How are the minds of entrepreneurs different?
The difficulty of starting something from nothing is vastly underestimated. We take for granted that things like our cars, dishwashers, televisions, and iPhones did not exist until they were conceived in the mind of a single person. The idea for these products was worked out tirelessly through careful engineering and brought to market against nearly impossible odds. It’s no wonder that the mind of an entrepreneur is a very complex, active landscape of ideas, inspirations and blueprints.
It’s easy to think that entrepreneurs have that supernatural factor that makes them able to start successful, world-changing companies from nothing. However, psychology plays a big part in entrepreneurship. Let’s take a walk through the minds of game-changers by exploring the psychology of an entrepreneur.
From Lemonade Stands to Skyscrapers
Everybody has ideas. Five or six great ideas may have popped into your head between the time you rolled out of bed and when you finished your coffee. Although many of these ideas could be turned into something big, most good ideas end up in the idea graveyard. Entrepreneurs differ from most people because they pursue ideas until they are transformed into tangible, observable and operational things. They make something out of nothing.
Most entrepreneurs will tell you they had something “in them” from as early as they can remember. They may have started by opening up lemonade stands to earn 5 cents a cup or mowing neighborhood lawns for a few dollars per job. It can look like money is the driving force behind entrepreneurship when we hear about such an eagerness to turn a profit from such a young age. Sure, some entrepreneurs are motivated by money. Some even emerged from impoverished, insecure childhoods to pursue wealth vowing that they’d never “go without” again. However, resting on money as the reason why entrepreneurs do what they do is selling the psychology behind entrepreneurship short.
Entrepreneurs are guided by a strong drive to find and master opportunities. The monetary part may even just be a byproduct of that drive. The true obsession for entrepreneurs is filling unmet needs and finding solutions to unsolved problems. This angle of entrepreneurship provides a clue regarding the way entrepreneurs are very tuned into the people and situations around them.
Here are some specific things that most entrepreneurs have in common. These things can help us better understand the psychology of founders, builders, and doers.
They Know That Success Is a Process
It’s easy to think of an entrepreneur as someone who goes in hard and fast. The larger-than-life personalities of some well-known entrepreneurs can paint a person in this role as being impatient, unable to sit still and quick to pull the trigger. Entrepreneurs often have process-oriented thoughts. That means they see everything as a roadmap. Entrepreneurs are in a constant state of building a blueprint that will take them to the next step. They are masters at designing and implementing blueprints and organizational tiers that will help the numerous people working for them to do their jobs in ways that are perfectly aligned with the end goal.
They Know That They Can’t Do It Alone
Amazon employs 798,000 people. Facebook has 44,942 full-time employees. Apple has almost 500,000 employees on its payroll. Most towns around the country don’t contain this many people. We’re not just making a point about the economic impact of entrepreneurs here. These numbers show us that entrepreneurs know they can’t do it alone. The core job of an entrepreneur is to never do it alone.
A big part of entrepreneurship is assembling the right people in the right roles to make it happen. An entrepreneur isn’t just a master chess player. They can master a game of chess while also cooking a four-course meal, playing a round of golf and making a phone call to their mother. How do they do it all? By hiring other people to sit at the chess table, get on the links and deliver a meal. The one thing an entrepreneur can’t outsource is a personal connection with people. That’s why the entrepreneur would never outsource the phone call to Mom. How many people are trapped in the mindset that the entrepreneur has to “do it all” to stay in control? It’s a false belief that many fall into!
They Aren’t Afraid to Forge a New Path
The upper echelons of the tech world are populated with college dropouts. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Elon Musk, Paul Allen, Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of top-tier universities. You basically can’t throw a rock in a neighborhood lined with Silicon Valley mansions without hitting a college dropout. That’s not a justification for unfinished degrees. However, it gives us a glimpse into the fact that game changers aren’t afraid to walk away from opportunities and institutions that are “amazing” to pursue what they believe will be even better.
Most people who get into a school like Harvard or Yale would hold on tightly with everything they had until graduation day. However, so many of the world’s most successful tech entrepreneurs walked away from those very schools to start their own companies. This shows us that entrepreneurs aren’t concerned with the fear that goes along with not meeting the expectations of others. They also aren’t afraid to unhitch themselves from what looks like guaranteed success to try their own paths.
How many of us cling to what is familiar or expected because we fear the “wilderness” that comes from doing our own thing? If we’re honest, we would say that we’d be too afraid that dropping out of a prestigious college to follow our path would put us at risk for falling flat on our faces. The mechanism that makes so many of us fearful about trying new things or breaking from the norm doesn’t dominate the actions of an entrepreneur.
They Understand Timing
The “dropout” trend among successful tech entrepreneurs is interesting because it also shows us how natural entrepreneurs have unusual relationships with timing. This is tied to their ability to trust their instincts. People like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs knew that waiting until graduation to start their companies could easily have placed them in the too-late category. A lack of fear combined with an intuition for timing allows many entrepreneurs to know when the right time is to strike.
