The Six [Politically Incorrect] Rules of Entrepreneurship

The Six [Politically Incorrect] Rules of Entrepreneurship

In the mid-1970’s, Macrae[1] published an article in The Economist, proposing that people working in corporations should behave more like entrepreneurs, that is, with creativity, innovation, risk-taking, and personal accountability. In 1985 Pinchot and Pinchot[2] coined the term intrapreneur to describe someone working with an entrepreneurial attitude in a corporate environment.

Leading up to our 2015 benchmark study[3] of intrapreneurship, we realized that we couldn’t study intrapreneurship without first understanding the beliefs and behaviors of entrepreneurs. Over a 5-year period, we conducted hundreds of interviews with successful entrepreneurs from small operations to large multinationals. We defined “successful” as being in business for five years or more with a positive growth trend and bottom line. We used Psychmentation[4] to create an environment where participants could speak openly and candidly about their experiences.

Six themes consistently ran through the narratives of the participants. Their language was often direct and at times even politically incorrect. We have used their expressions as titles to each section. Digging deeper into each theme provided a wealth of wisdom about the experience of succeeding through risk-taking and ownership of results.

If You Don’t Kill You Don’t Eat

Translation: Nothing happens until you get the order.

Successful entrepreneurs never take their eye off the customer, even in very process-complex businesses. They also recognize that as a company grows, it becomes difficult to please customers without highly engaged employees empowered to solve problems and create great experiences. Entrepreneur icon Richard Branson, in a 2014 interview[5] with Inc magazine, goes so far as to say that employee happiness should come first because happy employees make for happy customers.

What do we do? What do you need?

Translation: Flexibility can uncover opportunities to create value.

Successful entrepreneurs keep their ears close to the ground. They listen to customers, their employees, and suppliers. They keep up with what’s going on in their industry and the market at large. They’re receptive to crazy ideas. Above all, they are open to process disruption. They design systems with flexibility built-in and in anticipation of change on short notice. This agility is a powerful source of competitive advantage.

Before you can make it, you have to fake it

Translation: A positive attitude is essential at all times.

Successful entrepreneurs never whine, even during the darkest times, and especially never in front of customers or employees. They realize that people want to work with winners, not with individuals or companies that may not be in business before they deliver. Research by Diaz[6] into the personalities of entrepreneurs found a higher degree of both optimism and internal locus-of-control (LOC) compared to non-entrepreneurs. High internal LOC means that entrepreneurs believe they “make things happen”, rather than simply being victims of circumstances.

Show up, show up on time, show up dressed to play

Translation: Be prepared to get the order

A recent Leadership Insights article[7] discussed how the massive volume of communications and information the modern worker encounters is a barrier to innovation and opportunity. The key is to make information as relevant as possible to the immediate challenges people face in their jobs. This means research and preparation. The old adage that 90% of a sale happens before meeting the customer has never been truer. Successful entrepreneurs recognize that the “better mousetrap” paradigm is no longer enough. Even the best products and innovations must elbow their way into crowded market spaces. Listening to customers, subject matter expertise, and readiness to adapt are central elements to entrepreneurial preparedness.

Overpromise and overdeliver

Translation: Don’t just meet customers’ expectations…absolutely delight them!

Successful entrepreneurs are obsessed with delighting their customers. It’s not enough to simply deliver what was promised. Busenitz and Barney’s research[8] into the personality traits of entrepreneurs support the view that they have a more insulated perception of risk. Combined with a heightened optimism and a strong internal LOC, successful entrepreneurs are empowered with a “can do” attitude. They tend to dream big and are rarely satisfied with under-promising in the hope they can overdeliver.  

Good judgment is the result of experience…which is often the result of poor judgment

Translation: Take risks, learn from failures, and don’t repeat them

Successful entrepreneurs don’t like to fail, but they see the opportunity in it. They live Thomas Edison’s famous quote: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.  Of all the attitudes expressed by entrepreneurs, our subsequent research showed that this is the bridge between entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. Making it OK to take risks, to try new things, even at the risk of failure, is the key to enabling creativity and innovation in organizations.


By Steve Courmanopoulos, PhD (Psych)

Dr. Courmanopoulos is the Senior Partner and CEO of Medius International Inc, a global consulting firm providing expertise in three areas: Intelligence, Strategy, and Organizational Development. Click here for more information on the firm’s activities in Intrapreneurship, Company Culture, and Employee Engagement 




[1] Macrae, G. (1976, December 25). The coming entrepreneurial revolution. The Economist.

[2] Pinchot, G. & Pinchot, E. (1985). Intrapreneuring. New York: Harper & Row.

[3] Courmanopoulos, S. (2015). The Dimensions Of A Successful Intrapreneurial Corporate Culture: A Grounded Theory Study. Private study. Medius International inc.

[4] Psychmentation. Retrieved from:

[5] Inc. Magazine, Retrieved January 5, 2016 from:

[6] Diaz, F. (2003). Locus of control, nAch and values of community entrepreneurs.  Social Behavior and Personality, 31(8), 739-748.

[7] Leadership Insights. Retrieved January 6, 2016 from:

[8] Busenitz, L. W., & Barney, J. B. (1997). Differences between entrepreneurs and managers in large organizations: Biases and heuristics in strategic decision making. Journal of Business Venturing, 12, 9–30.


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