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What separates an entrepreneur from you or me?
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to think there’s something different about them. Perhaps even special. But that’s often because we only hear about entrepreneurs in the context of business owners and tech startup CEOS.
But let me tell you a secret: even the most successful entrepreneurs are human beings. They eat, sleep, and make mistakes like the rest of us.
The difference is they cultivated a set of skills conducive to creative thinking, growth, and adaptability. In this way, entrepreneurship is a mindset more than anything else — and you can learn it, too. You don’t even have to own a business! The entrepreneurial mindset is valuable whether you're a Fortune 500 leader or an intern at a local NGO.
Do you have what it takes? I bet you do.
Let’s dive in.
What is entrepreneurial thinking?
A “mindset” refers to the specific behaviors, attitudes, and thought processes that prompt our decisions. It encompasses how we view situations, obstacles, and our mental faculties.
Our thought processes can be positive, negative, or anywhere in between. A negative mindset can blind you, clouding your judgment with doubt and uncertainty, while a positive mindset opens your mind to the possibilities of a situation. This gives you a more well-rounded view of a situation, helping you adapt and approach things creatively.
Entrepreneurial thinking is very much a positive and resilient mindset. People with this mind frame see new opportunities where others only view risk. They’re constantly generating ideas to solve everyday problems and are unafraid of advocating for their views or pursuing their ideas on their own.
Though you may believe that this mode of critical thinking is exclusive to business professionals, anyone can benefit from adopting such a perspective.
The importance of having an entrepreneurial mindset
An entrepreneurship mindset isn’t exclusive to high-level business execs. This characteristic can benefit anyone, whether you’re working at an entry-level role, are mid-career at a large corporation, or striking out on your own.
This perspective is all about professional development, embracing your mistakes, and turning that into motivation and hustle to reach higher heights. Here are some of the benefits of embracing this kind of thinking:
- You’ll learn to overcome challenges. Being entrepreneurial means identifying challenges and overcoming them. It also means learning new skills, so you have a bigger toolbox with which to fix problems. Not only does Forbes say resilience is a top skill valued by employers, but it will also help you in your life and career.
- You’ll think outside the box. Sometimes the best way to overcome a challenge is to ditch conventional wisdom. If you develop your creativity, you can solve problems in ways you haven’t thought of before.
- You can influence and inspire people. You don’t have to change the world to make an impact. As an entrepreneurial person, your skills can make a difference for your team and community.
- You’ll have a stronger sense of self. When you have an entrepreneurial spirit, you take ownership of your ideas, goals, and dreams. You know your purpose, skills, and weaknesses and have a strong sense of identity. With this kind of self-awareness, you’ll boost your self-esteem and elevate your team.
5 characteristics of an entrepreneurial mindset
Many qualities define the mindset of an entrepreneur. Here are some of the most prominent ones:
Self-directed learning is necessary to achieve any goal, whether private or professional. You’re your best cheerleader and your best asset when the time comes to act.
It’s wise to partner with others and get support from those who can provide it. But a certain level of independence and faith in your own abilities is necessary to keep moving forward.
Taking ownership of your triumphs and errors is a trait of any good entrepreneur. This empowers you and allows you to reflect on how your actions impact yourself and others, what you’ve learned from your mistakes, and everything you’ve accomplished.
The best entrepreneurs are focused individuals who prioritize their goals and follow an action-oriented trajectory to achieve them. Knowing what you want to do is the first step to achieving success.
Mistakes and failures come with the territory of taking risks and having an entrepreneurial spirit. Bouncing back and moving forward despite challenges and adversity will help you grow, learn, and build your problem-solving skill set.
5. Willingness to experiment
Playing it safe, though a solid option, only takes you so far. People with an entrepreneurial mindset don’t shy away from failure.
Even when experiments don’t have ideal outcomes, it’s still meaningful. Testing out different business plans or management methods, gathering feedback, and making tough decisions are all a part of this process. Sometimes you need to know when to shift your focus to another project or angle you hadn’t considered before.
How to develop an entrepreneurial mindset
Anyone can cultivate the right mindset. Seeking out like-minded individuals, new ventures, and experiences and continuing to grow your knowledge of this particular realm is a great place to begin.
Here is a list of tips to help you develop an entrepreneurial mindset:
1. Set clear goals
Manifesting your dreams on paper or out loud can be the spark you need to start. Outlining where you plan to go can act as a visual reminder of your goals. It can also encourage you to reflect on your accomplishments and direction.
These goals could apply to your business, career, or personal life. Entrepreneurial success usually applies to business owners, but your entrepreneurial skills will help any of your ambitions.
2. Practice being decisive
Entrepreneurs, students, parents, and everyone in-between must make decisions daily. It's an all but mandatory life skill. If you can’t make up your mind, you won’t make progress.
Fortunately, it's an easy task to practice — you can start small, like ordering at a restaurant, and then work your way up to significant moments.
