Inventors, business owners and corporate superstars who reshape and remake companies are some of our strongest cultural heroes. They reflect an essential part of the American story—the story of the average person who sees an opportunity, seizes it and in the process creates something new.
But what do these entrepreneurs share? What qualities or ways of thinking characterize the entrepreneurial mind, and can this type of innovative thinking be cultivated in others? Let’s explore some of hallmarks of entrepreneurial thinking to better understand how it works and how we can challenge and adapt our own thinking to achieve better results.
The seed of entrepreneurship is the ability to see things differently. Whether it's with new products or new processes, entrepreneurs are driven by the uncanny knack to see holes in the marketplace and devise innovations to fill them. Though it’s not the only essential quality to success, creativity may be the foundational mental skill. Entrepreneurs ask the “what ifs” that drive inquisitiveness, and they’re able to let go of what they already know to source fresh information and new ways of thinking about a problem.
2. Suspicion of predictors
Entrepreneurs tend not to labor under the assumption that data is the sole predictor of an outcome. Especially in new markets and with new products where data is largely interpretive or extrapolated, entrepreneurs are undaunted by the typical predictors that may put off fainter hearts. One study by Inc. magazine found that nearly 60 percent of Inc. 500 CEOs had not written business plans prior to the launch of their companies, and only 12 percent had done market research. These entrepreneurs realize that creating something new is a heated evolutionary contest, and no one can know the outcome with any amount of certainty. It’s as if their thinking, freed from the “no’s” of the data, can begin to build, test and refine.
3. Comfort with uncertainty
Similarly, a distrust of prediction and analysis creates an atmosphere where uncertainty rules. Indeed, uncertainty is the very essence of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are comfortable existing in that space between raw idea and successful product, and they tend to thrive in the wide middle ground of experimentation, revision and testing.
4. Openness to experimentation
A comfort with experimentation goes beyond educated trial and error. The ability to experiment with products, processes and outcomes, no matter where the results may lead, is the key element of this quality. It’s difficult to fully appreciate how much of what we call “experimental” is actually quite predictable. Most people are comfortable testing new products or systems with a range of one or two possible outcomes. When the results fall nicely within the range, we move on to the next step. But for entrepreneurs who are bringing something new and novel to the marketplace, experimentation can be truly…experimental. Removing expectations and letting the results lead you in completely new directions is the attribute that marks a truly entrepreneurial mind.
5. Functional humility
Egos can destroy the very best ideas. Entrepreneurs who are committed to solving a business problem or reinventing a product or service display a functional humility. They understand that their egos are only useful in moving the idea forward, not dictating outcomes or wrestling to make results conform to a preconceived notion. The very best entrepreneurs may constantly generate and promote their own ideas, but they think and act collaboratively and are staunchly solutions-focused.
So can everyone have an entrepreneurial mind? Probably not. But with time and practice, we can begin to think more like entrepreneurs. We can start to make subtle shifts in old, reflexive thinking that keeps us from exploring a new idea or taking the leap and launching our own business. Entrepreneurial thinking may be less of a destination and more of a journey as we push our own boundaries and explore exactly what we’re capable of. There are few things more elemental than how we think. What kind of beneficial chaos could we create if we began to think differently?
Kentin Waits is a freelance writer and marketing specialist based in Portland, Ore. His work has been featured in US Airways magazine and top-rated blogs such as Wise Bread, the Consumerist and MSN SmartMoney. When he's not writing, Kentin runs a small online antiques business.