credit to Anthony K. Tjan
Can you make — or “make over” — an entrepreneur? It’s a question that came up a lot as my co-authors and I researched our new book, Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck. Those are the four traits we deemed crucial to entrepreneurial and business-building success. We even came up anEntrepreneurial Aptitude Test to measure how company founders and business builders stacked up in the different traits, and to help you identify where you’re strongest.
But are people simply born with a certain combination of these traits, like DNA, or can Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck be taught, nurtured and developed? We believe it’s the latter, although of course it varies by person and by trait.
Luck is to a certain extent just plain luck, of course, but as I’ve written before, you can cultivate Luck by being open and humble, by having the right attitude and approach toward relationships and by building Lucky Networks. Smarts are of course something we all try to develop and hone — although the kind built through experience may often be more valuable than those learned in books. In this sense Smarts is mostly about pattern recognition, a capability that definitely can be practiced and improved.
Heart — e.g. inner passion and purpose — is the strongest and most important trait among the business founders we surveyed. To a large extent it’s something you’re born with. But following your Heart is an explicit decision. To ponder more deeply what you naturally feel is your greatest passion is your greatest opportunity for, well greatness. And to act on it, that takes Guts.
Lack of Guts is perhaps the most common barrier to entrepreneurial success. There are always risks associated with anything non-traditional and absolutely with anything ballsy — concerns about financial security, reputation, or knowledge gaps, to name just a few. It takes Guts to get past those worries, to persevere when the going gets tough, and to adapt when circumstances demand it.
Guts are about having the courage to initiate, endure, and evolve around an idea. This trait can absolutely influenced, amplified or acquired over time — and building up Guts may thus be the most important way in which entrepreneurs can be developed. Three Guts-building approaches in particular stand out: early childhood experiences; training for risk; and, not least, peer support and accountability.
1) Early Childhood Ventures, and Salesmanship. Having had a proverbial paper route, lemonade stand, or other childhood enterprise helps strengthen the Guts trait. Eighty percent of the entrepreneurs we surveyed who identified as Guts-dominant had a venture early on in life that thickened their skin. Any type of publicly exposed role or activity, even later in life, that requires salesmanship or where rejection is commonplace, can be part of an entrepreneur’s “makeover.” There are few successful entrepreneurs who have not had to put themselves on the line both early in life and throughout their entrepreneurial journeys.
2) Training for Risky Outcomes. For our book, we interviewed Steve Callahan, who was lost at sea alone for 76 days and survived. How? One reason was that he had read and absorbed numerous survival guides that helped guide some critical decision-making. Business schools, books, and coaches that case-study methods and crisis response tactics can mitigate risks inherent in any situation. This is especially true during the first phases of any critical business situation — a lawsuit, say, or an unplanned succession, downsizing, or the merger or sale of a company. Knowing what to expect in these and other situations creates a baseline of preparedness that can give someone heightened confidence, willingness and capacity to take on more risks because the risks are calculated and mitigated. In fact, many entrepreneurs described their “Guts” as less risk taking than risk mitigation.
3) Peer Support and Accountability. It’s easier to be brave when somebody’s got your back. Also, the most effective way to enable positive behavior change is via peer-based support. Through my venture capital firm’s investment in an employee wellness company, ShapeUp, we found that people typically make better choices about their health in an environment of social support and accountability. A surrounding ecosystem of peer-based support and accountability can make people really push the envelope and make change happen.
Entrepreneurs start from that place we call Heart, inner passion and desire that is not easily malleable. We are what we feel. But turning that passion into a business reality obviously requires executing on it. It requires Guts. Unimaginable amounts of potential lie dormant because people don’t have that minimum threshold of Guts to just initiate and not overthink it.
People therefore often suppress their Heart, and conflate not having the Guts to start with not having the right idea. These would-be entrepreneurs require a makeover in attitude and mindset towards reflecting on what is really holding them back. Perhaps the better question than whether or not you can make or make over an entrepreneur is whether you can encourage more people to realize their passion, purpose, and potential. We think so.