What Research Says About Entrepreneurs
Is it written in the stars who will or won’t become a game-changer? The ability to start a company like Amazon or Apple must be something that comes from dumb luck or lucky flukes, right? There may be a little of those elements in any major success story. Market factors and unpredictable cultural shifts may partly explain why some companies “blow up” at the right time. However, blind luck doesn’t explain it all. The big difference between entrepreneurs and everyone else is that entrepreneurs are prepared and ready to ride the wave when it shows up on the shore. What’s more — entrepreneurs who don’t see the wave are prepared to invent a way to move the ocean. What explains this drive? The answer is psychology. So, can you measure the psychological qualities of entrepreneurship? It turns out that you can.
A study out of Harvard University identified the five key traits of entrepreneurs. When compared to other people, serial entrepreneurs showed above-average possession of certain traits. Researchers have linked these traits to higher levels of success. Here are the five traits that we are talking about:
- Personal accountability
- Goal orientation
- Interpersonal skills
It’s already easy to see how these five traits tie into the three common observable characteristics we discussed earlier. Let’s take a look at a few of these traits more in-depth for a moment.
Are you more likely to be persuaded by someone confident enough in their belief about a new company to drop out of an Ivy League school to pursue it? If you are like most people, the answer is yes. Well-known tech entrepreneurs bring in the best people at the onset by “selling” their plans for success. They can persuade these people that their idea is big. This becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy because getting the best people on board at the start helps to get things started on a winning streak. This also ties into the traits of leadership and interpersonal skills.
“The ability to foster relationships that will get your product or idea developed and on the market is as important as coming up with your million-dollar idea.”
Goal orientation is something that deserves some extra attention when looking at the list of entrepreneurial traits. So many people who crave success are focused on finding that perfect, million-dollar idea! They assume that the idea will do the work for them because it is just so amazing! This is where entrepreneurs differ from “ordinary” people.
Entrepreneurs can simultaneously have complete confidence in their ideas and understand that they will have to work like mad around the clock for a long period before the idea will turn into something that even remotely resembles success. This is probably the most powerful trait an entrepreneur can possess because it is related to perseverance and resilience. The understanding that it’s supposed to be hard can help entrepreneurs progress through the hurdles that would stop others. We can even go as far as saying that entrepreneurs are almost in it for the hurdles.
The Psychological Burdens Of Entrepreneurship
It Isn’t Easy Street
It’s easy to focus on the jets, the estates, the red-carpet appearances and the prestige that goes along with being a successful entrepreneur. However, great psychological burdens come with great success. Remember the thousands of employees we talked about when making a point about the way entrepreneurs are masters at getting the right people on board to handle tasks? The heads of those companies have to walk around each day with the knowledge that the choices they make during the span between breakfast and lunch alone could impact the livelihoods of those thousands of employees. Whose name will be in the headlines when the stock market tanks, profits fall or an embarrassing marketing blunder offends the public? The entrepreneur is the default accountability target.
This doesn’t just play out on a grand scale. Even business owners with a few dozen employees feel this pressure daily. It’s easy to develop a second-guessing mindset against those “killer instincts” that got you to where you are when the livelihoods of others are on the line if you’re wrong about something. That’s why entrepreneurs and business owners often feel overwhelmed and agitated. Getting on top of the world can feel a lot like having the world on your shoulders.
The balance between work and life can be nonexistent for an entrepreneur. The lines between work hours and weekends are invisible. It’s not surprising that burnout is such a big risk for entrepreneurs when you consider that only 61 percent of small-business owners even take five days off per year.
Dr. Michael A. Freeman at the University of California San Francisco conducted research in 2015 that put the spotlight on the impact entrepreneurship can have on mental health. Both entrepreneurs and their families can suffer under the weight of what it takes to lead. Freeman’s research found that 72 percent of the participating entrepreneurs had concerns regarding mental health. Factors that contributed to worries over mental health included an inability to turn off the workflow, the need to “put on a face” in front of investors and anxiety that bleeds over into personal relationships.
So, how can entrepreneurs manage psychological burdens? The first step is to be honest with yourself. Poor sleep, poor eating habits, changes in emotions and declines in personal relationships are all signals that it’s time to invest in yourself. Perhaps take a couple of days off work.
Lastly, focus on health and well-being. Don’t sacrifice sleep, good eating habits, and exercise to maintain control. If you are feeling overwhelmed, delegate tasks. Ask others for help. Remember when we talked earlier about how entrepreneurs can’t do it alone? If you try to do it alone, other areas of your life will suffer.
Some Final Thoughts on the Psychology of Entrepreneurs
Not everyone is called to be the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk. However, small-business owners and brand founders all around the country are doing what the big players do on smaller scales every single day. Some already have many of the same traits engrained in the psychologies of major entrepreneurs. Others are constantly trying to adopt these traits. We can all benefit from trying to integrate the positive traits of entrepreneurs into our personalities. Entrepreneurs are world-class problem solvers, experts at getting a “yes” out of people and fearless when it comes to doing what needs to be done at the exact moment it needs to be done.