Hang around with lots of small business owners and not all are what one would call entrepreneurs. In fact, many are simply people that happen to own a job that pays the bills. Don’t get me wrong, these are good people, really good people, but calling them entrepreneurs sort of muddies the distinction. So what is the difference? What are the character traits that one possesses or actions that one endeavors that qualifies them for this often misused label?
I’ve been asked this question repeatedly and until now not come up with a distinction that captured it adequately. That is until I found myself in the kitchen with my wife.
I think describing the very different ways that my wife and I approach cooking can best capture the difference between how an entrepreneur and the rest of normal civilization view the world. My wife enters the kitchen, cleans up any lingering messes, imagines a meal, looks up a recipe, acquires the ingredients, carefully measures, mixes and serves the meal all the while cleaning up as she goes. This is, of course, a perfectly logical approach to eating and entertaining.
I, on the other hand, enter the kitchen, figure out what we have on the shelves, ponder combinations of things I like, decide how these things could be combined to make what I hypothesize would be something good to eat, taste, test, add, mix, add more, revel in the odd discoveries, pivot based on what I learn and whisk what seems reasonable onto the plate of anyone I can convince to eat. And, somehow every single pot and pan available gets pressed into service and dirtied.
My wife imagines a future meal based on what she knows and I imagine a future meal based on what I discover as I go, and that I think is as clear a distinction of the entrepreneurial mindset as I can illustrate. Entrepreneurs don’t learn by thinking, they learn by doing.
I had occasion recently to spend some time with Ned Hallowell, M.D., Ed.D., a child and adult psychiatrist, New York Times bestselling author and leading authority in the field of ADHD. Hallowell will tell you that an extremely high number of entrepreneurs share many of the same traits as the ADHD patients he has treated over the years. The primary difference is that they’ve been able to channel what is, for some, a debilitation into an asset. Hallowell’s research and treatment of persons with ADHD is shedding entirely new light on the power of this trait.
In the words of Dr. Hallowell, “In my opinion, ADHD is a terrible term. As I see it, ADHD is neither a disorder, nor is there a deficit of attention. I see ADHD as a trait, not a disability.” And there, perhaps, you have it – entrepreneurship is a trait, that unmet, untended or unleashed could be considered by some a disability – or you could imagine a world where you discover only by doing.