What do you do if you’re an entrepreneur and you want to be the next Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos?
Those who are world-class in “entrepreneurial ability” have a huge amount in common, as different as the founders of Apple and Amazon might appear on the surface.
They have similar skills, which come from similar “mental representations” – the complex picture they have in their heads of how to undertake entrepreneurial activities.
This picture is a mix of cognitive, behavioural, emotional and motivational elements – it’s their brain telling them what to do, how to feel, how to make choices, how to frame their reality. And these similar mental representations come from similar practices, habits and routines.
“All” you have to do to become a world-class entrepreneur is develop the same practices, habits and routines. So what do they look like?
One of them is about how world-class entrepreneurs frame risk: they embrace the outsider in themselves and engage in proactive, calculated risk-taking based on this maverick identity.
It’s not so much how much risk they take, it’s how they view it. You see this in Richard Branson, and how he looks the same way at hot-air ballooning around the world as at taking on British Airways with a single plane.
What was sometimes referred to as Steve Job’s “reality distortion zone” is really a willingness to frame risk-return relationships in an optimistic way, rather than with the status quo biases most of us apply. Mr Jobs would start with an inquisitive orientation and translate “high risk” into “potentially very high return if executed well”.
This does not mean that only rose-coloured glasses are needed to be a world-class entrepreneur. They are teamed with routines of constant hustle and relentlessness.
As with those who are world-class at anything, the best entrepreneurs work hard at making opportunities succeed. Most of them tried numerous entrepreneurial ventures while teenagers, many of which were failures, but sowed the seeds for learning from hard experience.
They’ve then practiced over and over. They may have been born with some entrepreneurial genes, but they weren’t “born entrepreneurs” – they have become entrepreneurs through constant practice at becoming more of who they are.
A prime example of this marriage of maverick and marathon runner is Jeff Bezos, whose “Day 1” philosophy means the company must retain the freshness and vision of its first day of operating forever.
“The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly,” Mr Bezos has said.
“If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.”
These sentences are an encapsulation of both Bezos’ creative reframing of risk and his relentless pursuit of improvement, a hybrid that recurs across the world’s best entrepreneurs.
Learn and practice
My company has spent the past two years researching human potential. What resulted is a methodology, what we call Potentiology, that maps a clear pathway for leaders and entrepreneurs to develop world-class capabilities.
What we found was that to be the best, you can’t simply emulate the behaviours of the world’s most successful people. That’s like trying to win a Grand Slam by walking out on court and trying to play like Roger Federer or Serena Williams. The key is in establishing learning routines and practising them.
This requires you to practice your inquisitive orientation, your risk framing, your hustle and persistence. It also requires you to become more self-aware than before: to use both your successes and failures to recognise your gaps, change your habits, then reinforce those habits through daily routine.
This is simple but it is not easy. You will need to be relentless in your willingness to improve, and to delay gratification.
About the Author:
Anthony Mitchell is the co-founder and Chief Potential Officer of Bendelta. He is an internationally recognised thought leader in strategic leadership. He has been advising companies internationally for the last 25 years, working across more than 30 countries on five continents advising clients ranging from leading multi-nationals and listed companies to major government agencies and not-for-profits.