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10 Subtle Ways Entrepreneurs Think Different


Entrepreneurs think differently, so much so that the average individual is baffled by how business really works. (Note, my nod in the article’s title to Apple’s cleverly misspelled campaign slogan, that according to your 8th grade English teacher would be a terrible idea).


I’ve seen inexperienced entrepreneurs fail over and over again by starting with assumptions they have about business and life that are very far from the reality of what actually works. The more experienced entrepreneurs, however, adopt certain characteristics, certain mindsets, that typically challenge conventional wisdom and especially their own assumptions. Here’s a quick list of the topics I’ll cover in this article along with a common misconception that laypersons must overcome to become entrepreneurs. I’ll dive in deeper in the paragraphs below.


10 Examples Of Entrepreneurial Thinking And Corresponding Misconceptions:


1. Perfection is a process.


“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”

—Bruce Lee


True perfection is not something that can ever be reached—it is an idea. With perfection in mind, many people give up very early in their entrepreneurial process. Don’t be ashamed to start out with something rough (in, fact be proud of it). Once you’ve put something out there and you keep working on it (as long as you stay committed) it perfects itself.


Reid Hoffman (the co-founder of LinkedIn, a company worth tens of billions of dollars) said that if you are not embarrassed by your first version of your product, you are probably launching too late. You can use perfection as your long-term target, but you’ll be better off recognizing your small wins of the moment. Beating yourself up over how imperfect you are leads to burnout. Learning to celebrate imperfect versions as a sign of progress can be a powerful tool as you pursue a project.



2. Money is worthless.


“Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value. He is considered successful in our day who gets more out of life than he puts in. But a man of value will give more than he receives.”

—Albert Einstein


Money has no value in and of itself. The reason most people put value in it, is because other people have told them it has value. Money is just a means of exchange, beyond that its paper (or nowadays numbers in your bank’s database).


What money is exchanged for, is what has value—and that is infinitely more important to grasp. Great entrepreneurs understand this; they create great value in other people’s lives, and as a result, they gain access to a great amount of money in return.



3. Leadership is about listening.


“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

—Stephen R. Covey


Contrary to popular opinion, leaders aren’t superheroes who can do anything and everything. To be a leader, you don’t just take your ideas and force them on others. You listen carefully to your team and your clients. (You probably listen to anyone and everyone thoughtfully). Through listening and asking the right questions, leaders of businesses deeply understand others’ needs. By understanding the needs in their communities, leaders help create the products, services, teams, and company culture that create alignment among the values and goals of multiple interested parties.


Learn to lead projects that align with customers’ and employees’ dreams and goals. This makes your project quite robust. When too many people have a stake in your project’s success, it’s much more likely to succeed. In sum, listen and then lead by aligning with the goals and dreams that you have heard from your most valued clients and team members.



4. It’s not a solo game.


"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."

—Helen Keller


Great entrepreneurs, even the ones that are known for their rugged individualism have built strong relationships and strong teams around them. Steve Jobs of Apple had engineer and programmer Steve Wozniak as a partner. Bill Gates of Microsoft had Paul Allen as a co-founder and Steve Ballmer as a CEO. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google hared Eric Schmidt, CEO, as "adult supervision" to their brash young startup.


The list goes on and on. There are larger teams of important players beyond the ones I’ve pointed out—and many of their names are not Steve. As much as we entrepreneurs would like to think otherwise, we can’t do much of anything in this world without teams and tribes.



5. Don’t get attached to ideas.


"Ideas Won't Keep. Something Must Be Done About Them."

—Alfred North Whitehead


Let’s face it, a lot of ideas are bad and you really ought not to get attached to them. This can be an extremely hard lesson for first-time entrepreneurs because we think of our ideas like our babies. We love and defend and protect them.


The truth is, most successful entrepreneurs don’t care about their own ideas as much as beginners and novice entrepreneurs do. The success of a business is about pursuing an idea in a way that is optimally productive. Let your ideas change, morph, and shift. Be ready to pivot to a totally new idea and be very ready to quickly trash bad ideas.


Did you know that Instagram started out as an app called Burbn? Burbn was as much about location sharing and location-based check-ins as photo sharing. Photo sharing was just one feature among others, including, making plans with friends and earning points to do so. User’s liked the photo-sharing aspect best and so the founders humbly dropped most other features. Burbn became Instagram (the founders liked bourbon, oh well) and the app’s growth skyrocketed.


Did you know that Youtube was originally a video-dating platform?! The original idea was so bad that Youtube resorted to offering to pay some users to upload videos! By letting go of one idea (that their mission was to foster romantic connections), they discovered that another idea (democratizing video sharing online), was their true purpose.


The takeaway: Be willing to pivot until you come up with something that the world really needs. Don’t fall in love with some hair-brained idea that you like to toss around at dinner parties.



6. Everything is an investment.


“Consider any purchase, large or small...How does that purchase improve or harm the other areas of your life?”

