It’s an age-old question that many social scientists would love to have a definitive answer for – are entrepreneurs born or made?
While there have been many studies of the genetics of entrepreneurs, on the face of it, there are several shared mental attributes among those who flourish. We don’t need to delve too deeply into the psychological side to recognise the more obvious qualities: being highly motivated, confident, persistent, intuitive and impulsive – all behaviours which can be learned by people who don’t possess a special gift.
So, could any business owner adopt a similar winning mindset and have a positive impact on their company’s outcome?
‘37pc-48pc of the tendency to be an entrepreneur is genetic’
One study carried out by Kings College London into the behavioural and molecular genetics of entrepreneurship found that 37pc-48pc of the tendency to be an entrepreneur is genetic. The study assessed a “general pool of 3,000 people”, testing the number of businesses a person had started, how long they were self-employed for, and factors such as the desire to run a business. Even if those figures do paint an accurate picture, that still leaves us with 52pc-63pc who doesn’t fall into the “genetically gifted” category.
Whether entrepreneurship is in the blood or not, there are several well-known executives who clearly had a natural entrepreneurial gift from an early age. Take Sir Richard Branson who started selling records from a church, or Lord Sugar, who sold car radio aerials and other electrical goods out of a van when he was a teenager. Humble beginnings and now billionaire business owners.
‘You can’t determine where you start in life, but you can determine where you end up’
On the other hand, we have those who had careers in different fields but were driven by entrepreneurial foresight, ambition and a determination to succeed. For example, Karren Brady began her career in advertising sales straight after leaving school and, aged just 23, was appointed managing director of Birmingham City Football Club. Now she’s one of the most high-profile, respected business leaders in the UK. Also, Lady Michelle Mone, who was made redundant from a sales and marketing role at a brewing company before having a lightbulb moment which took her from designing bras to founder of the nation’s leading lingerie brand.
Ask those women the secret to success and you can bet your bottom dollar they wouldn’t say it was just down to genetics. As Karren Brady says on her website: “You can’t determine where you start in life, but you can determine where you end up.”
In other words, if people want to start their own business and really make it work, taking certain behavioural steps could help them on their journey. By adopting a different mindset, it will allow people to think and act like the successful entrepreneur they aspire to be.
Does gender make a difference?
It would be interesting to see from genetic studies whether a person’s gender impacts their probability of being entrepreneurs. As champions of Women in Business, we aim to address the different challenges and barriers facing women when they rise to the top of their profession at our forthcoming Women in Business event, to be held in Farnborough October 16-17. Only one third of UK entrepreneurs are women, so there is a pool of untapped female potential out there who just need the right support and guidance to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit.
Genetics and gender aside, there are skills and behaviours which could be learned to get people into the entrepreneurial mindset.
Here, we explore some of the most common traits of today’s successful business leaders:
An entrepreneurial mindset involves having a steadfast commitment to a defined vision. This unwavering focus remains throughout the up and downs and daily demands of running the business. The end goal should always be front of mind and that will drive you to carry out the necessary steps to accomplish your vision. Strategic planning and thinking are critical for every business owner. Keeping eyes fixed on the big picture means you can see what direction the industry is going in, identify challenges for the company and devise the right solutions to meet your overall initiatives.
A fundamental characteristic of all successful entrepreneurs is their level of confidence in both their ideas and their ability. Buyers and investors will only believe in ideas if the business owner truly believes in them themselves. Be open to constructive feedback or critique but stay completely convinced that your business idea will yield positive results and that you have the capacity to make it happen. Carrying out in-depth research into your business idea will help to dispel any doubts. Know your market, your USP and your key personal strengths to bolster your self-belief.
Take risks and embrace failure
Being willing to take risks and move outside of your comfort zone is all part of the journey. Entrepreneurs have amazing resilience and thrive off turning around negativity. Risks are inherent in any new venture and we are frequently told by those who have made it that failure is an inevitable part of success. It’s crucial that you frame failure as an opportunity to learn. The path to success will hopefully have an upwards trajectory but it is rarely a straight line. Any failure should drive you forward. Observe and absorb what you have learned and use it to progress.
Don’t be a one-man-band
Successful entrepreneurs leverage their strengths and understand that they can’t do everything. All business people are naturally better at some things and where there are areas of weakness or lack of knowledge that is the time to outsource and seek external help. Knowing that you can’t tackle every obstacle on your own is a strength. If bringing people in house is ruled out on financial grounds, hire consultants to look at the more complex, labour-intensive parts of the business. That will ensure you can focus on the overarching business strategy and not get bogged down by minutiae.
The ability to adapt to change quickly is a key entrepreneurial attribute. Whether there’s a new competitor springing on to the scene or dip in demand in the target market. Being flexible means having the courage and conviction to rethink a situation, keeping track of feedback about pricing, products and services and making tweaks when necessary. The path of an entrepreneur will occasionally go off course and flexibility is an important skill to keep you on track.
Christie Day is event director for Women in Business Expo, which takes place October 16-17 at Farnborough International Conference & Exhibition Centre