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Thinking Like an Entrepreneur

I like my backpack.

At first, I liked it mostly because my daughters gave it to me as a Fathers’ Day present. “You can take it with you to Nicaragua,” they said.

So I did. Twice. And despite the beating it took there, it remains fully functional. It looks like they gave it to me three days ago, not three years ago. That’s why I not only like my backpack, I respect it.

Before I got it, I had vaguely heard of a Patagonia. I knew it was a somewhere in South America and that it was a must-experience destination for adventurer travelers. After I got it, I learned more details about the area for which it’s named. Patagonia is a rugged yet stunningly beautiful region that includes two countries (Argentina and Chili), two ocean coasts, the Andes, and thousands of square kilometers of plains and steppes.

Patagonia is also the name of a high-end outdoor clothing and equipment company. Founder and CEO, Yvon Chouinard named it Patagonia to honor one of Earth’s most enchanting places. While exploring the company Patagonia (not the actual Patagonia) I learned a lot about Chouinard. The more I learned, the more I like and respect him, too.

He’s the role model young entrepreneurs need. Not just because of Patagonia’s business model (making money and being earnestly committed to environmental preservation), but because of Chouinard’s problem-solving method. I greatly admire and covet his “If I don’t like the way it is, I’ll make it better myself” philosophy. Example: When he couldn’t find a decent knife to both pry open mussels and knock away barnacles, he made one for himself.

I wasn’t taught to have that attitude. It is a serious weakness that I’m still fighting hard to overcome. Sure, we live in a world of specialization and it would be silly to try to do everything for ourselves. On the other hand, if we rely so much on others that we do nothing for ourselves, we become weak and dependent followers. Therefore, when we’re challenged and/or dissatisfied, our default thought shouldn’t be Who will make this better? Instead, it should be I’m going to make this better.

I’m pretty sure that’s how most successful entrepreneurs think. I’m not completely sure because, regretfully, that’s not how I was taught to think.

Most of us baby boomers were taught to get a job. I wish we had been taught to manufacture an income. Despite my (unpopular with my status quo bosses) attempts at “intrapreneurship,” it may be a little late for me. But not for my students. Today’s kids need to be taught to think like the 73 year-old Chouinard and make whatever they’re dissatisfied with better by first relying on their own ingenuity.