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As discussed in the 2nd post of this blog, A Good Night’s Sleep, I suggested that the gap between working for someone to earn a living and working for yourself as a business owner is an ever-fuzzier line of distinction, an ever-diminishing difference. The appeal of more job security, less risk, and steady income that came with getting a job in the past has faded with the increasingly global and complex economy, rapidly advancing technologies, and an even more rapidly changing business world and the skill sets and behaviors of the people who work within it.  So who takes advantage of environments characterized by less job security, more risk, and opportunity that comes from limitless income sources?  Of course, it’s the entrepreneur!  And it’s the successful entrepreneur that demonstrates the skills we all need to succeed in the world of work.

Most people would still rather get a job than take on business ownership. That’s easy to understand, but the main lesson learned from the realization that being an employee (getting a job) is increasingly similar to being an employer (business owner) is this: no matter what your choice, employee or employer or both, achieving success in your world of work requires that you think, decide, and act like a successful entrepreneur.

For each of us, real work begins with thinking. Henry Ford famously said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably why so few engage in it.” In today’s world of work, that quote is ever-more relevant. Work is becoming more and more knowledge-based (hence the term “knowledge worker”, so prevalent in our business lexicon), and expending real energy on thinking is increasingly important. As I can personally attest, people who do the hard work of thinking are physically exhausted at the end of the day.

So here’s a game I play with everyone who can’t escape my classroom or are interested enough to sit and play along; it’s called What kind of thinker are you? I’ll describe the four kinds of thinkers in the workplace, then you do some sober introspection and label yourself as one of the four. Come on, be honest. Here we go:

  • B-thinker: The Barren Thinker chooses not to think, lives life in unconscious patterns and gives credence to the theory that humans take mental short cuts and avoid thinking whenever something habitual can serve as a substitute.  B-thinkers live in someone else’s basement throughout adulthood, love time-consuming impulse (e.g., shock jock radio-listening, gaming, drug highs), and pay attention only when someone mentions a new government program that may pay for their cell phone.  B-thinkers may talk a lot, but the “light’s not on”.  Employers run from B-thinkers and active business ownership is literally the opposite of B-thinking.
  • C-thinker: The Compliant Thinker works for a living, punches a clock (real or imagined), and does just enough on the job to keep the job…or so they think. C-thinkers are usually unhappy and act as if their pay is strictly earned by inserting tab A in to slot B, i.e., following procedures.  Ask them to do anything more, and it becomes a “hostile work environment” or some other such atrocity.  C-thinkers care deeply about an hour given for lunch versus 45 minutes, and whether or not they can get away with Facebooking at their workstation.  Business owners invest in machinery and computers to replace C-thinkers whenever possible. The employer, especially the small business owner, has a quiet fear that her newest hire will be a C-thinker, rather than the D-thinker she thought was hired.
  • D-thinker: A Deep Thinker is the big employer’s nirvana or a member of a small business owner’s dream team.  A D-thinker applies thought and creativity; stays within the constraints of the business organization and work environment; and, focuses on doing an ever-increasingly better job.  D-thinkers like to work, apply their mind and body, may or may not enjoy engaging others or working on teams, but very often see the wisdom of helping out a co-worker.  D-thinkers not only comply with procedures, they increase the value of their work by really thinking about, then changing, the way they do things, thus becoming unchallenged SMEs (subject matter experts) at the jobs they are given.  C-thinkers look to D-thinkers to enable them to work without thinking.  Unfortunately for D-thinkers, there’s a fatal flaw in this approach to earning a living that I will explain later and explore in depth in future posts.
  • E-thinker: The Entrepreneurial Thinker is a D-thinker with a holistic view of his world of work in a business context. An E-thinker can be an employee (job worker) or employer (business owner). While a D-thinker focuses on excellence in his or her respective field of expertise or vocation – I’ll call this his Core Process – the E-thinker approaches work with an entrepreneurial perspective and recognizes that there are really ten core skills that must be continuously developed with a life-long devotion to all ten. Five of the ten core skills are called work skills: planning and leadership; marketing, selling, and customer retention; financing, accounting, and measuring; and, leveraging constraints. The other 5 skills are called life skills: active knowledge, relationships, execution, accountability, and innovation. Continuously practiced work skills, woven together with continuously practiced life skills, make for a strong “fabric” that yields a successful life of work and many solid nights of sleep!

So do you typically avoid thinking when it comes to work (B-thinker)? Comply with your work’s requirements but apply little or no thought to the work or your broader contribution to the business (C-thinker)? Approach your work with comprehensive thought and energy with intent to become a SME (D-thinker)? Or, do you think like an entrepreneur (E-thinker)?

Before I close, I’ll reveal the fatal flaw to being a Deep Thinker. No matter how successful you are as a D-thinking SME, your job can end with the next round of layoffs; the next fiscal year involving budget cuts; or, the next new Vice President with somebody else they’d like doing your job. The reality is that D-thinkers cannot control their own destiny like E-thinkers can. That’s why E-thinking – thinking like a successful entrepreneur – is imperative.

Next blog post: The S4 Achievement Fabric – 10 core skills practiced as a way of life by every successful E-thinker.