Walking the Line: The Entrepreneur's Mindset

This summer, I asked Jan Bouten, a partner with Innova in Memphis about what he looks for in an entrepreneur as an investor. "Beyond the term sheet, what is the key intangible that you look for as an investor?" I asked.

His answer was clear. It's all about mindset. Specifically, is the entrepreneur coachable?

The Entrepreneurial Mindset

Entrepreneurs come in all shapes, types and from a myriad of perspectives. So what is the entrepreneurial mindset?  Is there a mindset that the most successful entrepreneurs have in common?

"Coachability" is so subjective, and one could definitely argue that Steve Jobs, one of the most iconic entrepreneurs of the 20th Century, was most definitely not coachable. Yet none of us can argue the impact of his work on technology and on our world.

So what is the mindset that allows all types of entrepreneurs--coachable or not--to succeed? Is it persistence? Perhaps.

But I think there is a mindset that is more fundamental to the startup founder's success.

Beyond Coachable - The Growth Mindset

Noted Stanford researcher, Dr. Carol Dweck has spent decades studying what makes people successful. She has distilled it down to what she calls the growth mindset.  This mindset is characterized by the belief that one's skills, intelligence, and personality are not fixed, but grow with the individual.

Although being coachable is important for an entrepreneur, the common characteristic that seems to be fundamental to success is that of mindset.

A growth mindset allows the entrepreneur to see the world as malleable. This allows him or her to shape (or reshape, in the case of the afore-mentioned Jobs) the world that they see.

This ability to mold one's vision of the world mirrors the process any artist goes through in creating something new, whether it is a painting, a piece of music or a sculpture. It includes the power to imagine something that could be and to create it from the resources and intellect available to the entrepreneur (or artist).

The Balance of Growth and Persistence

The challenge that the entrepreneur faces is balancing the growth mindset with the persistence it takes to create something new.  Our society and human nature, to an extent, resists change. Consistency and predictability becomes something that the human psyche will defend and protect out of a need for security.

The entrepreneur walks a fine line, pushing the boundaries of what is and what could be. She pushes forward, holding tightly to the image of what must be accomplished to realize the vision she has for the market.

When the balance shifts from persistence to intractability, the entrepreneur is doomed. Dr. Dweck calls this mindset a "fixed mindset." It is characterized by the belief that intellect and talent are established quantities or known qualities and the human person merely exercises or deploys the talents which have been doled out to her.

The successful entrepreneur holds her vision, yet pushes the limits of her own knowledge, capacity and the boundaries of what is. In so doing, she creates a world that inspires and benefits those who best appreciate her art.

For more information on Dr. Dweck's research, read her landmark book, Mindset, or visit her site.

Photo Credit: Steve Davis, CC 2.o