A good friend Sankar Nivas, forwarded me this article about Entrepreneurship. This is yet another perspective about Entrepreneurship. The author’s take is that Entrepreneurs are not driven by money, while Businessmen are driven by money and Entrepreneurs have a common personality trait.
What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? I have heard far too many answers to this question. Everything from being a risk taker, inventor, a small business owner, to being just plain crazy or lucky. But none of these things have anything to do with entrepreneurialism, and frankly neither does much of what I have read in business books. Even the always insightful Malcolm Gladwell, in a recent New Yorker article on the subject, only got it half right.
Being an entrepreneur is something far different than what most people think. It is not about behavior (whether risk-prone or risk-averse); it is not about business type (you can run a small business, a public company, a division of a company, or be an investor); and it is not about title (you do not have to be a CEO to be an entrepreneur). Instead, I see it as a personality trait. There are plenty of small business owners and start-up founders who do exceptionally well — but are not what I would consider entrepreneurs. Just like in big business, you can be a successful general manager without being an entrepreneur or entrepreneurial.
I liken entrepreneurism to a disease. Having it myself, I am not always sure it is a good thing. That so many people wish to suffer from it just tells me they don’t understand it. Entrepreneurs, as the story goes, embody the American dream. They come from nowhere to build large empires, reap huge rewards, and live a lavish lifestyle. There is Larry Ellison and his yachts; Bill Gates and his 66,000-square foot smart house; Ted Turner and his nearly 2 million acres of land; Larry Page and his 747.
But those are the outliers. Gladwell’s well-received book of the same name estimated it takes nearly 10,000 hours of work to gain true expertise. Entrepreneurs are all in, all the time. Entrepreneurs love what they do and obsess over it. It is a predisposition; a path that has already been laid for you. It is a character trait, a labor of love, a zeal that cannot be trained, a condition that cannot be treated, an illness that cannot be caught. You’ve either got it or you don’t. Here are some questions to see if you have it:
Do you wake up before your alarm goes off, hop out of bed excited to go to work? (good)
Do you race to the car, forgetting breakfast, your morning coffee, and the paper? (better)
Halfway to work, do you look down, realize you forgot to shower, shave, or get dressed? (great)
Do you pause for a second, and then decide–what the hell–and head to work anyways? (diagnosis: entrepreneurialism; cure unknown)
I have done this far too many times, without any hesitation or embarrassment (my team jokingly calls these antics “Stibel-isms” but it’s really just entrepreneurism). Think of it as a very deep focus that is quite difficult to shake out of, especially when juxtaposed against life’s daily activities. Most people use a calendar to remind them of meetings and events; I have on my calendar such mundane things as eating lunch! Many people mistake entrepreneurism for ADD, or obsessiveness, or risk-taking, or hyper-mania or a host of other quirks. But entrepreneurs are really just manic-manic — there is one switch and it is always turned to on.
What drives an entrepreneur is not money. That is what drives businesses and businesspeople. But for an entrepreneur, money is merely a yardstick. Frankly, entrepreneurism is a very difficult and unpredictable way to make a living. It is often binary: either you make more money than your children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren will know what to do with; or you go broke. Most entrepreneurs fail miserably. If you want to guarantee a good living — one that will offer you a successful, stable career and a nice inheritance for your kids — listen to your mother and become a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson.
What makes some entrepreneurs successful is the same thing that makes others successful: relying on strengths and avoiding weaknesses. To be sure, entrepreneurs have an upper hand (or at least I like to think so): the energy level is higher, the confidence level is higher, and with time, entrepreneurs have a higher tendency to acquire subject-matter expertise. But success comes not from those things alone, but by leveraging core competencies. What makes me successful (sometimes) is that I combine my entrepreneurism with my strengths in taking calculated risks, decision making, and building teams of people I admire.
If you are an entrepreneur, use it to your advantage. But if not, don’t try to become one. (It won’t work — and why try to contract a disease? You wouldn’t try to get the measles). Instead, figure out what you do best and aim to do it better than anyone else. And if your organization needs an entrepreneur for it to succeed, just hire one.
Written by Jeffrey M. Stibel - Chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. He is an entrepreneur, a brain scientist, and the author of Wired for Thought: How the Brain Is Shaping the Future of the Internet.