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Inside the mind of great entrepreneurs

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What distinguishes great entrepreneurs? Professor Saras Sarasvathy, Uni­ver­­sity of Virginia Darden School of Business, set out to determine what—beyond creativity, risk tolerance and desire for achievement—set them apart.

If she could pin down an answer, she posited, then other aspiring entrepreneurs could learn from it.

By eavesdropping on the thinking of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, she discovered that master entrepreneurs are like Iron Chefs: They’re at their best when presented with a spread of ingredients, then challenged to push their imagination to the limit.

In contrast, corporate executives are more likely to decide to make Swedish meatballs, then shop, measure and cook the dish in the most efficient way.

Other traits of entrepreneurs:

√ Entrepreneurs don’t believe in predictions. “If you give them data that has to do with the future, they just dismiss it,” Sarasvathy says.

√ They itch to get to market as quickly and cheaply as possible. Sarasvathy calls it “affordable loss.” They eschew traditional market research.

One entrepreneur in her study said, “I always live by the motto of ‘Ready, fire, aim.’ I think if you spend too much time doing ‘Ready, aim, aim, aim,’ you’re never going to see all the good things that would happen if you actually started doing it.”

√ Sweat competitors later. “The corporate guys are like hunter-gatherers,” says Sarasvathy. “They are hired to win market share.”

Entrepreneurs want to create a new market.

√ Entrepreneurs allow whomever they encounter on the journey—suppliers, advisors and, most especially, first customers—to shape their businesses.

Says one entrepreneur, “The challenge then is really to pick your partners and package yourself early on before you have to put a lot of capital out.”

— Adapted from “How Great Entrepreneurs Think,” Leigh Buchanan, Inc.

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