Surviving — and thriving — is all about mindset.
9 min read
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Excerpted from Born to Build: How to Build a Thriving Startup, A Winning Team, New Customers and Get Your Best Life Imaginable by Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Badal. Copyright 2018 Gallup, Inc. Reprinted with permission from Gallup Press. All rights reserved.
"Where do I begin?" you ask.
Sara asked the same thing. She had tinkered with hardware in her father's garage since she was in high school. She watched him design motors, robotic arms and all sorts of gadgets in his small workshop.
Engineering was her calling. She graduated from college with an electrical engineering degree. Now, Sara has a compelling idea to build solar inverters that convert the electricity generated by solar panels into a form that homeowners can use to run their appliances, lighting and other electronics.
But she has no idea where to begin.
Since graduating eight months ago, Sara has applied to more than 50 engineering firms looking for an entry-level position, but she has not received a single positive response. She is working at the local coffee shop while waiting to land a job. She has also applied to a master's degree program in electrical engineering, just in case she cannot find a job.
Sara is not alone. A 2017 study of recent graduates (aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor's degree or higher) by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that 4 percent are unemployed, and 44 percent are underemployed. College graduates like Sara are considered underemployed when they settle for jobs that are not full-time, do not pay well and, in many cases, do not even require a college degree.
Jobs with benefits and professional and financial security are becoming less common as the labor market moves more toward a "gig" economy — a gradual shift away from conventional 9-to-5 jobs toward alternative work that is flexible and temporary. This change may mark a decline in the kind of steady and stable full-time jobs people have grown accustomed to and the beginning of a new work era in the U.S. and around the world.
Those who want to survive and succeed in the shifting employment landscape must bring resourcefulness, optimism, pragmatism and resilience to the table. Enterprising qualities such as initiative, innovation, creativity, risk-taking and the ability to sell ideas or products are highly desirable in this fluid work environment.
Gallup's advice to young people looking for jobs, employees looking to advance their careers or retirees beginning an encore career is: Embrace the shift! Cultivate the mindset of a builder — it is key to your success.
Successful builders proactively develop behaviors that empower them to anticipate problems, overcome adversity, recognize opportunities, organize resources and take action to build something. Understanding and developing such behaviors is invaluable, regardless of the career or personal path you pursue.
A recent study conducted by Francisco Campos from the World Bank and a team of researchers found that a psychology-based training program that develops entrepreneurial behaviors among small-business owners increased firm profits by 30 percent, compared with just 11 percent for a group that had traditional business training. In our book, we discuss this psychologically driven approach to cultivating the mindset of a builder.
Whether you are a dentist building a practice, a pastor building a congregation, a chef building a restaurant, a student building a startup, a coder building a mobile app or a corporate executive building a new line of business, the process of building something for a customer creates value and spurs economic growth. But more importantly, it makes life deeply satisfying and gives it meaning and purpose.
Humans are born to build. People seek fulfillment, engagement and meaning in life. Everyone has the seed of a builder inside them, expressed through the hobbies and passions they pursue throughout their lives.
Building something that is meaningful and fulfilling for you starts a process of learning and building skills, increases your self-efficacy, helps you achieve mastery in a particular area, and increases your motivation and engagement. You become an engine of entrepreneurial innovation that powers your economy.
And there are plenty of sources of inspiration: rags-to-riches stories of highly successful builders; pioneers who create something from scratch, with barely any resources, and build multimillion-dollar ventures in just a few years; lone inventors in garages who hustle their way to success; and individuals who faced repeated rejections and obstacles before reaching the heights of achievement.
There are many stories of highly successful builders who not only were the first to recognize opportunities in their environment, but in many cases, they outright created new opportunities for themselves. They were not passive bystanders waiting for opportunities to emerge. Rather, their behaviors, actions and thought processes shaped an environment from which new opportunities emerged. They created new customers where none existed and opened up new markets that no one anticipated.
For instance, when John Leguizamo, the theater and film actor, tried to find work in films and TV in the 1980s, his options were limited. There was very little work available to Latino artists. After multiple rejections and some forgettable roles, Leguizamo decided to build a theater for himself — a stage where he could show his craft and be taken seriously as an artist. He wrote and staged his first play, Mambo Mouth, in 1990, which opened to an audience of 70 people.
Twenty-five years later, he is still writing and building his own roles. Even as opportunities in film and TV have expanded, he continues to write and perform on stage about issues that are deeply important to him.
Leguizamo didn't wait for roles to fall into his lap. He built roles for himself. He is a builder who used his personal history and his desire to bring to life something close to his heart. He closed the gap between his actual reality (what is) and his desired situation (what should be).
Dave Myers was another builder who opened up a new market for his employer. Myers was an engineer at W.L. Gore & Associates, a global material science company. His full-time work was developing plastic heart implants at the medical product plant in Flagstaff, Ariz., but he tinkered with his mountain bike gears in his spare time. He used a polymer (a Teflon-like material) developed by his company to coat the gears of his bike with the hope that it would improve the bike's movement.
Myers's tinkering resulted in a new line of business for Gore: Ride On cable systems for bicycles. Though Gore discontinued the product, Myers continued developing his idea of coating cables and strings with the stretched polymer to make them stronger and improve their performance.
During one of his experiments, it struck him that coating guitar strings with this polymer might improve their durability and performance. He sought the help of a colleague who was an avid guitarist. His colleague confirmed that guitar strings lose their tonal quality due to accumulation of dirt and oils from regular use.
Myers persuaded others in the company to join him in his efforts. After three years of development, the team got approval from senior management, and they launched Elixir strings. Elixir strings have superior tonal quality and last three times longer than regular strings. Today, Elixir is the leading brand of acoustic guitar strings, with a 35 percent market share in the U.S.
Myers did not passively wait for opportunities to further his career at Gore. He created a new product for his company from a side project — fixing his mountain bike. In the process, he opened up a new market for Gore that no one had anticipated.
When Charles Schwab launched one of the first discount brokerage firms in the U.S., which today oversees $ 2.5 trillion in net assets, the financial industry was in turmoil due to a major regulatory change by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In 1975, the SEC eliminated the practice of fixed brokerage commissions, which required investors to pay a fixed fee for a typical trade.
As the financial industry vigorously opposed the regulatory change — making dire predictions of the downfall of the free enterprise system — Schwab saw a unique opportunity to make the world of investing more accessible to the individual investor. There was a market waiting to be tapped that none of the major brokerage firms had anticipated at the time.
Schwab's entrepreneurial actions in the face of regulatory changes in his environment revolutionized and disrupted the brokerage industry. They led to the emergence of a new market — unleashing innovation in technology and spawning new services and pricing in the financial world.
As inspiring as Leguizamo's, Myers's and Schwab's stories can be, they are a bit overwhelming for the individual who knows nothing about building a venture. You are not alone if you're asking yourself:
- Do I have what it takes to build?
"I don't have a degree from Oxford or Yale."
- What should I build?
"I don't have a multimillion-dollar or world-changing idea."
- Where do I begin?
"I don't have a clue!"
- Whom do I ask for help?
"I don't know anyone who has built something from scratch."
Each question and concern becomes a potential minefield — a hurdle in the path of building.
To help you navigate the process of building, our book outlines a method you can learn and use to build your future — a proven set of techniques that can help you see or even create opportunities for yourself. Using these techniques, you will learn how to take logical steps toward building something.
Instead of looking for that elusive job, following the traditional career path or waiting endlessly for the next promotion, you can learn to proactively build your own future. You can cultivate the mindset of a successful builder.