Is it necessary to be a realist in order to be an entrepreneur?
My immediate reaction was “Yes, most certainly.” Entrepreneurs make things happen. They use resources well. They combine the strengths of others to create an entity that has never existed prior. They imagine new products and services and execute the methods to make those become reality. They have no illusions about magical success and they manage rather than avoid risk. They do not fear failure, they fear being ineffective. For their ideas, they prefer a speedy death to a slow death. They expect to get nothing unless they earn it.
Upon reflection though, there is a case to be made that says entrepreneurs are not realists. They believe they can do things that everyone else says they cannot. They do not stop when failure appears. Thomas Edison, while building the first light bulb, claimed to have found more than a thousand ways that do not work. How realistic is it to spend time and resources to attempt to do something that has not been done, has so far failed in every iteration and which many, more probably most, people think will never succeed?
The difference between the two ideas is that entrepreneurial minded folk trust themselves more than they trust others. They are not easily convinced that they are wrong. They think many problems can be destroyed by working them to death. They have no expectation that someone else will bail them out. They are objective.
Entrepreneurial skills apply to more than business. Entrepreneurial employees in non-business institutions are important and not always welcomed. They have a hard time going along with the crowd. Such institutions have few entrepreneurial minds and are not better for that.
Progress does not happen by accepting the status quo. Entrepreneurs seek change, while most others avoid it. Only a few of us can and will create conditions where change happens and where order is maintained during the change. They seek out situations where change is not happening and attempt to create new meaning and opportunities.
Young children and many teenagers are entrepreneurial. You may have noticed the stubborn part and probably the challenging of authority part. It is an art of parenthood to avoid removing important skills.
Parents, teachers and society as a whole are more frequently right when they believe a child can do something than they are when they believe the child cannot. The trick is to help them with the “maintain order part” while change is occurring.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.