—Bryan Franklin and Michael Ellsberg


Here’s a modification of an example from the book, The Last SAFE Investment, from which the above quote is taken. The volume offers many wonderful perspectives on how to make smart investments in all areas of life…


Consider two people who have $60 and they want to go to a movie. One invites a couple of coworkers to zone out after work at an action-adventure movie and throws in money to spring for popcorn and soda (terrible investments themselves already and reverse investments in health).


The second person with $60 invites some driven and entrepreneurial acquaintances that they want to network with to a documentary about a cause they all care about. The second person also springs for a few waters and hosts a discussion of the film afterward. Can you see how the second has made an investment with his $60, while the first has basically thrown it out the window?


Something as simple as a night out at the movies, which is typically categorized as consumer spending on entertainment, can actually turn into an investment in your brain, your health, and your network.



7. It’s who you know but not how you thought.


"Networking is a lot like nutrition and fitness: we know what to do, the hard part is making it a top priority."

—Herminia Ibarra


You've probably heard people use the phrase “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know." They usually call out this aphorism because they got rejected for a competitive position or just generally feel like a failure in life. The logic goes like this: I don’t know powerful people, so I can’t ever be powerful.


The entrepreneur agrees that who you know is an important factor in your success. However, what they do is take control of their destiny and go out and meet the people they need to know to get where they want to go. You don’t need to be cynical or critical about it. It’s just being proactive and—heaven forbid—friendly!


By the way, networking is a place where many mistakes can be made. Nevertheless, every mistake is one worth making on the path to understanding how to do it right.


Cheryl Sandberg gives some sage advice in her book “Lean In” about how to find a mentor. She notes that reaching out cold to a successful person and asking for mentorship is a rookie mistake. The key to finding a mentor is in spearheading a project that is inspiring. Once you get something inspiring started, good mentors will come out of the woodwork to support and guide you.


8. You can start with nothing.


“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”

—Zig Ziglar


Even entrepreneurs that start with money need to know how to create value in order to keep their money and make more. One extraordinary collateral benefit of developing entrepreneurial behavior is that you can gain the superpower of generating wealth out of nothing. Truthfully, this is a non-cynical reason why the rich get richer. If you have two people, one that knows how to generate value and another that does not, the first will exponentially get wealthier until the second learns the skill of generating value.


Here is a famous example that shows how extremely successful a poor person can become. John Paul DeJoria is the billionaire co-founder of Paul Mitchell, a prominent hair products brand, and Patrón, an alcoholic spirits brand. He started working towards his first entrepreneurial endeavors when he was 22 and homeless! He and Paul Mitchell were able to turn $700 (just seven hundred dollars) into billions of dollars in value through hard work, creativity, and smarts.


Here’s a tip from John Paul DeJoria that highlights his understanding of value. He says that you don’t want to be in the selling business. You want to be in the reorder business. Your product or service should be so good that people want to reorder it or reuse it.



9. Obstacles become opportunities.


“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

—Marcus Aurelius


"A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral."

—Antoine De St-Exupery


Great entrepreneurs have learned that when they face a difficulty, there is almost always a way to turn it to their advantage. Most people give up when there is a rock in their path. The entrepreneur carves a statue, sells it, and then someone else pays them to haul it away.


If you don’t feel skilled at turning obstacles into opportunities here is a simple exercise that you can use to prime your creative brain...


Anytime you encounter something that feels negative, come up with three positive aspects. A rainy day is good for the flowers. A sweltering hot day is great for swimming or sun tanning. Sick home from work? It’s a wonderful opportunity to take a rest and reflect.



10. Mental models need to shift


“Change is painful, not nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong”

—Mandy Hale


Many people use the same heuristics over and over to guide their behavior for way too long. The logic is that if it worked in the past, it will continue to work in the future. The truth is, our mental models need to shift and grow as we do.


Here’s a simple example: A kid goes out and sells candy for a fundraiser. They raise a ton of money by hamming it up as that sweet and adorable neighbor kid that everyone fawns over. Who doesn’t want to buy candy from an adorable 12-year-old?


Ten years later the cuteness model doesn’t work. There was nothing wrong with it then, but a 22-year-old is playing a different game with a different set of rules. It may take more grit, perseverance, and strategy to sell something at 22 than at 12.


But that doesn’t mean one cannot pick up a few tricks that provide an upper hand at 22. People are quick to forgive a 22-year-old for making bold, brash decisions, even if they don’t pan out right. Another ten years later, they’ll have a different advantage. A 32-year-old will start to be trusted for their putative experience, but then less mistakes will be tolerated.


Changes in mental models don’t just change with your age. They’ll apply in different businesses, positions within businesses, industries, stages of growth, locations, or even different days of the week. Facebook ads that get a ton of conversions on a Wednesday might totally fail on a Saturday due to user traffic patterns.



In sum, entrepreneurial thinking and behavior is simply different than what you'll find in other domains. This doesn't make entrepreneurs better than anyone. Other thoughts and behaviors will be better suited to other domains. But the fact remains: if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur you've got to think different.


This article has been authored by me, Eathan Janney. I'm a coach that helps entrepreneurs make the money, have the career and achieve the dreams that they deserve. If you need help in getting started or getting farther with your business check out this free download on my Four Pillars of Growth and Achievement and conquer your day and your destiny under any circumstances.