Today could be a perfect day — not only to create a business, but also to take the initiative and change your job or other personal conditions, according to Chilean author Claudio Gregoire. In his new book, Today Can Be a Good Day, he shares personal anecdotes about overcoming obstacles in an effort to inspire new ideas. Gregoire underwent 200 ocular micro-operations between the ages of 12 and 17, which ultimately left him blind. Nevertheless, that did not prevent him from studying psychology, getting an M.B.A. and eventually managing his own human resources consulting firm. Gregoire spoke with Universia-Knowledge at Wharton about what he sees as the keys for success as an entrepreneur.
Universia-Knowledge at Wharton: How would you define the concept of “my own company,” which you mention in your book?
Claudio Gregoire Pino: “My own company” is a concept aimed at inspiring and motivating everyone to become more responsible for his or her actions, dreams and challenges. In other words, it suggests that whoever wants to consider [the company he works at to be] “his own company” must understand that results, both in work and in life, depend on personal behavior, skills and motivations.
To achieve that [understanding], you must abandon the current paradigm that limits you to thinking that your performance depends on the managers at the company where you work. It means changing to a strategy of greater complexity that, when well conceived, can provide very interesting and unexpected results. The basis for this is “self-government” — applying self-motivation and self-training as the fundamentals for successful change.
UKnowledge at Wharton: What strengths and weaknesses do entrepreneurs have when it comes to managing change at a company?
C.G.P.: His success is derived from his ability to dream, plan and understand change as a natural process for both companies and people. In that way, his skills create his own vision of the future, and enable him to visualize very clearly what he wants to do and how he wants to do it.
Nevertheless, his weaknesses can be exacerbated by excessive individualism, and the fact that the people who work with him rarely participate in decision-making. An entrepreneur who does not understand that collaboration and synergy create value cannot count on getting the help he needs for promoting the changes that are needed in his company. Teamwork creates comparative and competitive advantages that are indispensable for fulfilling corporate and individual goals.
UKnowledge at Wharton: What can cause change management to go poorly?
C.G.P.: There are two big reasons. The first is that we make a wrong diagnosis of our strengths and weaknesses. The second reason is that the people in charge of managing change lack credibility, not just because they lack technical or theoretical knowledge but because of their interpersonal relationships with workers.
UKnowledge at Wharton: Could you define your set of “basic rules” for the business manager?
C.G.P.: The business manager’s basic rules are only a guide that aims to guide readers of the book to reflect about what competency is, and about which skills are important in the process of dealing with daily challenges.
More than a manual of formulas aiming to address millions of hardworking people around the world, this book is presented in an interactive way so that each reader can assimilate certain concepts that are interesting to him and then add to that, according to his own experience, other concepts that are more useful. So, the goal is not to view people as a mass that can be molded, but [to view them] as thinking readers who are capable of making their own decisions and taking charge of their success.
A list of ten competencies would include resilience (the capacity to overcome failures and painful periods); perseverance; teamwork; wisdom; flexibility; coherence; responsibility and pro-activity; self-criticism; innovativeness; and an orientation toward goals.
UKnowledge at Wharton: What do you believe are the challenge of the modern corporation, from the viewpoint of human resources?
C.G.P.: To change the traditional view that the business manager and the worker are each other’s enemies to a view that they are strategic partners. The results the company achieves affect them both; both managers and employees enjoy [a company’s] successes, and they are also responsible for the bad times in a single, grand system.
UKnowledge at Wharton: In times of crisis, and in periods when companies are laying off a lot of people, what can one do so that it doesn’t become “a bad day” or, at least, something worse than it was in the past?
C.G.P.: Starting from the fact that our companies and workers are neither at their best in boom times nor at their worst in periods of crisis, it is essential to have confidence in our employees, their skills, their efforts and their motivation. It is also indispensable to spell out exactly where we are failing and what we need to do about it as a company before taking such drastic decisions as firing people indiscriminately. A good diagnosis and a sound strategy can revitalize the company.
While I understand that businesspeople assume risk and bet their futures on a company, they also need to understand that firing people in times of crisis doesn’t just lower costs but also leads to more chaos, uncertainty and insecurity among the work force. And that leads to lower productivity and profitability.
UKnowledge at Wharton: Who are the “educated unemployed”?
C.G.P.: They are people who believe that because they have a professional degree, their future is assured. They think that the knowledge they acquired during a specific time period will suffice for their entire lives. These are also the people who think that it is important to hang their university diplomas on the walls of their offices.
To avoid this phenomenon, you have to understand that innovation and entrepreneurial spirit are everyday things, and that perseverance and patience can be very good guides.
UKnowledge at Wharton: How can you apply entrepreneurial philosophy to everyday life?
C.G.P.: All challenges, opportunities and dangers must be dealt with same way. In other words, any effort to turn a new page, complete a project or implement change requires as much seriousness, work, motivation, responsibility and rigor as it would require in any family or any group of friends, or in the life of any ordinary person.
UKnowledge at Wharton: Do you see any differences between Spain and Latin America when it comes to doing business?
C.G.P.: I believe that it would be very imprudent to generalize about business management in those locations since there isn’t enough understanding of current conditions. What I can say is that in both Spain and Latin America, there are a lot of very good business managers.
So, I wonder, if there are good managers in every country, why is it that not every person in those countries is one? That’s where the problem is: Myths and prejudices surround this question.
UKnowledge at Wharton: What Latin American countries have the strongest entrepreneurial cultures, and what characteristics define each region? Are they all equally optimistic?
C.G.P.: I believe that nowadays there aren’t any countries that have an identifiable “entrepreneurial character,” per se. Instead, we find entrepreneurs in every country. This topic is still controversial. There are some people who believe that entire countries, companies and groups of workers can be entrepreneurial; the concept is not only limited to the realm of individuals. That’s why education is fundamental: Change must come when people are in school, not only when they are working in the company.
UKnowledge at Wharton: How do you define who is an entrepreneur?
C.G.P.: There are a lot of myths and prejudices about entrepreneurs. The first one is that an entrepreneur is a business person who wants to form a company. The goal of this book is precisely to demystify this concept and stress that countries, cities, companies and working groups can all be entrepreneurial. In addition, so can a family or person who is going through tough times and who wants to turn a new page — to leave behind his weaknesses and frustrations and replace them with his strengths and with activities that bring him happiness. Perhaps because the concept of entrepreneurialism is not very widespread, the myth continues that an entrepreneur is a special sort of person.
The final goal of the book is to motivate people, families and companies so that they can all change, so that “today can be a good day” for all of them. To achieve that, change must start within each of us. We must be aware that, with great effort, work, and motivation, we can fulfill dreams that once appeared impossible.