Dedication, overcoming failure, taking risks, communication, vision, inspiration, future-forward thinking, and innovation are traits that we need in order to think like an entrepreneur and get into a mindset that produces lasting results.
What do a young farm boy drawing pictures of horses, a girl wearing a potato sack for a dress, and a bookworm from South Africa have in common?
A lot more than you’d expect.
These descriptions are all based on people that you probably know. They all come from vastly different backgrounds and have different stories, but they share a number of traits that have led straight to their success. In short, they all know how to think like an entrepreneur.
How to think like an entrepreneur: the farm boy
In 1906, a four-year-old boy was paid to draw a horse belonging to a retired doctor from the local area. This simple drawing sparked an interest in the child that would end up changing the world of entertainment.
Skill 1: Dedication
Five years later, the boy starting working the morning paper route. Every day, he would get up at 4:30 in the morning to deliver the paper, and then would repeat this again after school with the evening number. This was exhausting work, but the young boy kept it up for over six years, while also taking several art classes on Saturdays.
Here we see one of the first and most important characteristics of entrepreneurs: dedication. This ability to discipline yourself and work even when times get tough is an invaluable skill any entrepreneur should have.
Skill 2: Overcoming failure
When the boy was 18 years old, he began working as an apprentice artist. It was a dream come true. But the next year, the company went through a rough patch and the young man was let go. Down on his luck, he decided to start a business with a coworker who had also lost his job. They began the company Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists.
And the rest is history!
Well, no, actually. They weren’t able to get enough customers to stay in business, so Disney left to work with an advertising company to earn some money. Little by little, Disney managed to build his reputation and founded the studio we’re all familiar with today.
For Disney, failure was an obstacle—not a defeat. As entrepreneurs, we’re always going to have difficult times, but not giving up is essential to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Skill 3: Taking risks
By 1934, Disney was a household name. But although getting to the top is one thing, staying there is another. Bored with cartoon shorts, Disney began making a feature-length cartoon. When the news broke about the project—and that he was going three times over budget—the media called it “Disney’s Folly.”
Of course, this first full-length animated film was Snow White, which was released to high praise from both critics and audiences. It helped secure Disney’s legacy as the father of animated entertainment—something that continues to this day.
Don’t be afraid to take risks! If you want to achieve lasting success, there will always come a time when you need to put it all on the line.
How to think like an entrepreneur: the girl wearing potato sacks
Imagine the scene. It’s the late 1950s and you live with your grandmother in a rural house in Mississippi. You’re so poor that your grandmother can’t afford proper clothes and makes dresses out of potato sacks for you.
This is how our next entrepreneur’s life started. She would go on to become a self-made billionaire who is known for her sense of style.
Skill 4: Communication
But long before she was a billionaire, she was a normal 17-year-old who had just secured a scholarship to Tennessee State University. She went there to study communication—which she quickly excelled at—and was hired to read the news part-time on a local radio station called WVOL.
As an entrepreneur, communication is key. Whether explaining ideas, managing employees, or giving a speech at an event, you are going to have you express yourself efficiently and effectively.
Skill 5: Vision
Not too long after, the young girl in a potato sack got a TV show of her own, called The Oprah Winfrey Show. It was initially just a tabloid talk show that dealt with light issues. But in the mid-90s, Oprah began to focus on more serious topics like heart disease and geopolitics, while also interviewing celebrities about the social projects they were involved with.
This more serious format was transformational. It took Oprah from being just another TV presenter to becoming a global icon.
To do something great, we need to have vision. Oprah saw what she wanted her show to be like, and she worked hard to make her vision become a reality.
Skill 6: Inspiration
Now fully established as one of the biggest celebrities in the United States, it was clear that Oprah had a huge amount of influence. In 1996, she began a book club segment on her television show. It was so popular that whenever a novel was featured on her show, it would mean at least another million book sales for the author. This was called “the Oprah Effect.”
Entrepreneurs are inspirational people. Through hard work, they grow something out of nothing. While you may not reach the levels of Oprah, you need to remember that you are an inspiration to your employees and to others in society.
How to think like an entrepreneur: the South African bookworm
Now we come to the last of our stories. This one begins in South Africa, 1971. As a child, he was bullied at school, sometimes to the point of being physically attacked and knocked out. Even so, by the age of ten, the boy learned computer programming, and started selling video-game code for $500 at the age of 12. He was obviously destined for greatness.
Skill 7: Future-forward thinking
After finishing his bachelor’s degree in physics, the young visionary went to Stanford University to begin a PhD in energy physics. However, this was 1992 and the Internet boom was in full effect. Knowing what he had to do, our entrepreneur dropped out and launched his first company. It would be his first of many.
If you see an opportunity for the future, you need to take it. Good entrepreneurs are able to think ahead and see when is the right time to make a move.
Skill 8: Innovation
Eventually, this young entrepreneur acquired a company called Tesla, Inc., and became CEO in 2008. Elon Musk is now synonymous with building and popularizing electric cars, which are seen as the vehicle of the future in part thanks to him. Musk is famous for his seemingly boundless innovative vision, and although he’s already one of the world’s richest billionaires, we’re sure he’s just getting started.
Innovation is key in today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced market landscape. Entrepreneurs who fail to innovate are unlikely to survive in such a competitive environment.
All our examples above show us that, no matter where you come from, you are capable of succeeding as an entrepreneur. People like Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, and Elon Musk all have different stories, but if you look at how they act, they share a lot in common. By studying them, we can learn to think like an entrepreneur and get into a mindset that produces lasting results.