Entrepreneurship: The Allure of (the Illusion of) Control

In the early years of my entrepreneurship adventure, I would have conversations that would go something like this:

Colleague: That is so great that you get total control over your company. You can work on whatever projects you want, choose who you want to work with.

Me: Yeah, it fits nicely with my slightly* Type A personality.

Colleague: If I could make any changes I want where I work, it would be great. I would….


You can see where the conversation would go. If people only had control like an entrepreneur, they would make things better – for themselves, their coworkers, their company. For a while, I bought into the narrative. If I’m going to be held accountable for budgets, people and projects, I must be in control, right? If you squint, you can almost see me kicking back Jean-Luc Picard style and saying “Make it so.” (Photo credit: Nebula)

Is it so? The perceived tie between entrepreneurship and control is widespread but I’ll use Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, as an example. Aulet released a book this year called Disciplined Entrepreneurship and has been giving interviews about how entrepreneurship should be taught. In March, Aulet did an interview for Knoow.it TV called Create Your Own Job and Control Your Own Destiny. He also gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal earlier this month.

WSJ: Why is entrepreneurship such a popular career path right now?

Mr. Aulet: When I went to school, we didn’t even know the word entrepreneur. You could be a lawyer or a doctor or you could go work at a big company. You get hired by this company, you’re going to have the Oldsmobile, a family. You’re going to be set for life.

Those jobs don’t exist anymore. The only stability you have is to build a skill set that allows you to control your own destiny.

Is control your goal?

  • Control: to have power over someone or something
  • Impact:  have a strong effect on someone or something

Giving up the illusion of control allows an entrepreneur to focus on their impact – the decisions and actions that shape their company.

  • As an entrepreneur, you can’t make customers buy your product but you can decide what features to add, how much to charge and how to resolve customer service issues.
  • As an entrepreneur, you can’t make investors put money in your company but you can provide potential investors with the proper information to make a decision and develop your negotiation skills to work through valuation and other issues.
  • As an entrepreneur, you can’t make employees and contractors do your bidding but you can be clear about resources, goals and timelines, maintaining consistent expectations on both sides. 

Particularly when you bear the responsibility for the results, accepting that you aren’t in control a situation is unsettling (polite euphemism). At the same time, letting go of the illusion can be freeing. Entrepreneurs still have the ability to impact a wide variety of things that may lead to a successful company. That is where entrepreneurial energy should be focused.


*Some personality traits may have been minimized to avoid future unemployment issues.


3 comments on “Entrepreneurship: The Allure of (the Illusion of) Control

  1. edoarde
    September 26, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    Super post!

  2. Dave
    October 15, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

    Interesting post. I know a few entrepreneurs that suffer from delusions rather than illusions.

    Love the nod to TNG!


  1. 2013 in the Rearview | The Next Element - January 10, 2014

    […] Entrepreneurship: The Allure of (the Illusion of) Control September […]

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