If you’re a social entrepreneur, you’re already hungry. You’re avidly searching for a unique niche in which you can make an impact. Living your life with meaning, and bringing meaning to others’ lives is your purpose for being.
Starting a social venture doesn’t mean that learning about how we serve stops. We’re constantly striving to be better in our ventures, and as people. Both represent our values. So how do we stay on top of being our best entrepreneur self?
It’s about defining and redefining your world. Watch all the information you seek out and take in. Watch all the people you pursue and bring into your inner circle. In this age of Crazy Media, we get caught up in the “next new thing” in social media, or having 500 friends on Facebook. So you’ve got to define, define, define; and then refine, refine, refine, as your world gets busier and presents you with an ongoing stream of information and people connections.
Share with me your inspirations. How do you continue to be educated, inspired and focused in your endeavors? Here are some ways that I’ve found are helpful to me:
- Angel advisors
- Your ears
- Your ongoing education, your industry, other industries and social media
First is your environment
I can’t emphasize the importance of getting out of one element of your bootstrapping mode (see here how other elements of bootstrapping continue to be helpful) by getting out of your home.
We want the focus. We want to burn ourselves to the ground to make sure our idea comes to fruition. And yet, it’s so important that as social entrepreneurs we get into community as soon as possible. I worked out of my home for two years, I worked in an incubator, I worked at too many Starbucks cafes to name, and I’ve worked in small, isolated offices. So when I found out about the Hub, I felt like I had come home.
The Hub is an incredible global community of investors, socially conscious for-profits, nonprofits, and independent consultants who are all socially conscious and care about our communities. Every day I come in to the Hub, I feel as if I can either help two people, or two people want to help me. It’s an absolute joy to find and thrive in a global community that is both strategic and caring. It’s not so much about a space; it’s about alive relationships.
Incubators provide services, and so does the Hub. Milk and coffee, conference rooms, printing, faxing stations are all shared, which reduces costs for each entrepreneur and has a minimum footprint for the earth. I think we have a shared printer and fax for about 40 people — what a great use of one machine! We have a shared kitchen, and “Sexy Salad” days where local people come in and make salads with grilled tofu, almonds, fresh fruits and vegetables. You can participate for free by helping create it, or pay $5 for a healthy lunch.
It’s important to get into a space that has resources, and even more important, community.
Number two is angels
Don’t forget your angels. We talk about angel investors, but equally important are angel advisors.
Angel advisors are informal. They are not, and should not be a formal part of your board or team. They are people who “unofficially” listen to you, help you grow, and encourage you in every way possible. They also make sure you stay on track. One of the biggest dangers as we continue to grow as social entrepreneurs is if we either lose our focus, or lose our values. Because your angel advisors know and care for you, they’re watching out for both. They can be a fellow entrepreneur, an old school teacher, a college roommate, your aunt, your grandfather.
Go to your ears
We’re given so much information every day, and often we hastily discard it. Listen, and I mean truly listen…
If you do, you will pick up so much more information than you ever imagined. You also might be exhausted. Truly being a good listener takes a lot of energy; listen to words, nuances, tone, body language. You will gain so much from really absorbing and understanding other people’s perspectives.
Right now, we listen for an idea, and it usually flits out of our mind. We’re too busy thinking about our response. But any good entrepreneur hears the idea and translates it into meaning and action in daily life.
Your ongoing education
So you’re probably wondering if I’m going to recommend that you read any books or resources. And I do. Og Mandino writes an incredible book about being the best salesman in the world. I don’t really like the word sales; I don’t believe in short-term closes. We strive to commit to long-term relationships. Yet his book speaks to persevering, never giving up, and relentlessly, positively, pursuing your goal. You will not accept anything less than reaching the goal; you will not accept anything less than a positive mindset. Even if you’ve read the book, how we often continue to learn is to reread, reabsorb, and reapply. Don’t just put it on the shelf.
While you’re at it, you might want to get a “quick, costless advanced degree.” Harvard Business School Publishing Society lists a host of articles, blogs, and thought leaders on super subjects. Some are philosophical; some are practical, on-the-ground tips. Go get a second degree by studying the thoughts and recommendations of Harvard professors, guest speakers, and entrepreneurs who freely share their wealth of wisdom. We’re fortunate they do so!
Your industry, other industries and social media
Do stay on top of various industries and monitor your information. I like to go to hubs for thinking, where I can learn from multiple thought leaders in the social entrepreneurship space. Groups such as these include the Unreasonable Institute, MassChallenge, and the Foundation for Youth Social Entrepreneurs in Asia. They are all incubating, supporting and counselling social entrepreneurs all over the world. Go to their sessions; listen to these thought leaders; encourage and support them, and realize you are also helping extend your own vision.
In line with this, choose your social media carefully, or it will become Social Craziness. Just because social media is in front of you, does not mean it’s the information you need.
Are all the posts on Facebook really valuable? Which Twitter conversations are most helpful? What groups on LinkedIn really provide the best advice? Figure out the top five people you want to follow, and learn as much as you can from them. But reevaluate, and change whenever you feel you need a new burst of thought or something isn’t working for you.
This is where you are defining, and then redefining.
In this fast world, you can’t just make a decision and stick to it. You have to stick to it for awhile, and continue to evaluate whether it impels you to other levels. What you do stick to is your commitment, your vision and values.
Here’s and example of how I creatively help educate myself. I currently follow Nicholas Kristof, Kristen Wiig, Fareed Zakaria, Will Farrell, and Peter Samuelson. As you’ll see, it’s a mix of social entrepreneurs, global thought leaders, and actors and improvisors, since I have a balance of both in my life (see more about my acting). Learn from your industry; learn from outside your industry.
Ultimately, we want to stay focused and watchful about how we grow. It’s never just about your organization. It’s also about you as a person. Watch what influences your thinking, mind and heart at all times. Define and redefine. Be selective, and reselect. The people and information you surround yourself with will accelerate you as a leader.