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by Phil Birss
6 min read
Making an Entrepreneur
Author: Phil Birss
Posted in Business Growth 2 weeks ago
Maybe you are currently employed, working for someone else and wondering what does it take to become an entrepreneur? What skills, experience and character traits do you need to take this less travelled path? My most frequently asked questions is, ‘Am I born with these traits or can they be developed?
My response. I believe entrepreneurs are both born, and made.
For any budding evolutionary psychologists, it is hard to ignore the common traits we all inherit as human beings. As a species we are driven my motivators such as a need to eat, sleep, mate and feel part of a social community. These drivers are hard-wired into our DNA and affect many of the actions we take every day. The contrasting view, based more on social psychology, is that humans are adaptive creatures learning from our environment and the people that we interact with. As we progress through our formative years, we are influenced by the people closest to us, observing, mimicking and in some cases adopting these character traits as our own. We are also influenced by wider societal changes, evolving trends which impact our collective consciousness subtly shifting our wants, needs and desires over the years.
Whether hard-wired or hard-learnt, I believe there are five essential traits that combine together to create the foundations of a successful entrepreneur:
Suzy Welsh, co-founder of the coaching organisation, the Jack Welch Management Institute, reflects on the final step of her five-step entrepreneur model,
“The final trait that good leaders have is passion. They care. They’re curious. There’s a certain hunger in them for success. Sometime its company success, and sometimes its personal success, or sometimes it’s both mixed together. Passion is a trait that’s in you. I have never seen anybody coached into having passion. Now, the flip side of that is whatever you have a passion for chase it like crazy and make that your career, make that your life’s work.”
Passion and motivation are pre-requisites for entrepreneurship and for building successful companies. To some extent, you should love what you do, and if love is too strong a word then a deep desire for your chosen area of expertise is a must if you are to stay motivated when times get tough.
Many believe that work-ethic is largely determined by your upbringing and by your early experiences of watching parents and family member at work. A strong work-ethic was something modelled to me from an early age, with memories of my father and grandfather planning and building many an extension, conservatory or home decoration project with a zeal and tenacity reminiscent of olympic athletes, renown artists or successful entrepreneurs. Although modelled at an early age, my work-ethic lacked lustre in my teens and early 20s, with the fire only truly being stoked at the age of 29 when I found my professional passions of marketing and business growth.
There is a lively debate raging around the world about work-ethic and how many hours a week you need to work in order to become a successful entrepreneur. Gary Vaynerchuk, founder and CEO of VaynerMedia, says that if start-up founders want to make it, they should put in at least 18 hours a day for the first year. Grant Cardone, self-made millionaire, says “Most people work 9-to-5. I work 95 hours [per week]. If you want to be a millionaire, you need to stop doing the 9-to-5 and start doing 95”. Grant continues, talking about burnout in entrepreneurs, “You’re not going to burn out because you work too hard. No person on the planet Earth has ever died due to overwork. People burn out for one reason and this because they are ‘off-purpose’ and are no longer enjoying their work.”
In contrast to 95 hour working week mantra, a study published in Industrial and Labor Relations Review, shows that working too hard is strongly linked to reduced well-being, in terms of factors like stress, fatigue and job satisfaction. In addition, putting in extra effort at work was moderately linked to “inferior” career-related outcomes, in terms of job security, recognition and career aspects.
A good entrepreneur is a self-reflective entrepreneur, constantly analysing and probing areas of weakness in your arsenal of skills and abilities. In addition to developing your commercial knowledge and experience, the best entrepreneurs are studying much wider than their chosen fields, exploring subjects such as philosophy, art, politics, history and science, all subjects that will challenge your brain and open up new neural pathways
In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck explains how people fall broadly into two categories. Firstly, individuals with a fixed mindset who believe that their qualities (such as intelligence and other personality traits) are “set in stone” and cannot be changed. Then there are people with a growth mindset, that believe that through effort and training they can improve their qualities and traits. Neuroscience shows us that the brain is far more malleable than we ever realised and how, with practice, we can fundamentally improve our intelligence and core personality traits.
The research clearly support my belief, which is that everyone can choose to embrace a growth mindset, and the long-term effects will certainly open up a new world of learning and possibility for any aspiring entrepreneurs.
The UK education system does not help the entrepreneurial cause, choosing to focus, almost exclusively on the core subjects of English, Maths and Science in the early years curriculum, and in most instances throughout our entire academic life. All secondary students (in public schools) must take English, Maths and Science at GCSE, as well as choosing to leave a few subjects behind at the end of year 9. Public perception, political pressures and feedback from the business world combine together to marginalise, and in some quarters stigmatise, creative subjects such as art, drama and dance.
In his 2006 Ted talk, Sir Ken Robinson’s opens with a probing question, ‘Do schools kill creativity? Ken discusses, ‘…his belief that creativity is as important in education today as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.’ Ken argues that our education system is designed to teach children to avoid making mistakes, something which he believes is a huge mistake in itself. This fear of failure creates a workforce later in life that all-to-easily shy away from problem solving for fear of failure and of standing out from the pack.
If the world is full of endless problems to be solved, and we are tasking the bright minds, including entrepreneurs, to solves these problems, then creativity and creative thinking must at the core of our children’s education. While I would never dispute the importance of the core subjects, there is plenty of scientific research to support the need for cultivating more creativity in children.
For me, probably the most important trait of a successful entrepreneur is resilience. Launching your own business or enterprise is incredibly difficult, and it would be a pointless exercise for me to try to assuage you of the inevitable pain and frustration of those early years. These early lessons, however hard, will shape you as an entrepreneur, and if you can remain resolute in your mission you will find a way to learn from the experience and come through a stronger and more formidable business owner.
Resilience is not the absence of fear or emotional reaction. It is the ability to take the pain, accept the lessons learnt and keep driving yourself, and your business forward with conviction.
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