When should entrepreneurs take that leap of faith?

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The season of paragliding is once more upon us in St Gilgen as spring returns and the last of the mountain snow caps melt. It’s truly magical watching one after the other glide effortlessly in gentle arcs against the magnificent backdrop of lake Wolfgang, but what is it that drives these individuals to take that brave step in the first place and is there any correlation between thrill seekers and entrepreneurs?

Zuckerman (1983) defines sensation seeking as ‘the need for varied, novel and complex sensations and experiences and the willingness to take physical and social risks for the sake of such experience’.

Dictionary.com defines entrepreneurialism as “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”

While on the surface the risk factor appears similar, there’s an important distinction. Harvard Business School professor Howard Stevenson stated “Entrepreneurs I know are all different types. They’re as likely to be wallflowers as to be the wild man of Borneo.” However, it’s been found that participants in high-risk sports tend to score high on Zuckerman’s Sensation Seeking (SS) Scale compared to low risk sports participants and control groups. So the good news is that this doesn’t scupper your chances of making it as an entrepreneur if the idea of jumping of Yosemite’s Half Dome fills you with dread!

So what are the typical characteristics of a successful entrepreneur? There is no “one size, fits all” theory for entrepreneurship, but Gallup’s extensive survey found the following qualities:

  1. Business Focus: They base decisions on the potential to turn a profit.
  2. Confidence: They know themselves well and can read others.
  3. Creative Thinker: They know how to turn an existing product or idea into something even better.
  4. Delegator: They don’t try to do it all.
  5. Determination: They battle their way through difficult obstacles.
  6. Independent: They will do whatever it takes to succeed in the business.
  7. Knowledge-Seeker: They constantly hunt down information to help keep the business growing.
  8. Promoter: They do the best job as spokesperson for the business.
  9. Relationship-Builder: They have high social intelligence and an ability to build relationships.
  10. Risk-Taker: They have good instincts when it comes to managing high-risk situations.

As you can see though, they’re still fairly broad brush and many of us could claim to have a number of these characteristics, so the defining difference comes down to taking action. There’s many of us who have had a light bulb moment, a design idea that upsets the status quo or revolutionizes the way we do things; but there’s few who act on it. You could well have the next idea that could re-shape the way things are done but they mean absolutely nothing if they’re pushed aside and forgotten.

So if you believe you’re an ‘entrepreneur on the inside’ just waiting for the opportunity to make your idea a reality, start thinking how you can take action. The odds are the same for everyone but the key is to keep believing so the ‘what if’ eventually turns into reality rather than giving up and letting the doubting demons take over and squash your idea dead.

As for thrill seeking innovators, perhaps it takes a rare combination of the two? After all Kirke and Keeling may have pioneered the modern bungee jump in 1979 but it is AJ Hackett who has become synonymous with the sport through his entrepreneurialism.  The world would certainly be a boring place without people like Yves Rossy and Felix Baumgartner but for the majority of us, taking that first step to being an entrepreneur is not nearly as daunting or life threatening as it seems. In reality, it’s much more of a gradual process than the immediate launch might suggest.

So, instead of ruminating whether you fit the image of the perfect entrepreneur, check your gut instinct and take that step as soon as you can and in time – you may just experience the thrill of a paraglider in any case!

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matt guiver
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Jumpstone keynote speaking
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