The make-up of entrepreneurs

One question I have always been fascinated by is what drives people to greatness? What compels certain people to take risk while others take comfort in security and complacency? The easy answer is: money. But is it?

Maurey Klein wrote a great book called “The Change Makers” which digs into the lives of some of the entrepreneurs who have shapes the 20th century. From Thomas Edison, to Carniege, Bill Gates and Sam Walton.. Klein unravels the deep-rooted drivers that are behind the relentless drive and unfathomed ambition of those people that led them to greatness.

I personally had the luck to meet a few people who shared those traits. Coupled with my years of reading on and thinking about this question, I have narrowed down to what I believe to be the key drivers of true entrepreneurs.

  1. A sense of deprivation: most entrepreneurs have a deep-rooted sense of deprivation or abandonment. This appears in different forms across some of the most profound entrepreneurs: whether it was austere poverty in their earlier life, lack of education, or a childhood where the father was away from home, or, in some cases, being born in a wealthy family where the wealth was inaccessible, most entrepreneurs seem to have had an experience of bitter deprivation that bred in them a drive to achievement. Almost like a self-perpetual mechanism to make up for their deprivation.
  2. Self-appreciation: another fallacy is that successful entrepreneurs have a big ego. In fact a key driver to their success has been their ability to suppress their ego for the greater goal. They knew their limitations exceedingly well and made up for them by hiring people smarter or better than them to complement their weaknesses. Those who led a privileged upbringing on the other hand have an inbuilt belief that they need to be the best at what they do. They were less inclined to ask the dumb questions or seek help which is key in entrepreneurship. How good you are bears much less significance than the knowledge of how good you are.
  3. Rejection: all successful entrepreneurs have faced rejection and loss in ways that stigmatized their development. Interestingly a very common form of this seems to have been of sexual nature. Feeling unwanted at a vulnerable stage of their life has driven many to accomplishment – a psychological path to winning the approval of others that they so lacked in their earlier years.
  4. High energy level: perhaps one of the few innate traits that seems to be a common denominator in many successful entrepreneurs is an exceedingly high level of natural energy. As per the laws of physics, energy needs to flow, to be transmitted from one state to another. People with high energy level have an intrinsic need to keep themselves occupied, invigorated, and excited. Indeed if they don’t they can find themselves plunged into depression, going from one extreme to another. Boredom is the biggest nemesis of people blessed with high energy levels, and fear of it had driven many entrepreneurs to venturing into the unknown.
  5. Determination. Entrepreneurs are naturally stubborn. They don’t like giving up, sometimes driving themselves to extremes. This is linked to the point above, regarding their energy level. Its not failure they fear – on the contrary they are accustomed to loss and failure – its boredom they fear.
  6. Practicality. Most entrepreneurs are very practical, not just in their businesses but also their personal life. They hate complicating things. They love simplicity. Again this is probably linked to their results-oriented mentality; they don’t let their ego get in the way.
  7. Non-conformity: like boredom, entrepreneurs hate conformity. They despise rules and regulations, loathe bureaucracy and red tape and cant stand conformity. Most successful entrepreneurs have had a history of breaking rules somewhere along their path, or not hesitating to break rules when the opportunity arose. Equally, they have been in many cases seen as outsiders. Social outcasts or just different. Not fitting in to any predisposed norms or groups. Contrary to common belief, entrepreneurs are deeply private people, often loners, people who enjoy their own company, yet exhibit phenomenal tenacity in exploiting relationships to fulfill their ambitions.

There will of course be others, but in my view these are some of the most fundamental traits characterizing entrepreneurs. Their commonalities aside, these people are very individualistic, often eccentric, possessing strong personalities that set them apart from the crowd. Despite sharing similar deep-rooted drivers, they are far from alike. Entrepreneurs are as unique in personality as their life journey and routes to accomplishment.

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