The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur

As entrepreneurs exactly who are we? What makes us tick? Is there some sort of DNA gene that we can point to? I’ve thought a lot about some of the exceptional entrepreneurs I’ve known over the past four decades and have identified some of their traits and tendencies that stand out.

Let’s start with creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs use their creative powers to innovate and find a better way to do something. Elon Musk has to be one of the most prolific entrepreneurs when it comes to innovation – Tesla Motors, SpaceX, Pay Pal and Solar City come to mind to name a few. Often, creative entrepreneurs are also visionaries. They have an uncanny ability to see into the future and understand what their customers will want and how their company needs to be designed to win. GoPro CEO Nick Woodman, is one of the foremost visionaries in America today. Who could ever have imagined a series of high definition video cameras that are small, durable and light enough to capture our daily adventures – daring and mundane? And successful entrepreneurs understand risk. Rather than taking risk they are adept at managing it.

When they get knocked down, great entrepreneurs get back up – over and over and over. They are amazingly resilient and don’t see failure . . . only opportunity. Walt Disney was fired by his employer, the Kansas City Star, because he supposedly lacked creativity. That didn’t seem to impact his storied career. When things don’t work out as planned they are flexible and know how to adapt and make the best of every situation. Top flight entrepreneurs are persuasive and can convince others to say yes. They do so through the power of their passion. Does Steve Jobs come to mind? Look what he convinced us to buy! Along with their persuasive powers, successful entrepreneurs are strong communicators in both verbal and written formats.

Entrepreneurs are assertive – the great ones are less aggressive than assertive. They have a healthy degree of empathy and are sensitive to the feelings of others. Entrepreneurs at the top of their game have a certain amount of charisma. They can be sociable and gregarious – even if those aren’t their core tendencies. Without charisma an entrepreneur will find it tougher to raise money, develop important relationships and influence others. Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson is one of the most charismatic leaders on the planet. And he has woven his charisma into a tapestry of empathy and caring about other people.

Culture King is another descriptor for the cream-of-the-crop entrepreneur. Ben Chestnut is the founder and CEO of MailChimp fits into this category in the ways he has empowered the 500+ members of his team. Hand-in-hand with a strong culture is a smart entrepreneur’s ability to delegate. According to a 2013 Gallup survey of Inc. 500 CEOs, an average three-year growth rate of 1,751% was realized where the CEO had a high Delegator talent. Entrepreneurs typically have a high sense of urgency and tend to be very self-structured – there’s no way anyone is going to tell them what to do! Entrepreneurs simply don’t want to be a cog in someone else’s machine. Most entrepreneurs also have the ability to juggle many things at once and in fact need to feel the rush and excitement of pursuing multiple projects and initiatives simultaneously. Finally, ultra-successful entrepreneurs are generally positive and optimistic people. They don’t dwell on mistakes and never play the victim.

Remember the DNA thing I mentioned at the beginning of this blog? Well, there may be something to it. A February 17, 2016, research paper published in the Austin Journal of Molecular and Cellular Biology reported on the Dopamine Receptor D4 Gene and concluded that entrepreneurs have a higher tolerance for risk-taking in part, due to this gene (Link to research publication.). Apparently genetics govern approximately 30% of what makes one an entrepreneur. But that leaves 70% to a wide range of personality traits and tendencies.

There are many such traits and tendencies that are identified with entrepreneurs. No one person possesses them all, but the more to which we lay claim the closer we come to attaining world class status.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 2 – The When Affliction.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Curveballs and Changeups

Major league baseball pitchers throw some amazing pitches. Their repertoire includes the breaking ball, changeup, forkball, screwball, slider, curveball, knuckleball, four-seam fastball, split-finger fastball, cutter, sinker, two-seam fastball and probably some other customized versions of all of the above. These pitches range in speed from 70+ to over 100 miles-per-hour. How a batter can even see a pitch that is screaming in at speeds above 90 and dancing all over the place is an incredible feat. And the fact that such pitches can be hit for home runs is even more stupefying. How do they do it?

Major league batters expect to adapt. They know that they are going to see a wide array of pitches that are surgically placed in different locations in the general area of home plate. Thus, every at-bat requires them to adapt to a host of variables. Top-flight big leaguers have an uncanny knack for successfully adapting their vision and their swing to hit the ball and get on base. They go to the plate knowing with absolute certainty that they must be able to adapt or they will strike out, fly out or ground out.

As entrepreneurs we would be well-served to study successful major league baseball players and observe how they adapt. Sometimes they shorten their swing. At other times they become supremely patient. They may try and push the ball to the opposite field; they may bunt, and they might also time their swing in order to pull the ball. All of this happens within a split second.

We entrepreneurs often work hard to create elaborate strategies and backfill with a host of tactics. We plan and we create extensive systems and processes. All are absolutely necessary to succeed. But sometimes we forget that we must expect to adapt. There is nothing negative about holding this expectation. The game plan provides a roadmap for us to follow, but it doesn’t account for every possible instance where we may need to be flexible. Over the years I’ve tried to muscle my way through a plan that I was convinced was the only way to go. Most of the time it led to failure or at least results that were less than stellar. I realize that I was being resistant to adaptation.

