Can You Pick the Entrepreneurs From the Crowd?

It’s almost two years now since I had a go at listing traits of entrepreneurs. It started with somebody else’s 10 signs you’re probably an entrepreneur list and then I came up with my own list, a few days later, 10 Traits of Successful Entrepreneurs. winter scene

And even a couple of years later, I still like that list. As a holiday gesture*, I’m reproducing it here, on this post. This is my list from 23 months ago:

  1. There’s a lot of talk about P-words: passion, perseverance, and persistence. I mistrust all three. A lot of unsuccessful entrepreneurs have them just as much. You have to have some variation on these traits, but you can have all three and still fail. You and I both know people who never made it and never stopped trying. My favorite P-word in entrepreneurship is planning, but that’s just me. Stubbornness is good too, even without starting with P.
  2. I like empathy, as in understanding how other people think and feel about things. Empathy leads to understanding what the people you sell to want, what they need, how they think, and how to best reach them. It’s hard to imagine somebody building a company without being able to put themselves in the buyer’s state of mind.
  3. A sense of fairness. For dealing with vendors, customers, and employees.
  4. Transferable values. This is closely related to the sense of fairness. I just don’t see people building businesses without believing in what they’re doing.
  5. Willingness to work hard, shoulder to shoulder with other people. Cliche, but true: the harder I work, the luckier I get.
  6. Knowing what they don’t know. To me that’s much more important than what you do know.
  7. Listening carefully. Shutting up.
  8. Vision for what they can build. Imagining a happy future. Dreaming.
  9. Making mistakes. You have to deal with failure. Keep pitching.
  10. Jumping viewpoints, like from short- to long-term in an instant, mixing those viewpoints together. That’s like dribbling, keeping your eyes up while managing the ball at your feet.

That list also produced several very good comments. They add a lot.

Since then, I’ve been following these traits of entrepreneurs, watching the research, and the more I get into it, the more I doubt the whole idea. Sure, it’s fun to write about. But what makes us entrepreneurs is that we don’t fit molds. Regarding risk, leadership, passion, work-life balance, goals, and so many other things, the truth is we’re all over the personality trait map.

(* Holiday sounds like some kind of a gift from me to you, when it’s actually just revisiting some older posts, quite possibly because of LDMDD (Late December Motivation Disappearance Disorder — a phrase I first heard from Steve Woodruff on Twitter. So I’m admitting, the holiday gesture is self serving.)

(Image credit: Steve Weber/Shutterstock)


  • Why Going Soft Is Good For Business says:

    […] TweetDyke Drummond had an interesting quote in a comment to my list of entrepreneurship traits post last week: And I agree about EMPATHY. I think it is a very underused term because people think […]

  • What Does It Take To Make It In 2011? | Napkin Labs says:

    […] there isn’t one specific mold that makes a great entrepreneur, becoming more in tune with the social landscape of 2011 certainly can’t be anything but […]

  • Dike Drummond says:

    Hey Tim,

    Great list and on the first point … Passion is what leads to Persistence and Planning. AND I find this is a straight line if the entrepreneur realizes that the business is not theirs … it is something that comes through you. Once you realize you are a channel for the work that needs to be done and the people you are here to serve … it is a dis-service to NOT be successful. It is a dis-service to NOT plan and Persevere.

    And I agree about EMPATHY. I think it is a very underused term becaause people think it is “Soft” … and it is the core of any successful marketing campaign. You must be able to put yourself into the shoes of your prospect.

    My two cents,

    2011 – year of the entrepreneur !

    Dike Drummond

  • Frank Braker says:

    If you must fail, fail with both hands to the task.

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