Why You Should Become an Entrepreneurial Actuary

Shortcut to ProsperityToday’s post is by Mark Hopkins, author of Shortcut to Prosperity: 10 Entrepreneurial Habits and a Roadmap for an Exceptional Career (CLICK HERE to get your copy).  Here’s Mark…

While I think being an entrepreneur is awesome, I know it’s not for everybody. But being an entrepreneurial actuary is. What do entrepreneurial actuaries do? They learn to be aware of those moments when an opportunity presents itself (the essence of entrepreneurship) and learn how to quickly sort out the risks and rewards of pursuing the opportunity (the function of an actuary). It’s not all about entrepreneurship—you can and should leverage these skills within an established organization.

The problem is, we are not typically trained to do this. Our education system works best when students pay attention and avoid distractions. Focus on the work in front of you and accept the solution you’re offered. How many times were you encouraged to think of a problem in a different light or to develop your own solution in school? Probably not often. The goal of formal education is to give you the tools you need to gain perspective, communicate, reason, and solve problems that you are likely to encounter in life. The problem is that the same “color inside the lines” system is employed in most colleges and virtually every workplace that I have ever experienced.

Static Companies Focus on Productivity

Employers value productivity in the workforce, especially from employees at the entry level. And productivity comes from doing the same activity, the same “right” way every time, getting faster and more proficient each time you do it. The result is to drive quality and productivity up, but the unintended consequence is to deemphasize the use of your brain to figure out better ways to do things. No ad-libbing please. That’s how mistakes are made. And most organizations have gotten very good at cultivating these kind of workers. But efficiently producing today’s products is no longer good enough. They also need to be continually evolving along with their customers.

Leading Companies Continually Innovate

The companies that are thriving today have figured out that their long-term success depends on recognizing and nurturing the few employees who are hardwired to identify, evaluate, and exploit new opportunities that can help the company better solve customer problems. Embrace new ways of doing things, especially when you can prove they are better, and you will add value, prove your worth, and differentiate yourself. Whether you want to succeed within a large organization or take the entrepreneur’s path, you want to be to be one of the people who are skilled at seeing the opportunities to provide a better solution.

Learn to Spot Opportunities

Anytime you find yourself saying, “Wow!” or “Cool!” or “Huh?” and especially, “Someone ought to figure out how to . . .” you can bet that you’ve just encountered the source of an opportunity. Let me give you an example. Landing in London, I watched a friend pop a local SIM card into his unlocked cell phone so that he could pay a few cents per minute to place calls instead of the $1.50 per minute I would be paying. Cool, I thought. And then, I wonder what kind of online fulfillment business I could start that would prepare cell phone users for international trips? Ken Grunski wondered the same thing and founded Telestial, a successful telecommunications company that offers prepaid SIM cards that work in 180 countries.

Here’s another one. Several years ago I noticed an increasing number of older people suffering from respiratory problems that required them to be tethered to an oxygen tank. Shortly after that, I saw a guy playing golf with a lightweight liquid oxygen system clipped to his belt. Wow. And then, How much would someone with COPD (13 million diagnosed in the United States) pay to get their life back? My wife, Jenny, created the Oxygen Concentrator Store, a web-based company that helps its customers live a fuller life by selling and servicing portable oxygen concentrators that free them from the hassle of dealing with oxygen tanks.

Ideas like these are streaming by all of us every day—in our workplaces and in every situation we encounter outside of work. Learn to actively contemplate how the products and services that you experience could be better. Then think about how big the market is and how much your envisioned product or service would cost. Is it still interesting? If so, talk to someone about it. Developing this skill will differentiate you from your peers in a large organization and maybe even lead to a start-up of your own.

Try being an entrepreneurial actuary. And let me know how it goes!

Mark Hopkins– Mark Hopkins earned engineering degrees from Cornell and Stanford and then spent the next twenty-five years deciphering the factors that make some people prosperous, successful and happy. After building a leadership career with companies like Hewlett Packard and Emerson Electric, Hopkins founded Peak Industries, a medical device contract manufacturer, which he grew to $75 million and later sold to Delphi. He then founded Crescendo Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and Catalyst, a private foundation supporting Colorado-based nonprofits and micro-lending in the developing world. He is the author of Shortcut to Prosperity: 10 Entrepreneurial Habits and a Roadmap for an Exceptional Career. For more information, please visit and follow Mark on twitter @10shortcuts.

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