Fist bumping entrepreneurs

Most of us have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us that we would like to live. Between the two stands resistance.{1] How to get from one to the other? We are all capable of reinvention’, according to Bernard Roth, author of the book The Achievement Habit.[2] Can you actually take on the ‘wicked problem’ of designing your own life of positioning strategies as a social entrepreneur? Especially if you want to be a global social entrepreneur.  Yes, you can. Here are the top tips in reframing how you view yourself in the world. 

social entrepreneurs in a team

Make sure you have a mentor who is a few steps ahead of you. You will never be more successful than your team.

Top positioning strategies

1)        Know what you feel strongly about and why. If you want to be a social entrepreneur, ask yourself: “What specifically do I feel strongly about? What do I want to change?” Know why you are doing it before you jump.

2)        Envision the problem and an ideal world. Open your eyes and identify the problem. Picture what the solutions should look like, how they would work, and what they would do. It doesn’t mean that you have all of the answers, but if you can’t articulate a solution that is inspiring to others, you won’t be able to solve the problem.

3)        Make your vision big. Have a vision that is completely beyond you — one that is impossible for you. If it is beyond you, then you are going to be open to the ideas and participation of other people, and you are going to realise that you, too, are participating in something much bigger than yourself.

4)        Be passionate — commit to risk. Do a gut check because pursuing a social vision requires a deeply rooted passion. And you have to be willing to make a commitment and assume a high level of risk, personally and financially.

5)        Have faith. This is connected to faith — believing in yourself and in something larger than yourself. Having faith gives you the vision. You have to know where you are going and how you’d like to see the end result. Being able to go back to your faith daily gives you strength to take that journey.

6)        Listen: share ownership of your cause. Articulate your own vision first, but your vision can’t be carved in stone. Be open to new information, new connections, and new perspectives because none of us can solve this all by ourselves. Your vision needs to be refined and massaged by others because it needs to be a cause that others can own. Always keep your ears and your heart open to the wisdom and ideas of others. Even those who disagree with you have much to teach you.

7)        Build a team: peers + mentors. Look at your peer group and mentorship structure and make sure you have quality people in both. Make sure your peer structure is solid and that you have a vertical structure where you have a mentor who is a few steps ahead of you — someone who is a real “silver back” (male gorilla). You will never be more successful than your team.

8)        Get the right mentors. A mentor is somebody whom you respect and is wise. They may not know anything in particular about the system that you are trying to influence, but they are going to be invaluable to you if they have life experience and wisdom. Use your mentors well. You want to have two or three people who are significantly ahead of you in line — at least five years older than you, if not much more, and who think well enough of you to give you 15 minutes on the phone, at least four or five times a year. People like to nurture other peoples’ success.

9)        Surround yourself with leaders. You’ve got to have top performers in your peer group whom you respect. Make sure you have people in your peer group who are running, starting, and trying to do things. If you look at your peer group and there are more followers than leaders–unless they are following you, you probably need to find other people who are leaders to form community with.

10)      Get a partner. Aggressively seek a partner in this process. It is so helpful to have the support, encouragement, challenge of a partner, and the give-and-take to spur on a big systems-changing idea. It’s really lonely and difficult to try to spearhead that on your own.

11)      Be accountable. Make yourself accountable to somebody. Even the best laid plans too often come to naught in the absence of some kind of accountability. It is too easy to allow self pity or a false sense of power and/or ego to set in without accountability.

12)      Know your friends and opponents. Identify who your issue affects–who might care about this issue that you are holding so dear. Then start by connecting with them to understand their needs. Figure out what they believe, and if they are generally in agreement with you so you can identify your potential allies and obstacles.

13)      Act — don’t overanalyse. Many people get stuck in “paralysis by analysis” — by wanting to research and categorise things to death. It’s more important to start than to have the best idea in the world on paper. Don’t analyse the thing to death — not “read this”, “write that”, or “study this”. Having a series of false starts is actually a blessing. It’s better to start three different things that didn’t make a mark than never to try.

14)      Focus on collaboration — not starting an organisation. Focus on issues, not solely building an organisation, so that your purpose is social change. You may find an existing group of people already working in your area. If so, work with them and let them revitalise your idea or bring their strengths to it. Whether you start a new organisation or not, collaboration is absolutely necessary in order to succeed!

15)      Pick the right battles: make significant impact. Imagine that you are sitting in the middle of puddles, ponds, and oceans and you only have three pebbles to throw. If you throw your pebble into a constituency that is the ocean, your small pebble won’t be big enough to matter. If instead you throw your pebble into a tiny puddle, you’ll impact that puddle in a big way, but ultimately you won’t impact the larger cause.

16)      Create models. Because when you are articulating a new vision, people may not get it. You may know what you are talking about it, but others need to see it. You may know what you are talking about it, but others need to see it. You need to be able to execute your vision in successful models.

17)      Be flexible: expect to fail, learn and change. As you work to make change, your plans for getting there will likely change over time, and that’s great! That means you are getting smarter and better informed about how to make things happen. Don’t think of that as a failure. Be open to the fact that the “how to get there” is going to change.

18)      Experience others’ lives. Reading biographies and autobiographies is very important. It doesn’t have to be just people in your own field. Your best company will be people who are dead and gone: people who were ahead of you in line a long time ago.

19)      Bounce back. If you do this work long enough, you are going to make some mistakes. You may hire or fire the wrong person, or bet the family farm on something that doesn’t come through. If, in your drama, you roll the credits on your own social entrepreneur career with the first setback, you will never get to the top of the field. The biography of anyone who did anything remarkably interesting will reveal years where they were not productive.

20)      Celebrate! Focus on your vision, and keep fighting for it. And remember to enjoy the journey. It’s easy to get burned out when you’re striving for big change. It will come, but incrementally. Be sure to celebrate the little victories!

Adapted and condensed from Changemakers, “How to Change the World: First Steps towards Becoming a Social Entrepreneur”, Changemakers Journal (February 2004). [

[1] Pressfield, S. (2013). Do you have an unlived life?–the-war-of-art-excerpt/all .

[2] Roth, B. (2015). The achievement habit: Stop wishing, start doing, and take command of your life. HarperBusiness.

(Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

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