Birds and Lemons: Use what you have; convert your disadvantages to advantage

Published On: 3 February 2022|

Notwithstanding that people often perceive impediments as dream killers, during last week’s SWEEP Economic Activation Workshop, Professor Simon Gifford, Co-Founder and CEO of Mashauri, advised attendees to identify ways to make obstacles work in their favour.

Gifford (right) was among numerous speakers who shared their time and their expertise with members of the Student Women Economic Empowerment Programme (SWEEP), an initiative of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Programme. The purpose of SWEEP is to grant student women mentorship, exposure, and access to entrepreneurship opportunities with the intent to empower and position them for economic participation while studying and after graduation.

Professor Gifford borrowed words from the author, Zig Ziglar, “It is not what you have got; it is what you use that makes the difference.”

At the workshop, aspirant female entrepreneurs heard from numerous other accomplished entrepreneurs in what Dr Norah Clarke, Director: EDHE, called the first in a series of SWEEP events planned for roll-out in the first quarter of 2022 and beyond.

Starting off, Professor Gifford acknowledged the entrepreneurship playing field that was, to this day, still levelled against women. Notwithstanding, he urged his audience not to allow that to be a stumbling block. Instead, he encouraged the student women to look within and find resources that set them apart from their male counterparts.

“It is a tough life being an entrepreneur anyway, and I have started and run four businesses, so I know what I am talking about… As a female entrepreneur, you will know the challenges you face better than me,” he said.

The veteran entrepreneur urged the student women to proceed with starting their enterprises as soon as possible, stating that change will not happen overnight. He said he wanted to prod the SWEEP members to already think about what they might do, now, despite the setbacks.

Being a professor at IE Business School, he said one of the lectures he gives is called MBA vs Entrepreneur. It is premised on solid research titled, Effectuation, which Professor Saras Sarasvathy at Darden School of Business conceptualised. It is a framework based on five principles that Professor Sarasvathy concluded after interviewing numerous expert entrepreneurs.

From the five, he focused on two principles. Firstly, he spoke of the Bird in Hand (Means) Principle — this is about not waiting for the perfect opportunity but taking action based on what you have readily available. This looks at who you are, what you can do, whom you know, and what other means and capabilities you have access to, right now. “That does not mean you do not try and get more resources. You do, but the focus is about using what you have,” he said.

Secondly, he spoke of the Lemonade (Leverage contingencies) Principle from the cliche, when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. “That is all about understanding the challenges facing you, but perhaps not seeing them as obstacles, but seeing them as something you can learn from, or something you can use,” he said.

Stretching his lesson, Professor Gifford gave an analogy of two chefs — a corporate and an entrepreneurial chef.

“Let us say the corporate chef’s boss informs her that an important group of people will dine at the restaurant and implores her to cook the best possible meal to make them happy. So, the corporate chef assesses who is coming, tries to understand their likes and dislikes, including allergies. She then designs the most amazing menu and goes out to buy all the ingredients. She puts it together, cooks a splendid deal, serves it up, and everybody is happy.

“Then, there is an entrepreneurial chef. Her boss also informs her of an important group of people coming over and gives a similar instruction: dazzle them! What the entrepreneurial chef does is also an assessment of who is coming, their likes, dislikes, and allergies. Then, she goes back to the kitchen, opens a larger door to see the sort of ingredients she has, and she begins preparing her dishes. She serves the guests in hopes that they will be happy, alongside her boss.”

Professor Gifford explained that the entrepreneurial chef was resource-based, whereas the corporate chef sought the optimal path involving getting resources before moving forward.

To spur his audience further, Professor Gifford shared a story of a female entrepreneur in India, Ms Likitha Maddukuri (left), CEO and Co-Founder of Terra Greens. At 22 years old, she established the company with her mother. They both did not possess any entrepreneurial experience. This posed difficulties for her, especially being a young female in male-dominated spaces. She dealt with prying and sometimes condescending attitudes. At first, this disheartened her but, upon introspection, she realised that this could work in her favour. Most people were eager to learn who she was and “her claim to fame” — affording her opportunities to engage with big names in her country’s entrepreneurial landscape.

Read up on how unprecedented adversity can create incredible opportunities – when you have the right mindset

Terra Greens, owned by Ms Likitha Maddakuri (front right), braved the lockdown imposed during the CoVID-19 pandemic in Hyderabad, India, and maintained delivery of organic produce to customers, thus thriving in circumstances that saw many other businesses go under.

Drawing from this presentation, Professor Gifford appealed to the attendees to think of the resources they might currently have, which they can use in their journeys. He reminded them that it had been proven that a circle of women is much more supportive, especially in entrepreneurial spaces. Therefore, they should use that to their advantage.

He added that he was of the view that women, in general, have higher emotional intelligence than men, which can be valuable when it comes to customer empathy. He said he had also found, from running various programmes at Mashauri, that women displayed more focus, discipline, and passion. These are elements that female entrepreneurs can hop on and use to their advantage.

He advised SWEEP members that alongside skills and hard work, entrepreneurship involved a lot of luck, and the more people got around, shared ideas, spoke to people, the more their luck surface increased.

As he concluded, he urged the audience to start thinking like entrepreneurs and use their resources.

“Think harder about what it is you have, what are your advantages as a female or a woman in business, that you can use to advance.

“Turn this thing about being a woman in business as a negative, and say, how can I turn that into a positive? Do not ask why has this happened to me, ask what can I learn from it? How can I use it? How can I make it a positive?”

“So, optimise what you have, and grab some new ideas and new resources.”

Nqobile Tembe is a contracted Communication Consultant for Universities South Africa.