What Does It Mean to Be an Entrepreneur?
My daughter is taking a class on entrepreneurship in her senior year of high school (yep, that’s the Silicon Valley for you). She loves the class, the energy of the teacher, and the creativity associated with the subject. As a result, we have had several conversations about what does it mean to be an entrepreneur.
While I am sure there are folks more qualified than me to define what it means to be an entrepreneur, I’ve run into enough of those folks over the years to believe that I have a pretty decent perspective.
So honey, this blog is for you!
I run into all types of people in my job – people starting up new companies as well as people inside of larger organizations who are trying to embrace a “think differently” approach to their jobs and their business challenges. Each of these folks share a core set of characteristics that differentiate them from others who are equally smart, but lack that impassioned entrepreneurial thinking.
- On a mission. These folks have found their passion and are on a mission to change the world. No small thinking for these folks, and while they are looking to solve cancer or cure world hunger, they also have another important, very practical skill…
- Know how to decompose a problem. Entrepreneurs are very good at decomposing or breaking down a problem into its core components. In this way, they don’t let a complex and challenging problem overwhelm them. By breaking the problem done into its core components and then taking the time to understand the relationships between those components, it gives them a leg up on solving that problem. The folks creating the autonomous driving car have taken this approach, and consequently, something that I truly believed was a decade away is now just around the corner.
- Keep moving forward. They never stop moving, but progress isn’t measured with a straight line. Sometimes progress comes in fits and spurts. In fact, there may be times when the entrepreneur feels like no progress is being made, but this is when the next characteristic kicks in…
- Failure is learning = Failure is progress. Entrepreneurs understand that failure is part of the learning and development process. That’s probably why the Venture Capitalists on Sand Hill Road as so eager to invest in entrepreneurs with experience, whether that experience was successful or not. Heck, learning from failure may be an entrepreneur’s most important characteristic.
- Like a damn bulldog! Once they get their teeth onto an idea, they just won’t let go. They’ll hang onto that idea as if their lives depended upon it, even has others are trying to pull it away from them.
- Refuse to be knocked down. Some folks would say that this arrogance, but I’d say that it’s an unwillingness to be knocked off the hill; that they are going to stay on top of that hill until they finally achieve success. By the way, this characteristic is also why some entrepreneurs struggle to run their organizations once that organization starts to mature. Yea, those skills and characteristics that make one a good entrepreneur may not make one a good manager.
- Open to others’ perspectives and thoughts. But while they are open to others’ perspectives and thoughts, they never let those perspectives and thoughts get in the way of their mission. They are constantly looking to learn, but they are quick to internalize what they learn. The entrepreneur reframes the new learnings in light of their mission.
- Collaborative but ultimately hold themselves accountable for the end results. They never abdicate responsibility to others. And consequently, they never blame others for their failures. If they are blaming others for their failures, then they’ll never learn from those failures.
- Well read, but don’t just focus on only their area of expertise. They are looking for outside stimuli and different perspectives to expand their own perspectives. They understand that they don’t have all the answers (heck, they may not even know all the questions yet), but they are eager to look in other places for clues and new perspectives.
- Strong focus on superior outcomes. They understand that whatever their mission, they ultimately need to deliver compelling and differentiated outcomes in order to be successful. Looking for 10% improvements is not enough. Entrepreneurs look for 10x improvements!
- Resilient; willing to be fired for what they believe. They don’t work at jobs; entrepreneurs work on a mission, and as long as their job and their mission are in sync, great. But the minute those two diverge, then the entrepreneur is onto something that moves them closer to their mission.
I really appreciate Woody Allen movies, especially his earlier ones. He always seemed to have a different perspective on the topic under discussion. It wasn’t that he looked at the glass as either half-full or half-empty, instead he looked at the glass from an entirely new angle and he always seemed to see something entirely different.
I admire that in a person; someone who refuses to accept that which is right in front of them as the “truth.” Entrepreneurs challenge commonly held truths; they put a question mark at the end of the “statement of truth” in order to see what different angles they might uncover. When you can do that, life becomes very exciting…and fun.
Best of luck Amelia! I am jealous of what is in front of you!