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The Entrepreneur in All of Us

June 4, 2015

Today is my good friend and former colleague Steve’s birthday. Why is that noteworthy? Because in my mind, he epitomizes the entrepreneurial spirit and mindset so many candidates, CEOs, sales leaders, VCs, and others aspire to or outright profess to embody. Yet, there’s something about Steve that truly stands apart. I’ve witnessed it time and time again.

Books and research papers have been written about the makings of an entrepreneur. And no doubt, there ought to be a book written about Steve. But to me, it’s not formulaic. It’s not akin to reading an instruction manual and then instantly transforming one’s mind into that of an entrepreneur. There are deep-rooted intangibles at play, perhaps a healthy mix of nurture and nature at work over the years.

Like me, Steve found himself rising in the ranks of an early-stage software company. About 15 years ago, we both enjoyed success building our teams and the markets they served. But one day, the CEO approached Steve with the bold, audacious plan of opening a Japan office and building a business there from scratch. Well, Steve knew next to nothing about Japan, its unique business culture, and the many challenges inherent in a foreigner setting up shop.

But risk tolerance was merely one attribute that drove Steve to take on this monumental endeavor. The more he researched the market, the culture, the potential resources he could tap into and leverage, the greater the opportunity he uncovered. Moreover, he envisioned the Promised Land and the many steps it would take to build and optimize a high performing Japan-based business. He had an insatiable thirst for studying the paths others took so that he could parlay that knowledge to help him carve out a new unique path.

Fast forward a number of years. Yes, Steve was highly successful in building the Japan practice for that software company. He learned so much along the way with this newfound expertise in doing business in Japan, ferreting out new connections and opportunities that transcended the bounds of that software company. Ultimately, he built from scratch what has become a highly successful firm that helps foreign companies do business in Japan. Steve has won numerous awards, met highly influential business and government dignitaries, and continues to this day to build upon his self-made success.

How did he do all this? Therein lies the makings for a best-selling business (and self-development) book. But for the sake of brevity, I can distill it down to a handful of notable traits that many claim to possess but few consistently employ. This is in no way a comprehensive treatise on the full anatomy and inner workings of an entrepreneur, but rather a quick glimpse into the “high and hard ones.”

As mentioned, Steve doesn’t have a risk averse bone in his body. That doesn’t mean he’ll jump off a skyscraper, but it does mean that he’ll consider any and all potential opportunities that may further his current or future agenda. But before he considers opportunities, he identifies and considers them from multiple angles. Steve has an uncanny, seemingly superhuman ability to see far beyond the horizon that most of us can’t see past. He spots multifaceted opportunities in things, situations, people, circumstances, changing market conditions, and events – that others don’t see at all, see but don’t make the relevance connection, or don’t perceive until much later. Spending time with Steve is like hanging out with Superman and witnessing his use of x-ray vision firsthand.

Once Steve detects opportunities, he doesn’t stop there. His brilliant, multi-threading mind connects dots to other tangential streams of opportunities, transforming one opportunity into many. Often times, I’ve seen Steve weave together business ideas that, no matter which direction business partners or clients take, he either makes money or finds creative ways to leverage their moves for incremental revenue down the road.

Enough about Steve. How does this pertain to the rest of us and what can we learn from entrepreneurs? I contend there are bits and pieces of entrepreneurial genius in everyone. Is it DNA or muscle memory? Perhaps a little of both. Whether you are a candidate, business leader, or in your first job out of college, take the time to identify and integrate into your approach the components found in some of the world’s most amazing entrepreneurs. And have some faith that as you become increasingly familiar with these traits, they will invariably open doors for you to add value to whatever you take on in life, both professionally and personally. They are bound to bolster your perception, intuition, confidence, proficiency, effectiveness, desire, passion, momentum, and gravitas.

 

Action items:

  1. Everyone has at least some of the characteristics found in entrepreneurs. Find those in yourself and on a regular basis, seek out ways to integrate them into your approach.
  1. Look back on your life – the bold decisions you’ve make and actions you took. What vision did you have prior to those watershed moments? What drove you forward? How did that vision come about and what gave you the confidence to be all in?
  1. No. We’re not all Superman. But if we can at least witness superhuman entrepreneurial abilities in those around us, and perhaps learn both the significance of them and how they could apply to our own modus operandi, that’s a critical first step towards embracing an entrepreneurial mindset.
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