Porter Novelli

Everybody wants to be an entrepreneur – or at least embrace an entrepreneurial mindset. It was a core topic of discussion at Porter Novelli’s leadership summit last week, PN Futurize, in particular from our new COO Nick Propper.

That got me thinking (dangerous, I know). What does it really mean to be “entrepreneurial”? Sure, we agree there’s no binary delineation between someone who is and someone who is not an entrepreneur. We won’t all be the next Elon Musk, but everyone can and should adopt entrepreneurial behaviors in daily life, and avoid falling into the trap of bureaucracy.

But how? What are the behaviors an entrepreneur exhibits? More importantly, how can your average Joe Schmo like me adopt some of those behaviors? And I’m not talking about yet another 12-step guide, 5 myths, or 27 model examples (where each example also happens to be a sponsor of that site).

To me, an entrepreneurial spirit comes down to one core, underlying characteristic:

Be Like Water

be-like-water visual


Great, but what exactly does that mean? Is it just another bit of hyperbole from a wannabe guru? Well, probably, but here’s how I arrived at that statement:

  1. Water doesn’t need to wait for instructions. Water doesn’t need to plan in detail its entire course, or seek approval before getting started. It finds a morsel of permission (a path downhill) and starts moving – it acts its way into the future, and finds a way to get to the ocean. Entrepreneurs aren’t stifled if they aren’t told exactly what to do; they identify a need and take the initiative (and the risk) to pursue it.
  2. Water doesn’t stop at a barrier. We all know the old example of the jar of rocks that’s full – until you add sand, and then until you add water. That’s a key characteristic of an entrepreneur: there’s no such thing as a dead-end. If you hit a wall, you find a way through the cracks, you force your way through or you find a way around it. You never simply say, “Well, that’s that.”
  3. Water changes course … a lot. An extension of the above point is the ability to change course. No, you can’t always push straight ahead – rivers are incredibly meandering bodies. They get that way by recognizing when going straight ahead may not work – and adapting. Be brave in your decision-making, but be willing to change course.
  4. Water takes advantage of ebbs and flows. When it rains extra hard, or if there’s a drought, water behavior changes accordingly. Similarly, entrepreneurs need to recognize when the conditions have changed, and be willing to abandon past instructions if necessary.
  5. Water isn’t afraid of drowning. Recognize that what you think is risky – what you think may be professional suicide – probably isn’t nearly as risky as you think. Water isn’t afraid of drowning – it knows that it may encounter turbulence, but it will not drown.
  6. But water can evaporate. Entrepreneurs must always be pushing forward. If you stand still or get complacent, you’ll evaporate. Constant motion is critical, even if it turns out to be the wrong direction. It means you’ll try, you’ll fail, and you’ll find a new way. But you won’t evaporate.

This is just my meandering (get it, like water??) thoughts on what an entrepreneurial mindset means to me. You may have a different definition, and you certainly shouldn’t take my word for it.

But, I think it’s fair to say that at its core, the entrepreneurs we strive to emulate may take an unpredictable and zigzagging path, but they’ll always find a way to the ocean. Just like water.

1 Comment

  1. Christina Pantin

    Great analogy. And of course, (clean) water is clear and transparent which makes it valuable for sustaining life..