Some businesspeople are ‘born entrepreneurs’, but that doesn’t mean entrepreneurialism is invariably innate. Whatever the character traits or skillset of an entrepreneur, their mindset sets them apart. That entrepreneurial mindset can also be self-made – and nurtured by an enlightened employer.
Defining the entrepreneurial mindset
Most business gurus and researchers agree that the entrepreneur’s mind concentrates a laser-like focus on market opportunity and how to exploit it. That inspiration may come in a eureka-like epiphany. But a thorough analysis of customers’ needs and emergent technologies in different fields could also join the dots to create a new business line.
Such techniques, and ways of thinking, can be thought or nurtured. Learnt behaviour can also help develop the other defining elements of the entrepreneur’s mindset – resourcefulness, agility, perseverance, and courage.
Influential entrepreneurs are resourceful people. They draw on their personal resources (including these enabling attitudes and skills) and leverage information, a team, and other support, including finance. Many start-ups fail for lack of capital, specialist expertise or an ecosystem, if not market knowledge.
The right attitude to failure
Failure hurts. But it’s part of any innovative process. Learning from failure and not losing confidence is crucial. This is why it takes a particular mindset and determination to persevere and adapt rather than give up and look elsewhere.
It’s harder to learn from failure when listening to our self-critical inner voice. Our brains have helped us sense danger as we’ve evolved, so it seems safe and sensible to be risk-averse. But that can be a barrier to innovation and experimentation.
The entrepreneur recognises the risks but is sufficiently self-aware to separate this natural fear of failure from their vision of the opportunity and the potential rewards. It takes courage not only to pursue your convictions in the face of serial failure but also to hold oneself to account.
The ability to adapt
Blind faith won’t learn lessons from this iterative process of testing ideas, evaluating results and feedback, and continuously adjusting and adapting the original concept. The entrepreneurial mindset is open to change and challenge. It is also willing to recognise that a cherished belief was wrong and take a different tack.
This agility enables the entrepreneur to continue refining and improving a new product or service idea. And to pivot, where necessary. It could mean taking the latest offering to a different market or vertical or changing the business model rather than a wholesale change of strategy.
The entrepreneurial mindset goes against the grain of corporate rules and hierarchical structures. But businesses need to be to agile and innovative too.
How can you foster an entrepreneurial mindset?
There are various strategies. From Lockheed Martin’s P-80 fighter jet in the 1940s to more recent examples at 3M, ‘skunk-works’ projects give employees almost free rein to develop new products. More typically, large companies rely on separate R&D departments. Others nurture spin-outs, the fledgling businesses designed to operate at arm’s length. Corporates such as Nestlé tap into entrepreneurial flair through incubator and accelerator programmes, as well as acquisition.
It is vital to reward employees for ground-breaking effort. Even if the fruits prove not to be commercial, rewarding employees helps develop, retain and attract people with the right mindset. Businesses may also require a structural change to speed up decision-making and avoid R&D silos divorced from customers’ needs. However, often the more fundamental and challenging change is cultural. Given the pace of technological change and disruption risks, an innovation culture is now a must-have for a sustainable business.