By Chia Suan Chong for EtonX | March 2019
What is an entrepreneur?
Cambridge dictionary defines an entrepreneur as ‘someone who starts their own business, especially when this involves seeing a new opportunity’.
When talking about entrepreneurs some people might focus on the first part of that definition, seeing them as business risk-takers in search of profit. The second part of that definition, however, moves away from what an entrepreneur does and instead describes the attitude of the entrepreneur, one that is adventurous and filled with a vision for the future.
It is therefore no surprise that the Wikipedia entry on ‘entrepreneur’ states that the British English equivalent to this French word of the 1700s used to be ‘adventurer’ or that the Sanskrit word said to have influenced the origins of the word ‘entrepreneur’ is ‘Antha Prerna’, meaning ‘self-motivated’. Meanwhile, Forbes describes an entrepreneur as someone who has a primordial urge to identify a need, and fill it.
It is precisely this self-motivated desire to venture into the unknown and proactively solve the problems one sees that makes one an entrepreneur.
Why is entrepreneurship important for today’s youth?
The attitude of an entrepreneur described above is a vital part of entrepreneurship. The skills and abilities that such an attitude cultivates are what can help entrepreneurs become successful business people and valuable contributors to their communities.
By teaching students the skills of entrepreneurship, we are cultivating the attitude and the ability to think creatively and critically, notice the opportunities around them, and use their initiative to solve the problems they encounter. Whether it is developing their creativity or honing their ability to influence others, students are given the confidence to be ambitious and to embrace their ability to make a difference.
Some of our students might indeed end up starting their own business ventures, but the skills of entrepreneurship go beyond knowledge of business management. The skills of entrepreneurship are life skills (a.k.a soft skills) that can help students excel in the modern workplace.
So what are the skills of entrepreneurship?
Here are eight we thought are crucial:
1) The ability to drive change
It takes a certain type of person to notice a problem and to want to step up and make a change. Some may say that such initiative is a personality trait and not a skill that can be learnt. But many of us avoid taking the initiative simply because we lack the tools to get things going. So we remain in a state of inertia, waiting for someone else to take the lead.
Knowing how to make a plan and understanding the stages needed to carry out that plan are part of the organisational skills that can make taking the initiative less daunting. With know-how and some practice of how to move things forward, anyone can be encouraged to take action and make a difference.
2) The ability to spot opportunities
For some, the word ‘problem’ is filled with negativity, and something to be dreaded and avoided. But for an entrepreneur, problems are opportunities to understand a need, look deeper into an issue and find long lasting solutions that can make things better.
This ability to see opportunities when others might only see obstacles is not only Cambridge dictionary’s definition of an entrepreneur, but it is also the kind of attitude to problem-solving that employers look for in the potential leaders they choose to hire.
3) The ability to generate and refine ideas
As we develop the ability to brainstorm ideas and think creatively, we start to find ourselves departing from our normal ways of thinking and challenging ourselves to think outside the box. We become open to new ideas and new perspectives. We learn to be less judgmental of ways that differ from our own as we discover that doing so would only limit creativity.
It is not enough to just generate ideas. We need to also be open to criticisms and be willing to change and refine those ideas so that they become the best solutions to the problems they are meant to solve. In an age of quick fixes and speedy ‘I-want-it-now’ solutions, the process of refining ideas also helps us to learn the importance of patience and attention to detail.
4) The ability to ask powerful questions
With an overwhelming amount of information coming at us through websites, social media, and 24/7 video streaming capabilities, it is easy just to surround ourselves with like-minded people who agree with the things we say and support the things we believe in. We are more prone than ever to confirmation bias: the tendency to search for and favour information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs.
Such tendencies are dangerous to the entrepreneur. They only serve to have us resting on our laurels and stagnating. Progress comes from curiosity, a wish to know more, and this can only be done by asking risky questions that just might jeopardise the comfort zone we have build around ourselves.
When conducting consumer research, the skill of being able to ask the right questions can make the difference between finding out what the consumer truly needs or simply priming them to say what you want to hear.
5) The ability to take on feedback
What do we do with the feedback we receive? If it is positive, we might give ourselves a pat on the back and carry on as we are. If it is negative, we might feel disgruntled or hard done by and try and justify ourselves, or we might pretend it never happened and move on from it.
An entrepreneur treats feedback as a chance to learn more and improve. Positive feedback can show us what we should be doing more of. Negative feedback is developmental and can help us fine tune what we are doing. Instead of fearing feedback, the entrepreneur seeks out feedback because they know that they can always be better.
6) The ability to influence people
In learning to write a value proposition, pitch to a potential investor or sell to a prospective client, we are acquiring the ability to present a concept in a way that is clear, concise and persuasive. In order to do this, we need to develop good communication skills and interpersonal skills, and be able to influence people to come to our way of thinking.
Effective influencing skills can help us garner more support of our ideas, improve team morale, obtain the resources we need and win at negotiations – vital both in the workplace and in our daily lives.
See EtonX’s Making an Impact course on this!
7) The ability to thrive on failure
We only have to watch any four-year-old playing a game to see that it is human nature to crave success and enjoy winning. An entrepreneur however thrives on failure and treats every setback as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
But most entrepreneurs were probably not born with a love for failure. They have realised over time that mistakes are good because mistakes show us what to avoid and what to change. Failures are a chance for us to become stronger and better. This attitude towards failing is by no means accidental, and can be nurtured through cultivating a growth mindset – a mindset that reassures us that failure only means we haven’t succeeded yet.
8) The ability to have an entrepreneurial mindset
Having an entrepreneurial mindset is the foundation of most successful entrepreneurs. While a mindset is not something that can be taught, it is something that can be cultivated and developed. So what does an entrepreneurial mindset entail?
Those with an entrepreneurial mindset are fascinated by innovation, not afraid of change, and have a vision for the future. They are able to see the big picture and think long term, and will not settle for temporary solutions. They are ambitious, competitive and have a strong belief in themselves and what they can achieve. This is a mindset of someone who is motivated to keep learning and is passionate about developing, both themselves and the world around them.
On EtonX’s entrepreneurship course, several entrepreneurs share their thoughts as to how successful entrepreneurs think. Shainul Kassam, the founder of Fortune Law, describes the way the entrepreneur is able to see things that others cannot see and then have the drive to ensure that that vision comes to life.
Whether these skills and mindset are used to start a new business or not, they will undoubtedly generate profits not just of a monetary nature for the youth of today as they learn to approach new opportunities with confidence and an open mind.