My friend Liz is a serial entrepreneur, who brings resourcefulness and strength to every project. Recently, she’s brought the same resourcefulness to advocate for her family. I’ve been following her story through Facebook posts. Today, she wrote a quote that fit perfectly with my thoughts on entrepreneurship.
“Momentum toward a great endeavor ALWAYS requires a group… one can achieve nothing of significance alone…” my friend Liz.
You will never have all of the necessary skills to complete your projects alone. As a graduate student, you are expected to do your own research. You may even think, like I did, that you’re working in a vacuum. Our work as scientists can be solitary. We get immersed in our research, and sometimes we forget that we build our discoveries on the backs of others’ work. We’re also required to learn and understand each technique that we use. We spend a lot of time learning these techniques and forgetting that there is even more of the world that we don’t know.
A great post by Matt Might illustrates this point. He uses a circle representing all of human knowledge. In the center of the circle is the knowledge that you get as a student through high school. When we go to college, we expand that circle and start to specialize. Our circle then gets a protrusion. As we go through graduate school, we specialize even more, and our protrusion grows.
When we have finally finished our PhD, our protrusion hits the outside of the circle and hopefully pushes a bump that expands from the circle. We have made something new in the world. What it looks like to us is that the whole world of knowledge is contained in the little protrusion pushed out of the circle. But, if we zoom out, and look at the entire circle of knowledge, we notice that our contribution is just a very little bump on a very large circle. We made a contribution to the world, but we don’t know everything.
As we advance in our careers, we learn about collaboration. We do it slowly at first. We ask our lab mates for help, “Can you take care of my cell culture this weekend?” Then we learn in seminars about new techniques that would be great for our projects, but that our lab might not have the expertise or resources for. We ask these other researchers if they would be willing to help us on our project. We dangle the carrot of co-authorship in front of them. If we are lucky, they agree, and they do the work. We’ve made a new friend and colleague.
The world expands again when we go to international conferences. We learn that other groups may be doing similar work to our own and thinking in a different way. If we’re smart, we will use their new way of thinking to advance our project. If we’re even smarter, we will ask them for collaboration.
If you decide to go the entrepreneur route, you will be in a whole new world of unknowns, remember the circle and your protrusion of knowledge. As a graduate student or postdoc, you were a great project manager. But, you probably didn’t have to think about funding. You didn’t have to make a financial plan. You didn’t have to write contracts. Others did all of these things behind the scenes. Your major professor had to think about things like budgeting of lab expenses and buying equipment, managing human resources, making sure you got paid and making sure to keep the number of people in the group small enough so that resources would last.
But, even your major professor had help. There was a human resources office in your institution that paid taxes on your salary. There were teams of lawyers helping write patent applications. There were grants and contract offices that helped put together grants and helped with the financial plan. There was a purchasing department that got the best price for equipment. Even you, your hard work, determination, creativity, and knowledge were something that your major professor could not have done without. An entrepreneur has to know something about all of these things, but doesn’t have to know it all.
Your job as an entrepreneur is to find and build a team that will help you achieve your goals. Luckily, there are experts for hire. You need a financial plan, but you don’t know the first thing about finance. Find someone who is an expert and hire them. They will help you build the financial plan for your business proposal. You don’t know how to write a business proposal? Find a mentor that has put one together. You know what equipment you might need to produce your product, but you don’t know the best or least expensive options? Contact a vendor, they’re experts in equipment and what is available, and schedule a meeting. They’ll even work for free because they want you to buy equipment from them. You don’t know how to set up a corporation? Hire a lawyer!
My dad always said, “You can buy the knowledge that you need. You don’t have to know it all.” If you surround yourself with knowledgeable people, who know more than you do, then you can solve problems. If you have problems, and you will, you won’t be able to solve them all by yourself. You need experts. Hire them!