Often, I am asked how one can identify the difference between an entrepreneur who will succeed and an entrepreneur who will not. I have spent many years developing processes to try to answer this question. The academic literature abounds with definitions of what an entrepreneur is, and of what psychological characteristics will produce a higher probability of success. Yet, to date, there is no definitive psychological typology of an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes; there are the extroverts and the introverts. There are those with high IQs and those with low IQs, and those with high EQs and, of course, many with low EQs. In some countries, a higher level of education is an indicator of success, while in others the opposite is true. There have always been too many exceptions to be able to confidently announce that one single characteristic is the determinant of a successful entrepreneur.
I would like to boldly stick my neck out make the statement that there is one characteristic that is present in every successful entrepreneur – and that is curiosity.
Curiosity must be the quintessential characteristic of the successful entrepreneur. Einstein put it so well when he said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” And it is that questioning that keeps us moving forward. Curiosity, I believe, drives entrepreneurs to answer two questions: “How far can this idea go?” and “Who am I?”
How far can this idea go? Have you ever wondered why the likes of Branson keep expanding their business empires? Do you think Raymond Ackerman needs more money from the next Hypermarket that opens up in your area? So why do they do it? I believe that it is their curiosity that drives their behaviour. Imagine the excitement of opening up your business in 1970 and then, some decades later, reaching 100 branded businesses. Do you think you could just stop there or would you want to find out if you could reach 200 branded businesses? And if, in 2008, you reached 200 branded businesses with revenues exceeding $17billion employing 50 000 people, would you stop there or would you see how far this idea could really go?
Somewhere – intertwined in the curiosity of finding out how far your business idea will take you – is the other curiosity of who you, the entrepreneur, really are. The tumultuous ride of the entrepreneurial journey will, all too often, bring you face-to-face with your perceived boundaries and limits. Each encounter with these limits will force you to introspect and make a decision to succumb or move on. It is the curiosity of wanting to find out that pushes you to your newfound abilities.
Opportunities are unveiled when the curious mind asks why. Howard Schultz is synonymous with the Starbucks story. What many people do not know is that Starbucks was founded not by Schultz, but by Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegel and Gordon Bowker. Schultz was the vice-president of a company called Hammarplast that made upmarket kitchenware and homeware. Shultz was looking over some sales data and wondered who this company in Seattle was that was ordering so much stock. His curiosity got the better of him and he got on to a plane and flew to Seattle to find out more. The rest is history. Today, Starbucks has over 3 000 stores worldwide.
Whether you are opening coffee shops or airlines, the cruelty of this pursuit to find out more is that the more one asks why and the more one finds out the answers, the more new questions manifest. It is a never-ending journey forward into possibility.