Learning how to become an entrepreneur is a matter of experience and education. I've often wondered whether you can be a great entrepreneur without the hard experiences that come along with it, but my guess is there's no substitute for getting out and doing it.
On the education side, however, I do think there are ways to learn how to become an entrepreneur. I've always been a big advocate for having mentors and people who are experienced with running businesses around you, and I've always had an informal alliance with experienced entrepreneurs who give me advice from time to time.
There are also some very good reads that have made a big difference in my entrepreneurial education. Here are a few that have been invaluable to me:
1. Growing a Business by Paul Hawken
This book was written in 1988 and I don't think it has maintained its popular appeal, which disappoints me because it is so, so good. Hawken started his career as an environmentalist, so he likens growing a business to growing a plant. He provides helpful insights on how to methodically grow a business in the right way based upon core principles that work.
Growing a Business is a very easy read, but it is also profound. He writes in a style similar to Confucius, breaking down complex principles into easily digestible information.
2. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
To me, Think and Grow Rich is a truly strange book because Hill goes a little far with some abstract ideas on how the world is organized. However, the first five or six chapters were life-changing for me. He teaches the importance of how we think and how this relates to outcomes in our lives.
I was really moved by the central theme of his book, which is that "thoughts are things." After reading it, I became much more careful about how I thought about things. Many famous entrepreneurs have attributed their success to this book, and I really understand why.
By the way, the story behind Napoleon Hill and the book is compelling. The basis of the book is dozens of interviews that Hill did with highly successful people and the advice they gave to him. So, in a way, even though the book is almost 100 years old, it is a reduction of the lessons learned by many other people, some of whom include Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and John D. Rockefeller.
3. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
I did not read this book for a long time because I thought Carnegie really messed up the title of the book, which seems to connote persuading or manipulating people. In fact, How to Win Friends and Influence People is really about how to work effectively with people, which seems like a platitude but is so much more than that. He gives practical advice on how to manifest seeing things from other people's perspectives.
It's difficult to reduce an entire book into a simple paragraph, but the essence of the book is how to get more out of life by giving people what they want. To me, it's almost a counterintuitive philosophy book because, as humans, we're typically only thinking about what we want to get from things.
One part of the book always makes me laugh when I think about it because I'm an animal lover. I'm paraphrasing, but Carnegie says, "What is the most beloved thing in the world?" Then he answers the question by pointing to a dog, and he further explains why everyone loves dogs. Dogs are happy to see you; they want to please. They are generally fairly jolly. When you think about your life, who are the people you want to be around? You want to be around people who like you, are happy, and are likable.
Listen to other experienced people, go out and do -- there is no substitute for trying -- and read good information. That's the only way I know.