In a previous post, we looked at the skills that entrepreneurs have – and it is certainly true that our most successful entrepreneurs today have those skills.
However, having the skills is only part of the story. The real key to success lies in your ability to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset – or the mental attitude that it takes to be an entrepreneur.
You may have already heard the term ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ – but what is it? And, more importantly, is it possible to cultivate it?
Rita Gunther McGrath and Ian MacMillan, co-authors of ‘The Entrepreneurial Mindset’ suggest that there are 5 main defining characteristics.
And the really good news is that, by becoming action-focused, learning to simplify complexity, and gaining confidence, they believe that it is possible for any entrepreneur to gain the mindset through practice.
The mindset of habitual entrepreneurs that McGrath and MacMillan identified means that:
- They passionately seek opportunities – habitual entrepreneurs are always seeking to find ‘the next idea’ or to improve upon solutions. They are continually looking out for potential opportunities that they can then develop and grow.
- They pursue opportunities with discipline – this means that entrepreneurs don’t just find opportunities, but they act upon them, and take action when it is needed.
- They focus on high quality – pursuing only the best opportunities at the right time, rather than becoming exhausted constantly chasing every opportunity that comes their way. In other words, successful entrepreneurs are discerning when it comes to opportunity.
- They focus on ‘adaptive execution’ – not only do entrepreneurs act upon opportunity but, rather than constantly analyzing the potential results of a particular course of action, they also adapt ideas as they work through the process of developing them and bringing them to market.
- They engage the energies of others. Those with an entrepreneurial mindset are always focused on getting the best out of people – including themselves. This means that by having this mindset, you should look to use the expertise, energy and skills of people around you.
These five aspects form the bedrock of the entrepreneurial mindset and they are integral to the other key attitudes that entrepreneurs have:
The entrepreneurial mindset is obviously focused on innovation.
Entrepreneurs are constantly seeking out new ways to solve problems. They look for new solutions and new ways of doing things. They look for innovation and improvement in any potential business opportunities.
As McGrath and MacMillan noted, the entrepreneurial mindset is not just about finding opportunities, it’s also about putting them into action.
Successful entrepreneurs don’t endlessly analyze. They take an opportunity and get it out to market as soon as possible. It is one of the main aspects that marks successful entrepreneurs out from the rest of us. Most of them haven’t necessarily come up with a radically different idea – but what marks them out from everyone else is that they do something about it. They do, while many others just think about it.
Comfort Zone? What’s that?
The entrepreneurial mindset is all about embracing change – and with that comes a willingness to move out of their comfort zone.
Entrepreneurs by their very nature are always looking for opportunities and new ways to achieve things. Change is practically their middle name.
However, it’s important to note that they don’t seek out change for it’s own sake. They are all about embracing change when it will bring about a new and improved approach.
So, just because something has been the norm for years, that doesn’t stop the successful entrepreneur from coming at it from a different angle and shaking things up a bit.
You could say that successful entrepreneurs display a mindset which is fearless – and sure, quitting college before you get your degree to set up your company, or starting up in a field where your competitors may be huge and you are just a tiny little fish are pretty fearless things to do.
However, perhaps rather than being fearless, what really happens is that the entrepreneurial mindset embraces fear and uses that energy rather than running away from it.
After all, everyone gets scared from time to time.
That business idea that is so ‘out there’ it’s never been done before.
Putting ourselves – and our businesses – out into the market in the first place.
However, the entrepreneurial mindset takes that fear and channels it into a positive force to drive forward. Grabbing hold of fear with both hands and using it as a force for good.
‘Adaptive execution’ as described above means that there is a need to be flexible and creative in your approach and, in turn, entrepreneurs need to work with what they have in order to get the best results possible.
There won’t always be a chance to throw money at a solution or to have every available expert on hand to take an opportunity and run with it – especially in the early days when changes could be potentially happening all the time.
And so the successful entrepreneur has to be resourceful, using what they have to make the most of every opportunity that they have sought out.
Don’t ask for permission
Successful entrepreneurs don’t wait until someone says it’s OK for them to take action. They forge ahead with confidence in their own decision making ability and the skills of those around them. There are countless examples of well-known entrepreneurs who haven’t waited until someone says they can do something – in fact, pretty much every successful entrepreneur out there.
Sir Richard Branson didn’t leave school at 16 and then apply for a few jobs waiting to hear back from them. He didn’t accept that being dyslexic might hold him back – and he didn’t make any apologies for it. He went out there and started his first ever business and so the Virgin brand was born.
