Here’s a hint: it’s not creativity Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
I was meeting with a recent college graduate who’d just moved to my city and was looking for opportunities to get involved in the startup ecosystem. He was, according to him, planning to launch his own company soon. In those situations, I always like to learn more about why someone is interested in entrepreneurship, so I asked him, “Why do you want to be an entrepreneur and build your own company?”
“I’m very creative,” he answered matter-of-factly, as though that answer was supposed to tell me everything I needed to know.
“What does being creative have to do with entrepreneurship?” I asked.
He seemed unhappy with my response. His reply was almost angry. “I’m good at coming up with creative ideas,” he insisted.
Maybe it was his tone, or maybe I was just in an antagonistic mood, but, rather than backing off my questioning, I ramped it up. “What makes you think entrepreneurs are good at coming up with creative ideas?” I responded.
“What do you mean ‘what makes me think entrepreneurs are good at coming up with creative ideas?’” he answered. “They have to be good at it. That’s how they become successful.”
“Is it?” I replied. “Why would you say that?”
“Because it’s obvious,” he shot back. “Amazon. Facebook. Uber. Coinbase. Tesla. Even Henry Ford and the Model T. Those were all started by entrepreneurs who had creative ideas.”
“Really?” I asked him. “You think those successes are based on creativity?”
“Of course they are,” he told me. “What else would they be based on?”
“Good operations. Strong leadership. Great technology. Solid timing. Probably lots of luck, too,” I told him. “Whatever the case, I probably wouldn’t list creativity in the 100 of reasons why any of those companies have been so successful. At least not creative in the sense you’re using the term. Instead, the entrepreneurs who created those companies did what successful entrepreneurs usually do and applied new technologies to old problems. Amazon allowed people to shop using the Internet, but it’s not like Jeff Bezzos invented the idea of shopping. He didn’t even invent the idea of shopping online. Facebook allows people to socialize, but they were socializing long before Zukcerberg came along, both online and offline. Coinbase is basically a bank, but for digital currency. Uber helps you get from one place to another in someone else’s car… which sounds a lot like a taxi. And Tesla is basically built off the back of Henry Ford, who, by the way, didn’t invent cars. He just applied technology and logistics to car production in order to make it faster and more efficient so cars could be more affordable.”
“Oh yeah,” the entrepreneur said. “I guess I hadn’t considered that.”
“Mind you, I’m not trying to minimize what any of those entrepreneurs accomplished,” I clarified. Their companies have all made incredible impacts on society. I’m just not sure I’d use the word ‘creative’ to describe the defining quality of someone who’s a successful entrepreneur.”
“Then what word would you use?” the young entrepreneur asked.
It was a good question, and I had to think about it for a few moments until I realized the answer was staring me in the face. I laughed when I responded, knowing he wouldn’t like what I was about to say: “They’re entrepreneurial.”
As I’d expected, he rolled his eyes in disappointment, so I explained myself. “I promise I have a good reason for giving that answer,” I assured him. “Think about it this way: as a species, humans create words to describe all the different phenomena in the world. Well… entrepreneurship is its own type of thing, and that’s why we have a unique word for it.
“I don’t mean entrepreneurs can’t be creative,” I continued. “They can also be smart, thoughtful, funny, quiet, good leaders, great husbands, amazing golfers… whatever. But if the reason you think you’d be a good entrepreneur can be articulated as one singular quality about yourself, I worry about that.”
“Then what should I be good at in order to be a successful entrepreneur?” he asked.
“Anything and everything,” I told him. “Entrepreneurs figure out how to do whatever needs to be accomplished in order to create successful, sustainable ventures. If that means being creative, be creative. But if that means being the least creative, least innovative person imaginable, then you have to do that, too. The point is, be flexible and adaptable because the worst thing you can do to be a successful entrepreneur is define yourself by one thing.”Do you want more lessons about startups and entrepreneurship? Take a (FREE) mini-course with me right now!
What’s the Biggest Strength of Every Successful Entrepreneur? was originally published in Entrepreneur's Handbook on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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