How to Cultivate An Entrepreneurial Spirit

By Dori Meinert Sep 28, 2016
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​Jessica Herrin, CEO and Founder of the Stella & Dot Family of Brands

​SEATTLE—Most people think that Jessica Herrin, the CEO and founder of Stella & Dot Family of Brands, was an overnight success. Her San Francisco-based in-home jewelry sales company launched in 2007 today has $350 million in sales.

In reality, her "overnight success" took almost a decade. She wants others to know that "the road to extraordinary is an obstacle course," but one worth traveling.

She attributes her business achievements to a combination of perseverance and positivity—and a few other traits that together make up the entrepreneurial spirit. She's convinced that this entrepreneurial spirit is what separates those who achieve success and those who don't.

"If you hone it, you can use it to create not only progression in your career as an HR professional, but also a life that you want, where you define success as happiness, where you see yourself as the creator of your own life experience and your own career," she told about 340 HR professionals attending the Society for Human Resource Management Leadership Development Forum on Tuesday.

To start, you need a strong foundation of self-confidence, "a belief in yourself beyond reason," she said. "If people don't believe in themselves, it's very difficult to get consistent performance. So cultivating that sense of belief and having it within you is really essential."

She shared the six "P's" of entrepreneurial spirit, which she details in her recent book, Find Your Extraordinary: Dream Bigger, Live Happier, and Achieve Success on Your Own Terms (Crown Business, 2016.) They are:

  • Passion. "You have to have passion for what you're doing in order to make the rest of the journey worthwhile," she said.
  • Path. How do you get where you want to go? "Be willing to find the opportunity."
  • Positivity. "There's nothing more powerful than the positive mind so you can get the most from every experience," she said.
  • People. Surround yourself with the right people.
  • Perseverance. Understand that not everything is going to be easy. "You have to keep going. It takes longer than you want, and it's harder than you think. And so perseverance is a key essential element of creating anything you want in life," she said.
  • Productivity. Maintaining a healthy balance of career and personal life "is about getting the right things done." 

Herrin dropped out of Stanford Business School to start an online wedding gift registry. The venture grew into, which got her featured on Oprah Winfrey's television show. But she found the work was taking over her life. She wasn't enjoying it anymore. A chance encounter with some exuberant saleswomen in a Dallas hotel elevator sparked the idea for her home-based jewelry business that would give women the opportunity to generate income with flexible hours while having fun. Herrin started making jewelry on weekends while working full-time at Dell, where she said she learned valuable business and managerial skills.

She decided to take a leap of faith.

"I'd rather be a failure than a slave to the ordinary," she said, recalling a quote by Cecil Beaton. "I'd rather try to do something that other people thought was ridiculous than be a slave to the ordinary."

She urged aspiring leaders to take risks and not be afraid of what others think.

"If you are not pursuing something right now in which there is a high likelihood of failing, you are not pushing yourself enough," she said. "If your passion is worth it, then you go on a path that is an obstacle course in which you have to embrace fear and failure."

She advised HR professionals to take charge of their own development and become life-long learners and to encourage others to do the same.  

"We want to cultivate this idea of being hungry to learn and eager to grow," she said.

Successful leaders must have a positive mindset to persevere and to attract people.

"You have to cultivate positivity as you would physical fitness," she said. Since bringing mindfulness and meditation to her executive team, she has found that "the more we focus on that, the easier execution of strategy has become."

When you're faced with a challenging situation, a positive mindset enables you "to be curious instead of frustrated. You're able to see opportunity instead of obstacles," she said.

In developing your entrepreneurial spirit, "you have to have the ability to look around the world and see it the way you want it to be and not the way that it is. You have to have that perseverance and that tenacity to believe you are the change agent. You are the person to move the boulder out of the way. You're the person who invents the ladder to get over the wall."

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