If you haven't seen this year's list just wait. In clockwork-like fashion, every year a list appears of the skills necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur. The order may change, but the usual suspects rarely do. Vision, determination, focus, creativity, and the ubiquitous risk taking, regularly make the "Top 10", with salesmanship, confidence, and luck making regular appearances.
Here's the problem: a shopping list isn't what you need. An understanding is. Most would-be entrepreneurs think they possess all or most of these skills, and yet year in and year out most still fail. What those skills mean in the context of entrepreneurship and what you must do with them is the true difference maker.
Success, especially in entrepreneurship, results from a combination of skills. Though they are often talked about in rank order of importance, their value doesn't result from a formula, but instead from a fluid mix of these skills that's driven by the variables of each situation. The odds of finding your own successful combination in any one moment rise dramatically when you understand how these skills come into play and what they really offer to the unique demands of entrepreneurship. Briefly exploring five of the most important skills makes this clear.
1. Risk Taking.
That risk taking ended up on the top traits list in a 2014 study by Gallup of Inc. 500 founders was no shocker. (It was high on the list in their most recent study in 2017 as well.) After all, the mythology equates entrepreneurship with risk taking. But hidden in the details of that 2014 report was this most important observation: risk taking is a combination of optimism and mitigation. On the one hand, successful founders have a willingness to see beyond the downsides that would deter most (optimism). But that doesn't automatically classify them as Las Vegas-crazy dice rollers. Successful entrepreneurs actively take steps to mitigate risk early and continuously, thereby helping them to avoid a moment of finality where risk turns into failure. What the rest of us call risk is for successful entrepreneurs a calculated learning and experimentation process. Pure dice rolling risk takers never make it.
While creative ideas and innovative products get all the attention, creativity in entrepreneurship is less about the breakthrough idea and far more about the habits of border crossing and openness. Successful entrepreneurs aren't successful because of single ideas. Instead, they successfully see opportunities others miss because they constantly explore beyond what they know and remain open to whatever data comes back at them. Does every foray into the unknown lead to a breakthrough? Of course not. But the practice of open-minded border crossing raises the frequency and the odds, not only of having breakthrough ideas, but of them being successfully realized.
For the successful entrepreneurs being determined doesn't mean being bullheaded stubborn. What it really means is taking the long view, something that can be very hard to do in the pressure cooker dynamic that is entrepreneurship. The ability to remember that seeing 'what could be' takes time, involves miscues and missteps, and demands the tenacity to remain open to new ideas and new ways, takes a rare determination to stick with the journey. Hidden within this insight is another key to success: Such determination is the product not of one but of many. Entrepreneurship is not a solo journey, and the ability of the entrepreneur to remain steadfast, open, and creative quite literally requires others. It's the collective that turns individual determination into true staying power, a far more valuable asset than raw tenacity.
4. Focus On Metrics.
Another little gem hidden in the small print of the 2014 Inc.-Gallup study is the insight that what makes a focus on metrics truly valuable isn't proving that your venture can hit its numbers. It's the wisdom of remembering that each goal and each measure is simply an indicator of progress towards something greater. It sounds simple, but the frequency with which this true purpose of metrics is lost is both stunning and derailing.
From the outside looking in we might interpret confidence as cockiness. On occasion it is. But its true value reflects something far more important, powerful, and less boastful: belief. One of the most consistent patterns across hundreds of successful entrepreneurs is their deep belief that the world needs what they are trying to do. It isn't arrogance. Instead, they've looked out into the world and seen a need or opportunity no one is addressing. They fully believe that said world would be better off if someone filled that need. The entrepreneur that steps forward to fill the void because they believe it matters and not simply because of a desire to make a buck tends to take more calculated risk, be more open to ways to deliver on the vision, remain determined to see their undertaking through, and to use measures of progress in the right ways and the right times. As with all the entrepreneurial skills listed here, it's a subtle but important difference leading to a very different kind of confidence. It results in a very different sort of entrepreneur: the successful one.