I’m always grateful when my daughter Amy sends me a book to read, including the most recent one I received from her, Total Rethink: Why Entrepreneurs Should Act Like Revolutionaries, by David McCourt, published in 2019.
McCourt has indeed proved himself to be a serial revolutionary entrepreneur, disrupting the telecommunications industry in multiple markets around the world and earning himself a fortune in the process.
He came up with radical new ways of transforming how customers’ needs could be met, comparable to what the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Airbnb came up with in their domains.
McCourt saw how previously unthinkable ways could be devised to dramatically improve services and reduce costs – often by eliminating middlemen.
He won himself bold contracts, sometimes without having fully thought through how he could deliver on them but confident that necessity would be the mother of invention… which it typically turned out to be.
So what does this “Total Rethink” require? What are the characteristics of revolutionary entrepreneurs? It starts when we are young, says McCourt, with how our parents support and encourage us, and how our teachers also do.
Then there’s developing a strong work ethic, again from a young age. As a teenager McCourt took it for granted that he would help around the house and in the garden – as I used to do! And while at college – again like me – he always took up summer jobs.
In the American education system there’s too much emphasis on overcoming weaknesses and not enough on further building natural strengths, McCourt notes, while worrying that virtually all school curricula in America are geared towards helping children get good results in standardised tests – which then enables them to get into universities.
Here they are subjected to more such tests, as a result of which they qualify to enter graduate schools.
“If they do really well they get into Harvard,” he continues, “where the whole premise of the business degree is to teach them to think outside the box – the exact opposite to everything they have been taught up until then.” It makes us feel really good about our new Competence Based Curriculum, which has done away with the problems this revolutionary has identified in the US system.
All the top universities around the world now have courses on entrepreneurship, McCourt has observed, it being a “fashionable” subject to offer. But if you ask the students why they want to be entrepreneurs they will most often say it’s because they want to be rich and because they don’t want to have a boss.
He’s not impressed, asserting that no high quality entrepreneur he’s ever met has chosen that path in order to get rich, and that while not having a boss they all rely heavily on mentors and on the support of others.
He writes at length about the importance of confidence, based on capability; being willing to collaborate and compromise in order to get to win-win; sharing generously rather than being selfishly secretive (worrying in particular about middle management in this regard, who too often see their colleagues as competitors rather than teammates); listening to others and not talking at them (this for all managers, politicians, teachers, and others too).
He also stresses the need to be a good story-teller; to articulate one’s message simply, briefly and clearly – as in the elevator speech; and to write well. He was once told that his “secret sauce” was his ability to chat with anyone, whether they were three years old or 80 years old, and that they would feel like he could relate to them and that he respected them.
Here he quotes Dale Carnegie, who famously said that “you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than in two years by trying to get other people interested in you”.
All that I have selected so far are personal attributes, and in my next article I’ll focus on the business side of entrepreneurship, on how to deal with customers so as to get the business and then how to deliver on it.
But before I conclude today I’ll leave you with a question his mentor put to all those at dinner aboard his yacht: “If you could come back as something else what would that be?”
McCourt’s immediate thought was that he would return as a revolutionary. Mine? Maybe a tennis professional or a photographer. How about you?