Mark LeBlanc, John Assaraf and Nancy Michaels address the question.
Q: Do you think entrepreneurs are made or born? I say born, my partner says made. What do you say?
John Assaraf: I actually think it’s a combination of both. We know that 50 percent of our thoughts and actions are genetically based due to our heritage. The other 50 percent we learn from our environment and conditioning as children.
What I think determines success in entrepreneurs is whether someone has a burning passion in their belly to make something of their lives regardless of genetics, education or training. There are examples all over the world of both types who come from great business genetics but who don’t do anything grand in business, and then there are those who come up the ranks of poverty to create masterpieces.
Give me a hungry-hunter type of personality willing do whatever it takes to create their masterpiece, and I’ll show you a successful businessperson.
Nancy Michaels: I’d have to say there are innate qualities that entrepreneurs are born with—self-discipline, ambition, risk takers, etc. That’s not to say people can’t learn some of these skills, but I think the basic attributes of an entrepreneur are within us. I have to say I was heavily influenced by my dad, who had his own accounting business that he initially ran from our home. Home offices were not in vogue back in the 1960s as they are today, and I made an assumption when I was young that everyone owned their own business. In fact, I commented to my parents about how lucky I thought Julia Sullivan was because her dad, the town’s librarian, “owned the library.” When I was 3 I wrapped my dad’s tie around my neck and when my Mom asked me where I was going, I said, “to work.” Although I worked at two companies as an employee before starting my business in 1990, I knew that I would not want to work for someone else for long and always felt I would start my own business.
Mark LeBlanc: I think you are both right. Some people seem to have the entrepreneurial DNA in their makeup, while others adopt and adapt to their environments. These people are often encouraged by their parents and family members who might be in business for themselves. Let’s remember that not all business owners are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs tend to be highly creative, ambitious, risk-takers and often better at starting something versus growing it and running it well. If he or she surrounds themselves with good people, the likelihood of success is greater.
Many small-business owners and independent professionals start a business or practice, grow it to a certain level and create a lifestyle that supports their dreams. They may not have the ambition or goal to grow it larger than life and sell it, but they maintain it until retirement or pass it on to a second generation or simply shut it down when the time is right.
Most people have the dream of starting a business whether it is full-time or part-time. If you have a good idea, product or service, believe in yourself and surround yourself with the right resources, you can achieve the level of success you desire without necessarily possessing the creative and ambitious traits of an entrepreneur. There is no right or wrong answer, but an understanding of what it will take to succeed. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it.
Starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur is a dream that millions of people share. But what type of person do you have to be? Moreover, if you’re an investor, are some people better risks than others?
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To many, the answer to both these questions lies in the personality of the entrepreneur-to-be. Surely there’s a combination of traits that will make some more likely to succeed than others?
The latest foray into the world of entrepreneur psychology is a study published by Oxford Psychologists Press, the UK arm of CPP – home to probably the most famous personality questionnaire in the world, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
The headline results suggest entrepreneurs view themselves as creative, impulsive and prepared to take risks. They also have a strong need to be able to do their own thing.
In the study, from a personality-type perspective, those with preferences for “intuition” and “perceiving” were significantly more likely to describe themselves as entrepreneurs. What this means is that entrepreneurs are more likely to be focused on the future and what could be, to trust their hunches, to enjoy novelty, and to leap rapidly from one thought to another.
These are big picture thinkers who rely on their intuition and go with what they think will work. And although famous entrepreneurs are not known for completing personality questionnaires, this sort of trait is often associated with the tech giants, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who once said: “Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect.”
“Perceiving” types, according to the Myers-Briggs assessment, are open, flexible and spontaneous. They adapt and go with the flow, and are not known for being overly concerned with rules and regulations. This sets them up to take more risks as they are less influenced by tradition and convention. Of course, this risk-taking is what most people associate with being an entrepreneur.
It seems fairly logical, so why all the talk about an entrepreneur personality being a myth? One reason is the analysis of this study in the media often doesn’t go further than the traits of “intuition” and “perceiving”. What isn’t reported is that every personality type can and does start businesses. Sure, some may be more likely to do so, but just as there are many different sorts of businesses there are many different types of founders.
Every great entrepreneur has failed numerous times before they succeeded, or had to battle against considerable odds
Some businesses demand fine attention to detail, a practical outlook, and a step-by-step approach – the flip side of “intuition” (which is what the MBTI terms “sensing”); and others are all about a highly planned and structured approach, with fixed goals and high levels of control – the disciplined cousin of “perceiving” (referred to as “judging”).
However, the real clincher is that there appeared to be no personality differences that predicted success – as measured by actual financial performance. No one type performed better than any other type.
Before we get carried away, this does not mean that personality has nothing to do with success; rather it’s probably part of a far more complex equation. An obvious omission is optimism, or a view of the world that is unfailingly positive and linked to a powerful expectation of how things will turn out. Think Richard Branson. Another is persistence, which is perhaps thekey characteristic. Virtually every great entrepreneur has failed numerous times before they succeeded, or had to battle against considerable odds, like Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. When he was starting out he applied for a dozen jobs, including one at KFC, and got turned down for every one of them. He’s now worth over $34bn (£26bn).
And let’s not forget emotional stability – closely associated with resilience – something that the MBTI does not measure. If there’s one thing you need to be as an entrepreneur, it’s a hardy individual who can put up with the twists and turns of business.
Finally, all the personality in the world, or whatever type, will not make up for a weak business idea, insufficient capital, or simply launching a business or a product at the wrong time. However, what knowledge of personality can do is to help someone create and run a business in a way that suits them – so if you’re a prospective entrepreneur, don’t be put off by thinking you have the “wrong” personality.
Dr Mark Parkinson is a business psychologist specialising in identification of individual talent, entrepreneurial flair and leadership potential
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