For me, one skill that really stands out among some of these folks is their ability and willingness to listen. I’m not just talking about the level of listening where you remember what the other person said. And not the pollyannish notion of “I feel your pain.” I’m talking about the deeper level of listening that requires a mastery of body language, a genuine level of empathy and most important, a genuine interest and curiousity in the speaker or subject matter, or both. They are curious in either the person or the material, regardless of the person or material.
For now I have to live with occasionally not living up to other people’s expectations. And to telling people to bug me multiple times if I haven’t responded to an email that they deemed as important. If that’s you – I apologize now, in advance. I’m willing to accept that I’ll never be a black belt in email.
In my bones I’m convinced that entrepreneurs are more nature than nurture although I know both are involved. Many people want to cling to the “nurture” argument because it’s more pleasant. We all like to believe we can be taught to be great performers. We can be taught to be better – no doubt – but no necessarily to be truly exceptional. Because I believe in the nature more than nurture debate in humans I’m already biased to believe that you have certain characteristics as a child that make you more pre-disposed to be a successful entrepreneur. You may be a better communicator, have a higher IQ, be more of a natural leader, be more persuasive, be more analytical, etc. from a young age.
I said to Raffi that "you can't teach people to be entrepreneurs but you can teach entrepreneurs business." He replied to me that his research into the topic suggests that "there are no unique and defining characteristics of entrepreneurs" which leads him to believe that you can in fact teach people to be entrepreneurs. That threw me and I've been ruminating on his conclusion ever since. I've been working with entrepreneurs for almost 25 years now and it is ingrained in my mind that someone is either born an entrepreneur or is not.
I would love to say that I’m the productivity guru. Unfortunately my wife reads my blog and she’d log in and add comments to dispel this rumor (she keeps me honest. Like many of you, though, I’m always struggling with productivity drains and in search of improvements. I’d like to offer you two “life hacks” that I implemented.
Entrepreneurs make fast decisions and move forward knowing that at best 70% of their decisions are going to be right. They move the ball forward every day. They are quick to spot their mistakes and correct. Good entrepreneurs can admit when their course of action was wrong and learn from it. Good entrepreneurs are wrong often. If you’re not then you’re not trying hard enough. Good entrepreneurs have a penchant for doing vs. over-analyzing.
I often have career discussions with entrepreneurs – both young and more mature – whether they should join company “X” or not. I usually pull the old trick of answering a question with a question. My reply is usually, “is it time for you to earn or to learn?”
I’m not against MBA’s (I have one myself from University of Chicago and my lovely wife was graduated from Wharton). Many of my best friends have MBAs. But as someone who is in charge of recruiting, I feel like it adds a ton to the expectations of compensation without adding any additional value to me as an employer. I say this as somebody who recruited several Harvard, Wharton and similar MBAs at my first company (the one where I acknowledge that I made every mistake in the book). I paid up for the diploma but can’t say that I saw better results.
(1) Work 40 hours a week. (Working more feels like you’re doing more, but you’re actually doing less.) (2) Work below capacity (say 80%) during those 40 hours. (3) Consider spreading 40 hours across 4 days instead of 5. (4) Get the sleep you need; allocate 8 hours. (5) If you need a short productivity boost, work more for 3 weeks. But expect an equivalent reduction in productivity afterwards.