Entrepreneurship: what I’ve learned

Lindsay Levin

Lindsay Levin

09 December 2014

This blog was originally published by our friends over at thedoschool.org

For me, entrepreneurship begins with gaps. Creative ideas are born out of the space between what we already know and have, and what we dream could be. Innovation is fuelled by making connections – with people, places and perspectives – that we wouldn’t normally make.

As with many entrepreneurs, I’m constantly spotting gaps and opportunities and dreaming up ideas (good and bad!) as to what I might do to fill them. I spent the first decade of my career creating and leading companies – some quite successfully, others not! I learned that a relentless flow of ideas was not enough – that I had to deeply immerse myself to know the space, and that entrepreneurship is always hard work. You have to live and breathe your idea with authenticity and passion.

13 years ago, bothered by a nagging feeling that I had yet to figure out my own real purpose in life, I came up with the idea for Leaders’ Quest, and what I termed ‘my last start-up’. The goal was to contribute to a more sustainable, equitable world by bridging some of the gaps that separate people from one another. Sometimes these gaps are literal – physical distance, access to resources and opportunities. Other times they’re philosophical – the gap between different points of view and priorities.

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Leaders’ Quest was, and remains, an ambitious idea. But it began simply as a series of week-long immersion programmes (we call them Quests) designed to bring people together from different walks of life, to meet with inspiring individuals, organisations and communities, and to learn by truly connecting – with ourselves and one another. There was no grand business plan or 5-year vision. It grew organically and by word of mouth.

Fast forward to today and we run multiple programmes each year across Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and the Middle East. We work with individuals from a variety of sectors, as well as senior executives from some of the world’s largest companies and institutions. And, through our fellowship programme, we nurture talented, yet financially poor, grassroots leaders. All of them are people with passion and curiosity, often struggling to adapt to a fast-changing world and contribute positively to society and the planet.

Our work is about asking tough questions, putting ourselves in new places to learn, and allowing our perspectives to be transformed by new, and often challenging, experiences. We create a safe space in which people can embrace their own vulnerability and, in doing so, find the courage to lead visionary change.

If I had to pick one idea that gets to the heart of what we’re about at Leaders’ Quest, it would be interconnectedness. On one level, interconnectedness is just a reality of the world we live in, and what it is to be human – connected with everyone and everything around us through the ecosystem we co-create and share. It’s intensified in an age of mobility and instant global connectivity – the web, ubiquitous mobile technology and 24-hour news mean that information, ideas and opinions can be shared with anyone, anywhere at the press of a button.

And whilst politically we remain attached to national boundaries, our economic system is increasingly multinational – a truth that was brought home to me on a trip to Kenya a few years back. I was there with a group of international bankers, and one evening we found ourselves sitting under a tree, in conversation with some local farmers. Knowing that their visitors worked in finance, one of the farmers asked: “How is it that when the financial crisis came to Europe and America that some of us had our goats and shacks repossessed?” How indeed.

But often, despite the reality of our connectedness – physically, economically, technologically – we feel a lack of real connection. In the constant busyness of life, we fail to pause and engage fully with the life around us. We don’t show up as our whole selves and as a result our relationships with others remain shallow and transactional. As Mother Teresa put it, ‘the problem with the world is that we draw our family circle too small.’

It can seem counter-intuitive, when you’re running fast to turn an idea into action, to carve out time for self-reflection and open-ended conversations with others. We often get so wrapped up in the doing that we forget that leadership is also about being. Who you are is far more important than what you achieve.

I’ve spent much of the last decade asking questions to which there are no obvious or easy solutions and encouraging others to join me. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that the people who do so – the ones who engage with the unsolved wonders of science, with the complexity of human relationships, or what it takes to make change happen – these are the people who really DO make a difference in the world.