Richard Branson‘s got nothing on William Bradford.

As the governor of Plymouth Colony for more than 30 years, Bradford oversaw the development of what could be considered one of America’s first entrepreneurial ventures. An impressive leader, Bradford leveraged his clarity of vision and accuracy of decisions that lead to the Colony’s impressive growth despite adverse conditions.

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But he wasn’t alone in his accomplishments: the members of Plymouth Colony also embraced an entrepreneurial attitude. Had that not happened, Bradford could not have succeeded. To paraphrase a popular leadership proverb: without followers, you’re just someone out for a walk.

Pilgrim's Pride in LegosIn that spirit I prepared the list below of 8 entrepreneurial insights learned from the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims:

1. Have Vision: It took tremendous ability to envision life in the New World and the confidence to venture forth into the unknown. Similarly, in her noteworthy TED Talk, The secret structure of great talks, Nancy Duarte discovered that great leaders define “what is” and “what could be.”

2. Embrace Ambiguity: The Pilgrims had no idea what to expect when they departed for the New World they and, when they did arrive, they were 200 miles off course.  Yet they didn’t let that stop them from venturing forth into the unknown with determination and drive. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and approach a challenge from an unfamiliar perspective.

3. Confront Adversity: The Pilgrims endured an almost endless array of hardships and challenges during and after their 66 day sailing. During the first winter 45 out of 102 settlers died! Yet, they persevered and made the most of what they had. It is often through challenging times we discover a strength inside ourselves that might have otherwise been dormant.

4. Take Risks: Imagine how history might have been different if the Pilgrims had not taken a risk and boarded the Mayflower? I might not even be sitting here writing this blog post. Consider the thoughts of former hockey great Wayne Gretzky who is credited as saying “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Although he has no connection to the Pilgrims, his words are exceptionally relevant.

5. Celebrate Community: This idea is the most thematically related to Thanksgiving — after all, it is the reason the holiday is celebrated. Although the way we give thanks is different from the Pilgrims’ experience, the goal is the same: gather with friends and family to celebrate the achievements while embracing gratitude for everything you have, not what you don’t.

6. Leverage Partnerships: The Pilgrims were not fully prepared to flourish in their new home. Had they not signed treaties with Native Americans like Samoset (a member of the Abenaki tribe), Squanto (a member of the Pawtuxet tribe),  and Massasoit (the leader of the Wampanoag), the Pilgrims very well might not have survived that first winter.

7. Encourage Innovation: Sometimes adversity can inspire ingenuity; necessity is the mother of invention after all. And, if ever there was a group of people who needed to be innovative when an original option failed, it was the Pilgrims. Even on of their original two ships, the Speedwell, proved unfit for the Atlantic crossing, which forced them to consolidate into the Mayflower.

8. Give Thanks: There are many things we don’t have enough of, but there are also a many things we have in great supply. The Pilgrims didn’t have much yet they appreciated what they had (they certainly didn’t fight each Happy Thanksgivingother over the latest Xbox the day after Thanksgiving). People want to feel appreciated, even for “just” doing their job.

Although the Pilgrim’s first arrived nearly 400 years ago, their entrepreneurial achievements remain relevant.  So, if you own your own business or are independently minded, consider integrating the 8 ideas above into your operations. 

I visited Wal-Mart on Friday, November 7 and was shocked to discover that even though Halloween just ended and we haven’t even yet overdosed on turkey, apparently it is already Christmas! I actually went into two separate stores in Santa Clarita, California:

Both stores had associates setting up the Christmas displays and making related preparations.  Photos from each store are provided below; the first photo is from the store on Kelly Johnson Parkway and the second is from the store on The Old Road:

Wal-Mart 2008 Christmas Decorations

Apparently, I am a bit late in realizing Wal-Mart’s early push: An October 1, 2008  story that aired on the CBS station in Los Angeles highlighted the retailer’s plans to get a head start on the Christmas shopping season.

I suppose I was more surprised than shocked to see Christmas trees already. The first week of November seems a bit early for Christmas, but I recall seeing Valentine’s Day items in my local Rite Aide just after Christmas last year. It seems every year the time betwen each major holiday shopping periods grows shorter as retailers try to capitalize on early-birds and those easily influenced by holiday “sales.”

Wal-Mart Christmas Decorations 2008Given the current state of the economy I’m curious to see what happens this holiday season. The Friday after Thanksgiving is referred to as “Black Friday” meaning that on that day retailers finally transition from operating at a loss (in the red) to operating at a profit (in the black). Yet, given the tremendous economic upheaval and uncertainty going on, I wonder if this day will ever come for any retailer?

Still, there are reports of Wal-Mart experiencing a surge in sales, even as other retailers struggle.  Wal-Mart reported that same-store sales in October were up 2.4 percent as compared with October 2007, not including fuel sales. Including fuel sales the increase was 2.5 percent. Comparatively, Target reported sales of 0.7 percent lower for this October 2008 compared with 2007.

A Los Angeles news station even featured a segment in which a reporter interviewed shoppers at al-Mart demonstrated that even those who drive a Mercedes were driven to save money at the popular discounter. All were focused on saving money and getting the best possible deal.

I wonder how many people are getting coal in their stockings this year — assuming coal is still affordable!