3. Redefine failure
You can’t avoid failure, and life is full of them. All you can do is face challenges head-on and turn them into learning experiences.
While it does take time, exhibiting a conscious effort to alter your mindset will dramatically benefit you in the long run. Mental wellness will improve your performance and lead to self-love, and you’ll forget what failure ever meant.
4. Face your fears
Fear is inevitable in your professional and personal life. Engaging with situations outside of your comfort zone helps you grow. Addressing and analyzing what worries you will get you one step closer to achieving your goals. Remember: vulnerability is healthy.
5. Remain curious
Let your inner child run free and wonderous. Always be curious about your competition, current trends and events, new technologies, new people, and new business ideas. Sign up for webinars and listen to podcasts about your industry. Before you know it, you’ll be among the successful businesses you’ve heard about.
The benefits of an entrepreneurial mindset in the workplace
Encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset can do wonders to your workplace. A work culture based on entrepreneurism is:
- More resilient. Everyone is willing to try new things and learn from their mistakes. This means your team is ready to adapt to rapidly-changing work environments.
- Collaborative. Entrepreneurial people are curious, ask a lot of questions, and know how to ask things of others. Stack your team with people like this, and they’ll work together like a fine-tuned machine.
- Solutions-oriented. No problem is insurmountable. An entrepreneurial work culture thrives on a good challenge.
- High-performing. These people are on the cutting edge. With an entrepreneurial mindset, your team will constantly expand their skills so they can rise to new heights.
Examples of entrepreneurial behavior in the real world
What does entrepreneurship look like in the real world? Here are some examples to inspire you.
1. Thomas Edison
A historical example of entrepreneurial behavior is Thomas Edison. He modeled creativity and adaptability when he invented the lightbulb. He saw a need for a small enough lighting solution for the home that used very little electricity. This product didn’t exist yet — so he made it happen.
It took him over a year to make his product work, despite his plan to have it done in three to four months.
A lot of people would give up after month six. But, to quote the man himself, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Talk about positivity.
2. Steve Jobs
Another example of the entrepreneur mindset in action is Steve Jobs.
After being fired from Apple — the company he started — he could have given up. But he instead became the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, changing the face of animated film-making.
Then, upon his return to Apple, he spearheaded the creation of the iPod and the iPhone — products that brought the company back from the brink and made it the juggernaut we know today.
Jobs’ story adds weight to one of his favorite quotes of his: “It’s impossible to fail if you learn from your mistakes. Don’t give up.”
3. Nelson Mandela
It takes an entrepreneurial spirit to enter politics — even more so if it means opposing a system bent on curtailing human rights.
Such was the case for Nelson Mandela. Early in his adult life, he became a leader of a youth equal rights group, opposing the Apartheid policies of the South African government. He would go on to become President of South Africa, where he implemented policies that would help heal and unity his country.
This is entrepreneurship in a different sense. Mandela saw the potential for a better future and set about building it — something we can all do in our everyday lives.
As Mandela put it, “One of the most difficult things to do is not to change the society but to change yourself.”
4. J. K. Rowling
If entrepreneurship requires creativity, creative fiction is very much an entrepreneurial endeavor. J.K. Rowling embodied this sentiment when she created the popular Harry Potter book series, inspiring a generation of kids with her writing.
But sometimes a good idea isn’t good enough. Her first book in the series was rejected by 12 different publishing houses before someone accepted it. Had she given up after the first letter, the world would have never experienced the magic of Hogwarts.
Speaking vicariously through Ginny, a character in her book, Rowling reminds us, “Anything's possible if you've got enough nerve."
5. The people you don’t hear about
Rowling, Mandela, Jobs, and Edison embody the entrepreneurial mindset and exemplify how it can change the world.
But let’s not forget that some people don’t make the same headlines but impact their communities. Think of the boss that inspires her team, the volunteer who started a fundraiser to help sick kids, or the family who runs your favorite restaurant.
These people aren’t waiting for something to happen. They’re doing the work to address a need while achieving their own goals, dreams, and aspirations.
Anyone can embrace the entrepreneurial mindset
You don’t have to run a business to be an entrepreneur. The entrepreneurial mindset is about taking ownership of your work and using your abilities to tackle challenges and make an impact.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, you can start today. Examine your workflow and ask, “How can I do this better?” Listen to your colleagues. What do they complain about, and how could their problem be solved? Or, if you’re feeling bold, make a plan for that online business of your dreams.
If you don’t know where to start, BetterUp is here. Designed to help individuals realize their potential, BetterUp is dedicated to healthy human transformation through career development and building social connections. We aren’t going to sugarcoat it: focusing on and improving yourself and your skills is hard work, but we’re here to encourage you.
Partner with a BetterUp coach to see how you can embrace aspects of the entrepreneur approach in your own life.