In the second article, the focus shifts to being an intrapreneur (entrepreneurial inside an organisation), and in the third article the focus shifts to seeking to join entrepreneurial activity by working in someone else’s start-up business. (NB: As at December 2022, second and third articles have not yet been published. Links will come.)

With a Self unLimited mindset, the space where you play in doing ‘something on the side’, is known as Scenario 2. In this scenario you are still the employee of an organisation. However, you decide there are extra things you’d like to make part of your workscape that are not addressed by your employer. This extra-curricular activity is vocationally-oriented – by whatever boundaries you determine this to be, and not necessarily something you will get paid for, though you do seek to get some form of value from it. It’s definitely not something your employer controls. One word that some people like to use is to call this a ‘side hustle’. (Read about all four Scenarios.)


Why you might choose to be entrepreneurial

There are good reasons for choosing to be entrepreneurial, creating goodness for yourself, and for others.

For yourself: It’s a chance to express yourself, and let your creativity come to the foreground in very active ways. It may be that you’ve been hiding your light under the proverbial bushel because you didn’t know how or where to take action. It’s also an opportunity to be experimental – in that you don’t have to have well-defined goals or proven evidence that something will definitely work. You can simply give something a go, and see what you might learn, regardless of whether you produce something that others will value. And finally it can be the means for you to evolve – to grow beyond your current thinking, abilities and relationship to risk, in a way that signals to other people you are someone of great value to be on their team or collaborate with.

For others: These may be the organisation where you work and/or any stakeholders connected to that organisation. Your entrepreneurial activity can add value in many forms – like a new or improved product or a repeatable story that illustrates how the organisation is being innovative or taking a lead in solving an important problem. The organisation gets to increase its capability to do innovative things because you will be one more person with the right skills and mindset who is capable of such work. Your experience and capabilities can contribute to a broader eco-system of people who want to address important issues for societal benefit.


Start attending to your entrepreneurial itch

Here’s some steps to take in adventuring as an entrepreneur within Self unLimited Scenario #2:

  • Make Exploration of Being an Entreprenuer your initial particular venture. You don’t have to start with an idea – you can start simply with curiosity and see what needs or matters exist and interest you. Put a time limit on this exploration to give a strong sense of urgency and purpose, i.e. Time-boxing: decide how many hours in a week you want to give this and for how long.
  • Do a personal Value Exchange Ledger to explore what value you want to contribute, claim or create from doing something entrepreneurial. This doesn’t have to be about money. It is good for you to know what value you want to create for yourself, for value-creation is at the heart of being entrepreneurial.
  • Read Mike’s story on doing a side hustle (in 9 episodes). You’ll see how Mike worked his way through all the seven responsibilities of doing his own thing, while also having to consider his day-job.
  • Find and join in Day events with Professional Associations who are gifting their time and talent to Community/NFP organisations.
  • Consider if you want to do something by your lonesome or with a partner. If going with a partner, have a value exchange conversation (after each doing Value Exchange Ledger) to explore each other’s motivations and expectations.
  • Go to startup meetups and pitch nights to find others and see what others are doing. Absorb their energy; validate your ideas; and find support and resources.
  • Sign up, subscribe and follow a range of innovation and startup resources. There’s usually a branch of a local, state or federal government that is seeking to encourage innovation, so start with their offerings.
  • Check out if there are grants and services available to help you, such as a business mentor, small business classes in your local area – often from you local/state/federal government.
  • Interview someone who’s already doing entreprenuerial things, and ask them what they wish they had known when they had first started.
  • Think about what Strengths you bring to entrepreneurial or building activity. Take the original Clifton Strengths Finder assessment and/or the BP10 Build Profile
  • Come up with an idea for something to make an offer; draw upon your skills, interests, experience and resources. Activate your creativity, and boost your creative confidence with a mind-map activity.
  • Workshop your idea with some friends to give shape and substance to your idea. Explore questions like:
    • Who am I doing this for my audience?
    • What value do they likely want from this?
    • What resources will I need to make this happen?
    • Who might be able to help me make this happen?
    • What timelines do I want to work to?
    • What would be a useful, minimal viable product?
  • Talk your proposed venture over with your family and significant others in case it has an impact you don’t see on relationships and shared resources.
  • Imagine and get moving, doing something with just a small defined amount of money. Take some inspiration from the $20 Boss program created by the Foundation for Young Australians.
  • Frame your exploration as an Experiment. Not to prove something you know, but to discover what you-don’t-know-you-don’t-know. There’s guidance for doing this in our Experiment for One eLearning program.


So what are you waiting for?

Today’s a good day to do something to scratch your entrepreneurial itch!



Helen Palmer, Founder of Self unLimited, has been in many workscape situations where she felt the entrepreneurial itch and did something about it. From small things inside an organisation to founding her own business and creating unique products and services – she’s got personal experience in activating and cultivating her entrepreneurial capability. She’s keen to help others take their first steps into unleashing their creativity and ideas for a world that needs them!


(Amended) Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash