A recent Forbes article, Six Whopping Lies Told About Entrepreneurs … Sometimes By Entrepreneurs Themselves, created quite a stir online. It listed six myths about entrepreneurs that are worth repeating because these misperceptions dissuade some who from starting businesses and create a false sense of confidence in others.
The six lies
- They are the smartest and most high achieving people in the room. The data shows this is not the case, as most the top achieving entrepreneurs were not considered the smartest growing up (though I am sure their parents thought so). The article quotes one very successful entrepreneur as saying, “If I had a 4.0 at graduation, it stood for the number of parties I went to the night before rather than my GPA.” Entrepreneurs don’t typically try to please other people; rather, they find something that deeply fascinates them and then hyper-focus on that particular opportunity. Hence, the high dropout rates. Just looking back, none of my friends and classmates in high school and college who were considered “smartest” have achieved anything entrepreneurial.
- Entrepreneurs are individualists. Here the research again clearly contradicts the myth. Professor Ed Roberts from MIT found that the more people you have on the founding team, the higher the odds for success. The article posits that entrepreneurship is a team sport and not an individual event and my experience confirms that finding. Although I always felt I could do it myself, all of my exits have been as a part of a great management team. Looking back, you see how working in a team lets each person play to their strength and others on the team fill in the weaknesses. Given that I have never met anyone who does not have a particular set of strengths and weaknesses, the ability to fill the gaps is crucial.
- Entrepreneurs are born, not made. As the article points out, if entrepreneurial skill was a gene, the biotech experts at MIT, Harvard and throughout the world would have had a lot more success identifying and replicating it. Also, the fact that successful entrepreneurs are often clustered in certain countries and regions shows the external factors needed to become a successful entrepreneur.
- Entrepreneurs love risk. I can tell you myself this one is not true. One key feature of an entrepreneur is to look at a situation and see ways to diversify and manage risk, rather than seek it out. Great entrepreneurs prefer to remove as much risk from their endeavor as possible, only taking very calculated risks where they feel they have an advantage and they can influence the outcome. This is intelligent risk-taking where the odds are very much in their favor. You will see very few entrepreneurs in a casino.
- Entrepreneurs are successful because they are charismatic. The Forbes article points out, “This is another fallacy of not just entrepreneurship but leadership in general. As research by Deborah Ancona and her team at the MIT Sloan Leadership Center has shown, charisma is not what makes for great leaders. Jim Collins reflects this fact as well in his book, Good to Great. Ancona and Collins have found instead that successful entrepreneurs exhibit characteristics such as vision, systems thinking, strong analytic skills, ‘humbition’ (a blend of humility and ambition) and outstanding, disciplined execution skills. “ In my experience, people like entrepreneurs not because of their charisma but because of their business acumen.
- Entrepreneurs are undisciplined. The ones who are usually are not entrepreneurs very long. One of the keys to success for any venture is focus, and you need discipline to maintain focus. Successful entrepreneurs must have extreme self-discipline because they have few resources, no reputation, and a very finite amount of time in which to succeed.
It is important to understand these six misperceptions because it will help you focus on building the skills that will truly make you a successful entrepreneur.