Stagecoach founders Sir Brian Souter and Ann Gloag didn’t wonder whether, as an accountant and a former nurse they were the best people to start up what is now a global public transport company, which has allowed them to become 2 of the wealthiest people in the UK. They just did it.
It follows that if you don’t ask for permission, then you are more likely to follow your own path. And those who do that are often described as outsiders.
This is a bold move. We’re conditioned from our earliest school days that fitting in is the best idea and we should conform. New opportunities and innovations are rarely about conformity.
That kid who used to sit next to you in class with the funky hair and the slightly off kilter view of the world might now be about to become a successful entrepreneur – or perhaps they already are.
Good at Failure
Yes, you read that right.
Being a successful entrepreneur means that you have to change your mindset and become good at failure.
90% of small businesses fail.
However, if a business fails it doesn’t naturally follow that the entrepreneur behind it is a failure. It just means that business model didn’t work out.
To paraphrase Arianna Huffington, failure isn’t the opposite of success, it’s a stepping stone to success.
Knowing why a business venture failed, learning lessons from that failure and, crucially, moving on from it, are what marks out an entrepreneur from everyone else.
Engaging others with their passion and getting them on board to help drive forward their business ideas, means that entrepreneurs are good at listening.
Of course, they are excellent leaders (in the main) but successful entrepreneurs are prepared to listen to the views of others around them.
Entrepreneurs are focused on what they need to do to achieve success.
In particular, they are focused on action, on delivery and on the needs and wants of their customers.
Focus runs throughout every aspect of their business related activities. They don’t spend time on anything that doesn’t expand their entrepreneurial ventures.
The entrepreneurial mindset is all about taking ownership of decisions. By taking ownership, not only do entrepreneurs lead from the front, but they have a vested interest in getting the best out of each and every opportunity that comes their way.
There are no excuses. There is no blame culture. The buck stops with them, and this gives them the energy to continually drive forward.
Successful entrepreneurs are constantly learning. They learn from the experts they surround themselves with. From other entrepreneurs that they network with. They push themselves to the limits of their knowledge and aren’t afraid to admit when they need to find out more. They just go and do it.
Constant self improvement is at the core of the entrepreneurial mindset. Never feel as though you have learned it all or that the learning curve is complete.
Cash is king
At all times, the entrepreneur should have one eye on cash flow. The entrepreneurial mindset is constantly aware of the importance of cash and that it is the lifeblood of the business.
Instinct, bravery, action – all are for nothing if the business is starved of cash.
Developing the Mindset
So how can you go on to develop this mindset and start to think more like an entrepreneur?
The good news is that, as Donna M. De Carolis recently wrote about on Forbes, whether you are already an entrepreneur or not, the chances are that you have at some point adopted an entrepreneurial mindset – albeit perhaps in a small way.
The majority of us have to some extent, made choices that have had an effect on our lives or that have forced us to change our situation.
For example, taking a new job in another state – or country – moving to a new area, choosing a college on the other side of the country – are all examples of moving out of your comfort zone and embracing change. They are all examples of making a choice and then choosing resiliency in order to see it through.
That is what a successful entrepreneur does in their business decisions. They choose resiliency in the face of adversity.
To move up a gear and develop an entrepreneurial mindset, this type of activity needs to become a habit.
Creating the Habit
Highly successful people have created and committed themselves to habits that will improve their success.
Cyclist, Sir Chris Hoy has the most Olympic gold medals ever won by a GB team athlete (6 in total). He achieved this by never taking a day off from his rigorous training schedule when he was still competing. Not even on Christmas Day. He reckoned that his competitors would enjoy the Festive season and, by treating that day as a training day, he would have an advantage over them.
When they were still relatively young, Venus & Serena Williams used to practice tennis for 6 hours every day.
Sir Richard Branson walks the talk. “Screw it and just do it.” He has adopted this philosophy almost daily and from the very start of his career. From dropping out of school and starting a magazine, to chartering a private plane when his flight to the Virgin Islands for a holiday was cancelled. He chartered the flight (which he couldn’t afford), sold seats to others who were stuck in the airport due to the cancellation and managed to cover the cost of the charter as a result. Guess when the seeds of Virgin Airlines were born?
All of these success stories have the same thing in common.
They created a habit that they were committed to.
Now, we all know that the 21 Day Habit is a myth, right? (And if you don’t, you should read this).
In order for something to become a habit, you have to do it daily and – commit to it continuously (i.e. every day for an unspecified amount of time). Then, it becomes your normal.
So get in the habit of embracing some of the following attitudes every single day, and you will begin to develop a more entrepreneurial mindset.
