You: The 21st Century Entrepreneur

How long does it take to build a world-class research university? In the late 19th century, Harvard University’s Charles Elliot predicted it would take 200 years and US $50 million (or US $5 billion in today’s dollars). The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) did it in 10 years and a tenth of Elliot’s predicted figure. To remain competitive, one of HKUST’s main goals is to nurture “entrepreneurial talents who will [transform] traditional industries”.

What about building a billion-dollar company? According to James Slavet, a partner at Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock, there is a short list of about 24 internet companies that are currently worth over US $1 billion. In 2012, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger joined this group when they sold their 18 month-old-yet-to-turn-a-profit app Instagram to Facebook for US $1 billion in cash and stock. Despite being acquired, Instagram is able to retain a startup feel by operating “relatively autonomously” within Facebook-at-large.

Today’s globalised world moves fast and there are no fixed rules for success. What is increasingly clear is that disrupting industries will require entrepreneurial skills. Success is now about creating a job or niche for yourself. The ladder you design and scale can take you higher than following any traditional path. Whether you are more inclined towards entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship, all millennials can benefit from thinking like a 21st Century Entrepreneur. Here are 3 traits that can help you stand out and achieve your goals:

Be a Minority

Many entrepreneurs and goal-oriented individuals are fueled by their desire to be the first or best in a field. In these situations, avoiding tunnel vision can be difficult but seeking out situations where you are not the resident expert can help you see a situation with fresh eyes. Placing your in situations where you are a minority can be as simple as volunteering for a new organization, attending a talk on a new topic of interest, or striking up a conversation with a colleague in a different department. Learning from others is humbling and serve as a reminder that there are ‘experts’ around every corner.

Embarrass Yourself

Ask a room full of people if they enjoy being embarrassed and chances are most will say no. Especially in Asian societies where the concept of saving face is culturally ingrained, pursuing situations causing embarrassment is all but unthinkable. It may be surprising then to realize that getting embarrassed can help you get ahead. According to a recent study at UC Berkeley, people who are embarrassed easily appear to be more trustworthy and generous than those who are not. Leaders may even gain increased loyalty from subordinates. Such situations can be unpredictable but often times established institutions and startups alike avoid the unknown for fear of failure. In this 21st century, big risks beget big returns. The rapid pace of today’s environment demonstrates that the time is now for millennials to eat their fear and take chances.

Develop laser focus

Millennials today face more competition than ever. A flat world and limitless flows of communication all but guarantee that some of your global counterparts are going to have your idea. The difference lies in the execution, the response to feedback, and when necessary, the pivots. That said, having laser focus on key goals is essential for success. Yes, room needs to be made for diversions in the plan but knowing your goals inside out will guide you through moments of tunnel vision, self-doubt, and discouragement. Rest assured that all changemakers with the gall to do something different experience these same emotions, then remind yourself of your focus, and get back at it. A fast paced world favours the prepared.

Twenty-first century success is difficult to quantify but it certainly is happening on a faster scale than ever before. These three traits can help keep your goals fresh, realistic, and attainable.

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