Learn the traits of entrepreneurship

True entrepreneurs may be born, not made. But anyone can learn to practise entrepreneurship.

Managing for profit by Peter Hughes

Barbara Sahakian, a professor of neuro-psychology at Cambridge University studying entrepreneurship, assembled two groups of business people in their early 50s.

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One consisted of true, hard-bitten entrepreneurs who had started and built at least two new businesses in their time. The other group comprised successful career managers who had served as steady corporate employees. Sahakian gave the groups two psychological tests.

One measured decision-making involving a cool, calm logical selection of alternatives, where feelings played little role.

The second measured decision-making in the face of significant risk, where emotions were a far more significant factor. Both groups scored similarly in logical decision-making, but when it came to decisions involving emotion, the results could not have been more different.

The entrepreneurs went for the big bet, while the others opted for the sure and safe route.

“It was amazing,“ said Sahakian. “As we get older, it’s well established that we lose our appetite for risk, but these entrepreneurs behaved as if they were in their 20s.”

Her research suggests that true entrepreneurs have a built-in brain function that predisposes them to being entrepreneurs. In other words, entrepreneurs are born, not made.

If that is so, what hope is there for those of us who are like the manager types in Sahakian’s other group?

If, like me, you are more of a manager than an entrepreneur, take heart – because you can certainly be trained to develop the skills of ‘entrepreneurship’, which is almost, but not quite, the same thing.

Entrepreneurship is the skill and capability of expanding an existing business or creating an entirely new venture.

In any given population, there are only a few people with a built-in capacity to be true entrepreneurs.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the figure is somewhere between 5% and 15% of the population, depending on the country. The rest of us in the private sector work for them.

But without people like us to assist them in managing their businesses, and bringing our own brand of entrepreneurship to bear, they wouldn’t make it. And this is a skill we can work on, and develop, by focusing on the following characteristics:

  • Resilience: The ability to cope with good and bad times, and to move on after success or failure.
  • Interdependence: You don’t know everything! Ask for help; listen to and evaluate the advice of those around you, and leverage other people’s talent. Entrepreneurship is not a solo sport.
  • Networking skills: Business grows through trust relationships built over a long period. Work on these.
  • Learn to sell: There are courses galore on ‘salesmanship’. If selling doesn’t come naturally, sign on for one sooner rather than later. Learning how to sell will teach you more than just selling.
  • Strap yourself in – it’s a bumpy ride: Take interruption and chaos in your stride. These are normal when you’re running a challenging business.
  • Action orientation: Be careful, but don’t suffer from paralysis by analysis. Take action, even when you have incomplete information.
  • Perseverance: Everything takes longer than you think it will. Mistakes happen, customers don’t materialise as planned, employee problems develop. Hang in there.
  • Thirst for knowledge: This is an easy one. Assess whether you have all of the knowledge the business requires. Identify the gaps. Then go out and make sure you gain that knowledge.
  • Sacrifice: No business manager ever becomes great without making sacrifices. Every now and again, you will have to work instead of spending time with family, friends, or your favourite hobby. It’s part of entrepreneurship.