What I wish I had understood at the time is that the need to adapt can offer some incredible opportunities. And my resistance caused me to miss those opportunities. It’s easy to say, “OK, I have a plan and undoubtedly something will knock me off-course.” What goes unsaid is the thought that, “Then I’ll do whatever it takes to get back on-course.” But what if we had a mindset of expecting the need to adapt and actually turning it into a desire?” Think about all of the wonderful inventions that have occurred in the past. If you’ve ever read the story of Steve Jobs, you’ll know that he was a master of adaptation. Through his flexible nature he embraced the chance to make changes to the iPhone and the end result was, “WOW!” It’s well-documented that the initial vision for this technology would not have been nearly as phenomenally functional as what was eventually developed.

When we rejoice at the prospects of adapting our ideas, our creativity increases exponentially. Then we are positioned to achieve greatness in whatever we choose to do.

 This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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The Enemy

As entrepreneurs we place a great deal of value on flexibility, creativity and efficiency. We thrive on developing new ideas and managing risk. Our fires are stoked when we find ourselves in situations where we must be quick and nimble. We succeed because we are positive, optimistic and passionate, and because we persevere. So what could possibly rain on our parade?

Bureaucracy is the enemy of entrepreneurship and innovation. It doesn’t matter if it’s government bureaucracy or corporate bureaucracy – both are stifling and unrelenting. We entrepreneurs are in a constant struggle with bureaucracy and our frustration grows by the day. Bureaucracies are inflexible, inefficient and slothful. While entrepreneurship is a dream catcher, bureaucracies are dream-killers. So what is an entrepreneur to do?

Government bureaucracy is a subject unto itself. Entrepreneurs can do two things to combat government bureaucracies. One is to figure out how to maneuver and work-around them. I’ve made the mistake of trying to fight government bureaucracy in the past and it was always a losing battle – primarily because they have no accountability. Rather than fight, we can choose to become innovative involving not only our business initiatives, but also in the way we interact with a government bureaucracy. And of course the other thing we can do is support political candidates who believe in streamlining and/or eliminating bureaucracies.

Corporate bureaucracy is almost as maddening as the government variety. They generally exist as a result of the implementation of systems and processes that are cobbled together over an extended period of time. Many corporate bureaucracies are never intended to be so. They simply evolve. In the absence of a well-defined strategy a vacuum exists. Business people tend to do a lot of “firefighting,” constantly reacting to issues that are presented on a daily basis. The sum total of this reactionary approach to doing business; the vacuum that is present with the absence of a strategy, and the hodge-podge of solutions that are produced, equals a greater and greater entrenched bureaucracy. Conversely, a well-thought corporate vision wrapped in strong strategy and precision tactics, does not allow this vacuum to see the light of day.

To ensure that innovation and entrepreneurship flourish we must focus on creating a roadmap that is clearly defined for everyone on our team. When we see “firefighting” beginning to occur this is our danger signal that bureaucracy will ensue. This is our opportunity to step back and re-examine our vision and our strategy. It’s a time when we can tweak and modify our operations to be totally aligned with our entrepreneurial spirit.

For the sake of our customers, our team members and everyone who comes into contact with our enterprise, it should be our goal to avoid the establishment of bureaucracy at all costs. When we succeed, we’ll enjoy an abundance of happy customers, happy team members and prosperity at all levels.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Transformers

Question: Some entrepreneurs seem to be able to take an unexpected and difficult situation and turn it into success. How do they do it?

Answer: The skill to which you are referring is very simply the ability to adapt to a particular situation. And as with so many other things in life, it all starts with mindset. Have you ever created a plan that didn’t work perfectly when implemented? How did you feel? I can remember times in the past when I would become very upset and frustrated when my carefully crafted plan seemed to go up in flames. Other people always messed things up for one reason or another.

Recently we had an historic building we wanted to develop but needed a state agency to approve affordable housing tax credits in order to move forward. We submitted the project twice to the state agency and both times did not win an award. Of course this was immensely frustrating and we very easily could have given up and moved on to another project. Instead, we figured out a different (and even more complicated) structure for the deal and have been able to put the train back on the track, so to speak.

Being adaptable means having a mindset of flexibility. But there’s one more element that really unlocks the secret. It requires being able to anticipate that when something goes awry, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity to be creative, change direction – slightly or a lot – and make things even better than originally foreseen. I’ve reached the point where I expect to have such opportunities. This isn’t negative thinking by any stretch. Instead it’s a mindset of looking for ways to improve upon a situation. When something isn’t working quite right that’s a signal to me that there’s a better way.

You’ve probably seen the kids’ toys called Transformers. The basic premise is a toy that transforms from a seemingly mundane robot into a much more powerful object. Optimus Prime was the original hero in the Transformers franchise – a robot that transforms into a Kenworth truck cab containing a powerful ion blaster. Sounds silly, right? But that’s exactly what we entrepreneurs want to have happen. We want our good ideas to transform into great ideas. Sometimes this takes some twisting and turning, but eventually we prevail.

Problems lead to solutions. But be careful what you believe for what you believe creates the world in which you live. If you believe that problems are an opportunity to adapt and improve, your world will be filled with outcomes that are better than you ever imagined.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Optimus Prime