Is the best way to create something to break something?

5 minuti lugemine 03. juuni 2019

Four lessons we can all learn from mold-breaking winners of the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ awards.

In June we celebrated World Entrepreneur of the Year in Monaco, the event brought together the world’s most exceptional mold-breakers who competed for the 2019 world title 

As the Transformative Age threatens all business certainties, how can thinking like an entrepreneur help fuel your growth strategy? By taking entrepreneurial approaches to business problems, leaders can develop the agility, imagination and strength to evolve and prosper.

Here is what we have learned from previous EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ winners, from getting comfortable with risk to going with your gut.

1. Get comfortable with risk

If you learn to breathe fire in your teens, you’re probably comfortable with a level of risk.

The story of Guy Laliberté’s Cirque du Soleil, from busker to billionaire, is an object lesson in managing risk. Reinventing the circus concept for the modern era has involved huge financial bets on lavish productions, unprecedented in scale and ambition. His 2005 show, , cost US$165m to stage — more than twice that of the similarly extravagant Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark — a financial high-wire act.

Laliberté, the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2007 Award winner, describes himself as the “head clown” of Cirque du Soleil, and he is still more showman than suit. He is involved in the creative development of each new show, leading from the stage, not the corner office.

He may no longer breathe fire, but an appetite for risk extends deep into his personal psyche. In 2007, he placed fourth in the World Poker Tour and in 2009 became one of the first space tourists visiting the International Space Station.

His own account of the landing could be a metaphor for his business journey:

“The plasma sparks around the window as the temperature rises to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. You can feel the heat. When the parachutes open, you feel shaking and spinning. There’s no soft landing. Basically you’re going through a car crash. But your seat has been molded to your body, and you’re strapped in.”

Adrenalin rush? Yes. Apparently risky behavior? Yes. But blind, unconsidered risk? No. Laliberté is like one of his elite acrobat performers, performing aerial choreography that appears to defy gravity but depends on split-second timing, hidden safety wires and years of practice.

Mold-breakers are more comfortable with risk than the average person. To change an industry, to change the world, involves risk. But one person’s death-defying leap in a big top is another’s day job. 

2. Find a niche

When Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow wanted a “T” in their G&T that would match the quality of new, craft-based gins, the only option ws synthetic water flavored with chemicals that overpowered the subtle botanicals in the spirit.

The two co-founders, who are EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2013 UK regional winners, had found an unexploited gap in the market. Core to their new tonic water was the quinine that derives from the bark of the Cinchona ledgeriana, or fever tree, that grows in the Eastern Congo. Other natural ingredients were sourced from around the world: Mexican orange oil, green ginger from the Ivory Coast, lemons from the flanks of Mount Etna, Madagascan vanilla.

The launch of Fever-Tree was less a product introduction and more the birth of a whole new beverage category: the premium mixer. Joining tonic water were bitter lemon, ginger beer and a range of mixers used in cocktails around the globe.

Today the company is a global brand with sales of over £170m (US$221m). “At the start, no one had stopped to think about tonic water,” says Warrillow. “It was a long-forgotten category.”

Many entrepreneurs build businesses borne out of a personal experience that shows a wider market gap. If you find a friction point, a personal need or challenge, you likely are not alone. This may just be the big opportunity for a future growth market.

3. Think different

The famous advertising slogan could serve as a motto for every elite entrepreneur. Manny Stul, Chairman of Moose Toys and EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2016, says, “We are fastidious about ‘being different,’ and we challenge our teams to set the trends, not follow them.”

If you are going to break the mold, you have to break with conventional wisdom. The ability to think differently about a problem, a process or a route to market is critical for challenger brands — and increasingly vital for all business leaders. This particular kind of mental agility has become an imperative as the Transformative Age disrupts almost every business sector and market.

“As a businessperson, your primary movers are management systems, processes and people,” says EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2010 US regional winner Jim Nixon of Nixon Energy Investments. “But entrepreneurs are intuitive and break the mold — they change something and make it different.”

Difference can come in many forms. When Ilkka Paananen founded mobile game development company Supercell in Helsinki, his ambition was to build a world-beating creative house. A few years later, Supercell became Europe’s first decacorn — a company with a market capitalization greater than US$10b.

“We wanted to build a new kind of games company that would focus on getting the best creative people together,” says Paananen, the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2015 Finland, “and provide them with a home that would ignite the creativity latent in them.” That meant allowing his core developers to work autonomously, free of the corporate weeds of timesheets, meetings and approvals.

Four sequential megahits launched onto the rapidly expanding mobile market: Hay Day, Clash of Clans, Boom Beach and Clash Royale. A team of just five created the monster hit Clash of Clans.

Success did nothing to shift Paananen’s belief in creating autonomous teams. Small teams, carefully recruited, are given freedom to create the games they believe in. And this continues to be a point of difference between Supercell and other large game developers.

Having the courage to think differently can uncover new sources of value.

4. Go with your gut

“Lightbulb moments happen rarely,” says EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2012 New Zealand Award winner Craig Heatley of Rainbow Corporation and Sky Network Television. “But when they do, they change the direction of your life.”

Entrepreneurs are notoriously endowed with a sixth sense that recognizes a truth before it can be completely rationalized. This “gut instinct” allows them to move earlier than competitors and drive toward a target that may not be truly visible. Listening to your gut is something all business leaders should do more of.

Diane Foreman, co-author of Daring to Compete, which features many more insights from EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Award winners, says, Entrepreneurs don’t just run businesses — they create, expand and redesign them. They risk the unproven to realize and constantly evolve the future.”


Four key lessons for survival through disruptive times: get comfortable with risk; find a niche; think different; and go with your gut. By combining these essentially entrepreneurial approaches to business problems, leaders can develop the agility, imagination and robustness to evolve and prosper.

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