Roll with the Punches
A good first step, is to start to become more flexible in your outlook. Don’t just see things the way you always have.
You can achieve this by surrounding yourself with different people – preferably the sort of person you admire who already displays the entrepreneurial mindset. Read books by successful entrepreneurs and attend local entrepreneurial networking events.
Try to gain access to the entrepreneurial culture, as immersion in any culture can help it to become a habit.
Cornell University, Babson College and Harvard – among many, many others – all offer some level of entrepreneurial ‘immersion’ as part of their programs. These are viewed as a way of giving students hands-on experience and applying the knowledge that they learned in the classroom. And if it’s good enough for the Ivy League…
Angela Benton of NewMe suggests that making the shift from employee to entrepreneur requires the ability to initially become far more flexible and open – to ideas and to a new way of working – in order to be able to be more responsive to change, as the successful entrepreneur needs to be.
And UK-based organization, Entrepreneurial Scotland, connects entrepreneurs from aspiring to established, as they recognize the benefits that those who have ‘been there, done it’ can bring to those who are just starting out.
There is a Scottish legend about a King (Robert the Bruce) who was losing a battle. During a lull in the fighting – or possibly due to a counter attack – he hid in a cave. No doubt he spent his time in there gathering his thoughts and quite possibly having a mild panic.
However, the legend goes that during his cave stay, he spotted a spider that was trying – and failing – to make a web in a damp corner. He watched it continue to try until it finally succeeded in building its web. Watching this tiny creature continue with its task in the face of adversity, inspired Robert to come out from his hiding place and win the battle (of course) while at the same time coining the phrase:
“If at first you don’t succeed. Try, try again”…
Of course, that’s a legend that may or may not be true (I suspect the latter) but it illustrates perfectly what it means to be successful.
You have to keep trying.
Successful entrepreneurs may have had countless business ventures before they enjoy any level of success. Failure IS an option. However, what isn’t an option is either not trying in the first place – or giving up.
Even if you haven’t failed, the reality is that it can take a long, long time before you will make any money.
Typically, according to the Small Business Chronicle, it can take up to 3 years before an entrepreneur is making more money than they earned as a salary in the job that they left to set up their company.
And if you need some lessons in perseverance from the truly successful then look no further…
Bill Gates took 11 years to become an ‘overnight success’ when Microsoft went public in 1986 making him $350 million
It was 20 years before Steve Jobs became a dot.com billionaire – after initial early success, Apple struggled through the 90s (and of course, Jobs himself left to start up another company). Success with the birth of the iMac and the iPhone launched the company into the stratosphere.
Larry Page & Sergy Brin started Google in 1996. After a slow but steady growth, it wasn’t until 2004 that it went public.
Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook in 2003. 2 years later it was making a loss before finally becoming ‘cashflow positive’ in 2009.
Now, take a pause and consider that these companies are generally regarded as the fastest growing companies of our time. They demonstrate why you need to persevere if you want to succeed.
Become a leader not a follower
You will gain confidence in your decisions simply by making more of them in your every day life.
Shift away from the ‘permission’ mindset, and start to make decisions – in your career, your personal life, around your finances – and you will begin to form the habit.
Taking decisions – big and small – not only increases your confidence about making them in the first place, but it also begins to give you a sense about how good your instincts are – and the areas where they are particularly strong – which all helps to build your confidence.
As successful entrepreneurs are willing to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, you should start to gain more of an insight of your own personal attributes.
Take some career coaching. Get a mentor. Identify where you need to gain more skills and invest in yourself.
By constantly learning, you will also be constantly opening yourself up to new ways of thinking, different perspectives and new opportunities – all of which are at the heart of the entrepreneurial mindset.
Be More Curious
Get in the habit of constantly questioning. Channel your inner child and start to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’ more often rather than just accepting things the way they are.
Be More Optimistic
All this talk of failure and hard work is enough to make you feel a bit depressed. But as entrepreneurs are typically of a more up beat frame of mind, you want to develop all of the above with an optimistic outlook.
It’s incredibly difficult to put opportunities into action if you anticipate failure at every turn. Again, surrounding yourself with positive people, gaining more confidence in your decisions and simply putting more entrepreneurial mindset practices in place, will all help to give you a more optimistic outlook when it comes to your business decision making.
It’s true to say that one aspect of the entrepreneurial mindset flows into another. By adopting one or two of them, you will start to see results in a number of areas. Once you are regularly putting all of these practices in place – and committing to them on a regular basis – you will achieve the mindset that you need to succeed as an entrepreneur.
What are some things that you struggle with or that help you regarding your mindset as an entrepreneur?