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The carpenter builds a house

I love this story which landed in my email box from Michael Josephson over at CHARACTER COUNTS! this morning. He’ll probably sue me from here to Thursday (he is, after all, a lawyer), but it’s worth sharing in its entirety. I have a much different take on it than Mr. Josephson — I see it as truly and accurately describing the difference between and employee and an entrepreneur.

A master carpenter who’d worked for the same builder for nearly 50 years announced he was retiring. The builder told him how much he appreciated his work and presented him with a $5,000 bonus. Then he asked if he would build just one more house. He owned a magnificent lot with a spectacular view and wanted to build a dream home there.

The carpenter was bitterly disappointed at the small bonus and extra project, but the building fee would help him buy a small cottage. He agreed to build the dream house.

He’d always prided himself on his uncompromising commitment to quality, but his resentment caused him to cut corners, ignore details, and accept shoddy workmanship from his workers. He even looked the other way when some of them substituted cheaper materials and pocketed the difference.

When the house was finished, the builder shook the carpenter’s hand and with a huge smile gave him a thank-you card. The carpenter was disdainful – until he saw inside the card the deed to the house he’d just built.

I have a very different takeaway from this.

To my mind, the key transition from being an employee to being an entrepreneur is ownership and all that implies. Entrepreneurs take ownership of their ideas, creativity, labor, effort, and mistakes. What they do is what they own.

Employees almost never take ownership; because of that, they invest very little in what they do. They never own what they do, they only do so that they can own. There are rare employees that do own what they do (I call them million dollar employees), but they are few and far between.

It has always been my guiding principle that you are what you do, not what you buy, what you watch, or what you listen to. Watching a big screen plasma TV is doing nothing. Listening to music on your iPod is doing nothing. Reading a novel — even great literature — is doing nothing. Buying Hugo Boss clothes is doing nothing.

Which means that it’s okay to be shoddy in your taste in TV shows, or music, or literature, or clothes. It’s never okay to be shoddy when you do.

I’m often asked about what kind of “personality” a successful entrepreneur has. My answer, from long experience, is “every which way a personality can be.” But that’s not entirely true. The one golden thread woven in the tapestry of every entrepreneur is the fierce determination to own what they do from the very moment they start doing it.

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One Response to “The carpenter builds a house”

  1. JAMES BONDZE says:

    Well this cannot be further from d truth. Most entrepren actuali wana own what dey do but its aint easy.

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