Entrepreneurs are just wired a bit differently from others. It sounds cliché, but they typically hold the belief that pretty much any problem can be solved if we have the time. Where most see problems, an entrepreneur sees opportunities.
by Matt Swyers author of The Maverick Method: How to Win the Startup Game
updated 07/21/2022 | 6 Min Read
As I have traveled down the road of entrepreneurship I have learned many lessons. Perhaps the one that sticks with me the most, as alluded to above, is that entrepreneurs are simply wired a little differently than others. We prefer structured risks where others seek security. We adapt and are challenged by obstacles where others lament their fate. We look for solutions and strive to achieve them where others are confined to what is readily known and accepted.
So if you are considering becoming an entrepreneur or if you already are and are wondering if you should remain as one here is a simple four-part test you can take to see if you are wired like an entrepreneur:
Are you a problem spotter or a problem solver? What’s the difference? A problem spotter is someone who can see a problem but offers no constructive solution to address the same. In life the majority of people you come across can see a problem but can do little to solve it. A problem solver is someone who can also identify a problem, but then can offer a constructive solution to resolve the same.
Over the years I’ve been involved in several start-ups. Some got off the ground. Some that did not. For those that failed to launch the vast majority did so because they were bogged down with problem spotters.
For instance, back in the late 1990s I was involved in two failed ventures that died because of problem spotters. Almost every meeting with commence with a discussion of what had been achieved since the last meeting vis-à-vis product development. Inevitably the Debbie Downers would start rattling off lists of “issues” they had spotted that would interfere with bringing the product to market. Mind you, the Debbies never proposed solutions. They just loved standing up and telling us how this would not work or that would be an issue. Seriously? “Thank you so much concerned citizen. Now sit down and let the grown ups talk!”
A problem solver is someone with true value. Not only can they spot a problem, they can also craft a solution to resolve the same. Importantly, they bring to the table a view that even if spotted we will get past the problem so let’s figure out a way to do so. Obviously everyone will vary in the quality of their resolutions. But the distinction between the two is critical.
Problem spotters only spot the problems. Entrepreneurs spot them and offer a solution therefore. So if you want to be an entrepreneur ask yourself, “Am I a problem spotter or a problem solver?” If you are not a problem solver the life of an entrepreneur may not be for you.
How do you view a challenge? Do you look at it as an obstacle that simply must be dealt with or do you view it as an opportunity to achieve and possibly even bring a new product or service to market?
The global COVID-19 pandemic hit businesses hard. One of my friends runs an online service business. At the start of the lock-down orders he did not believe it would survive. But as the lockdown moved from Spring into the Summer and his sales team maintained revenues he began to view the challenge of the pandemic as an opportunity to expand.
Before the pandemic the company had primarily existed in one centralized office. Now that everyone worked remotely what difference would it make if his employees worked from the same city or a completely different state or country?
In short, the challenge of the pandemic became an opportunity to re-think the business model and expand the business. So where some saw only a challenge, he realized it was an opportunity.
So how do you see the world? Filled with challenges or opportunities? Entrepreneurs see it filled with opportunities.
Another key factor for entrepreneurs is how they handle stress. Every job has stress. But entrepreneurs have to recognize that each day will often create new challenges and opportunities, new stresses, and they must be able to cope with the same and work through the issues causing the stress to achieve their objectives.
On one of my office walls is painted the iconic slogan “Remain Calm, Carry On.” To be an entrepreneur you must be able to function in the stress of the moment and be able to recognize that you may not know what tomorrow will bring, but stress will come, and you will have to get through it and carry on.
Awhile back, we hired someone at one of my companies who I knew was use to big corporate life. From the onset I had reservations as to whether he would fit in. Within days of him joining I had my answer.
At one point during a meeting he launched into his concerns over a certain aspect of our business which he felt contained significant structural flaws. I mean he brought it down like fire and brimstone and end-of-days type of stuff. He was so stressed out about this issue I thought I was going to have to open the bottle of Jack Daniels I keep in my office with the sign over it that reads “In Case of Emergency Fill Glass.”
To his surprise, after he had finished voicing his concern I simply looked up at him, smiled, and said “Thank you. I am aware of that issue. But, candidly, it is really not that big of a deal. Don’t stress over it. In the grand scheme of things I worry about at night I would place it about 37th on the list.” “Thirty-seventh?” he said incredulously. “Yeah, that’s about right.” I replied.
The situation revealed something very important about my then employee: he didn’t handle stress well and, in particular, the stress inherent in an entrepreneurial-type of venture. I often wonder if he sits up at night pondering what my top 10 were.
In the end, I believe that to be a successful entrepreneur you must be able to handle stress and function despite the existence of the same. Remain Calm, Carry On. How do you handle stress?
We all dream of a better tomorrow. Whether it is the oft-uttered “I’m going to quit my job and write the classic American novel” or “I’m going to open up my own business.” Dreams are a great break from reality and let our minds take us to places that provide freedom from the day-to-day challenges of our lives. But entrepreneurship does not treat dreamers kindly. That is not to say that being an entrepreneur and being a dreamer are mutually exclusive. Dreamers are often some of the best entrepreneurs. However, entrepreneurs must not only be dreamers but finishers as well.
What’s the distinction? A dreamer comes up with great ideas. Inspiration can come from anywhere. But what separates a dreamer who lays out vague cocktail-party plans for a business and a truly successful entrepreneur is the ability to finish.
Dreaming involves seeing a very narrow scope of the big picture and what the good or service could do and how it will be received by the consuming public. Finishing involves rolling up the proverbial sleeves and conquering all of the tasks that will be required to actually bring that product to market.
So are you a dreamer or a finisher?
In the end, if you are a problem solver, handle stress well, see opportunities where others see only challenges, and can finish the life of an entrepreneur may be for you. If not, you may wish to stay within the lines of a more defined path.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
By his 45th birthday MATTHEW SWYERS (pronounced sw-i-ers) had founded two multi-million dollar companies. Those companies, in turn, have helped to launch over 100,000 small businesses.
Confident that he knew something about successfully launching a business, he wrote a series of articles for Inc Magazine covering a wide range of topics from how to brand your new startup, to marketing, to everything else a small business needs to do to launch and thrive. Along the way a few of the articles were picked up by the The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, CNBC, and TIME magazine. Matt has devoted his life to learning and understanding what makes a successful startup so he can provide those strategies to you.