I'm sick of tests claiming that certain traits can make or break an entrepreneur.
Dozens of online articles and tests purport to reveal what kind of entrepreneur you are. Give them 20 minutes, and they will reveal your entrepreneurial category. Are you an Opportunist (Richard Branson), Innovator (Mark Zuckerburg), Darth Vader (Al Dunlap)?
The assumption behind these tests is that entrepreneurs are born, not made. As a third-generation entrepreneur, I admit it's comforting to believe I'm genetically encoded this way. I'm in. You're out. (You can stop reading now.)
But what we are really talking about here is eugenics -- identify a few desirable traits and, voila, the birth of an entrepreneur. Following this logic a bit further, we should expect to find future venture capitalists requesting a DNA sample as part of due diligence. Missing the SNPs for curiosity, risk-taking, creativity, boldness? Say goodbye to your funding!
So, let's dig into this logic. Do all entrepreneurs have these commonly cited attributes? Hardly. Many entrepreneurs emerge first out of need, such as a chronic unemployment, and grow into successful business people. Worse yet, some of these "core" traits are gender-biased. Thanks to Springboard Enterprises, a venture catalyst of women-led startups, we have learned over the last 12 years that women founders tend to be far less risk-taking than their male counterparts. It's one of the reasons why 80% of Springboard 500+ companies are still in business.
So what do entrepreneurs have in common? I think there are some common behaviors. Unlike our peers, we are willing to endure discomfort for unreasonably long periods of time. Our success often comes from our inexplicable need to stay the course until the market (luck) turns in our favor. Once our hard effort (that's table stakes) happens to align neatly with an expanding market, we look like mad geniuses... and then we clean up our entrepreneurial narrative in post.
So if there is one test that may be valid here, perhaps it's the marshmallow test. The test was part of a longitudinal study that tracked 5-year-old children after they showed the extraordinary ability to NOT eat a marshmallow for 15 minutes. Their ability to endure the discomfort of self-denial for an unreasonably long period of time -- 15 minutes for a five-year-old child is ridiculous -- corresponded to higher SAT scores and less likelihood to obesity and drug addiction.
Now that I think about it, though, I would have failed the marshmallow test miserably at 5, as would have most entrepreneurs I know, since they tend not to be the very best rule followers. Perhaps tolerance for discomfort can be learned after all.
InformationWeek breaks out its crystal ball to focus on the top challenges facing IT in 2014 and beyond -- and to offer expert insight into how to best meet those challenges. So whether you're struggling with big data performance, experiencing high anxiety about securing a rapidly proliferating portfolio of mobile apps, or just trying to keep your storage costs under control, this is the one event you won't want to miss. Register for the Trends2014 Live Event today. It happens Feb. 27 in New York.
The Business of Going DigitalDigital business isn't about changing code; it's about changing what legacy sales, distribution, customer service, and product groups do in the new digital age. It's about bringing big data analytics, mobile, social, marketing automation, cloud computing, and the app economy together to launch new products and services. We're seeing new titles in this digital revolution, new responsibilities, new business models, and major shifts in technology spending.
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 14, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.