Being an entrepreneur: 5 smarts you need to succeed


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Research in both science and business is increasingly showing us that successful entrepreneurs have the ‘smarts’. Not the traditional boffin high IQ, but a more rounded, multi-facetted kind of intelligence. Entrepreneurs, it seems, have a specific broad intellect; one that they weren’t necessarily born with, but which they have shaped through experience and personal education.

So here are five of the most important types of smarts entrepreneurs possess, along with advice on how to hone them.

1. People smarts

This is about understanding others, interacting effectively, discerning motivations and putting people at ease.

It’s a combination of two aspects of intelligence: emotional and social. Part of emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the feelings of others, to put yourself in their shoes. Social intelligence is about reading body language and tone. Researchers believe that only 20% to 30% of our communication is based on the words we use, meaning three-quarters of what we communicate has nothing to do with what we say.

People smarts is perhaps the first acumen we think of when building the perfect entrepreneur. After all, it helps us make good deals and manage employees effectively.

Be people smart

Learn about what is meant by non-verbal communication and how to display empathy, then appraise how well you think you do at these. This includes things like how you walk and sit, how you gesture, what you do with your arms and how you define personal space.

Work on getting this right from the start, while remembering the 2-minute rule. That is, the impression we make in the first two minutes of entering a room is difficult to then erase.

If you find this hard, consider enrolling on one of the many body language a courses available. Check out the courses on platforms such as Udemy or LinkedIn.

2. Self smarts

We’ve discussed the need to better understand other people, but do you understand yourself? Self smarts is all about knowing your own strengths and weaknesses, and knowing when you’re out of your depth. This helps improve decision making and compassion for yourself when things don’t go to plan.

There is a certain amount of ego at play here. In their book Egonomics, Dave Marcum and Steven Smith discuss a study that found that business owners believe ego costs their company between 6% and 15% of annual revenue. Being honest with yourself about what you have to offer is therefore a key trait for any entrepreneur standing on the fine line between success and failure.

Be self smart

Take time for reflection. This gives our brains an opportunity to take time out from all the chaos, sort through experiences, and learn from it all. You can start reflecting by asking yourself questions such as how have I contributed to that problem? Or what am I avoiding? Some people like to do this by keeping a journal, others go as far as to hire a life coach.

 3. Creative smarts

Entrepreneurs have finite resources, and the very best have the creative smarts to get the most out of them.

There are at least two other key measures of intelligence that feed into creativity. The first is mathematical (the ability to use numbers logically and establish causal relationships), the second is spatial (the ability to imagine and visualise).

Both of these have been shown to be hugely important for small business success. In a 2012, study assessing the multiple intelligence of 880 entrepreneurs, both mathematical and spatial intelligence were found to be significantly correlated with scores of entrepreneurship.

Be creative smart

Try some of the visualisation techniques that are becoming increasingly common. Most bookshops now have whole sections on the subject.

Don’t be afraid to start bouncing ideas off others. Doing so can get the creative juices flowing, but also tell you when you’re wrong. Some of the most creative people are that way because they’re prepared to take the risk of failure.

4. World smarts

This is a combination of being culturally, societally and environmentally aware. Not long ago this wouldn’t have been a necessity for most business owners. Yet as the world opens up and the internet takes over, it’s becoming increasingly important.

Customers and employees can now come from almost anywhere across the globe. Having world smarts allows us to build strong relationships with a diverse group of people, opening up new doors and opportunity along the way.

Be world smart

In short, learn more about the world, how it functions and the cultures in it. You can gain this through multiple channels such as reading local newspapers, watching movies from around the world, even just listening to a friend’s seemingly boring holiday story. Unique insights about the world are available almost every second of the day, we just have to be prepared to listen to them.

5. Instinct smarts

Windows of opportunity open as quickly as they close when starting a new venture. We have to trust our gut instinct to decide what to pursue, who to work with, and how to resolve risks.

In fact, neuroscientists have uncovered evidence that founder entrepreneurs – those who have started a new venture that exploits opportunities – have brains better able to make quick decisions than the general population.

This 2013 study measured brain activity of 30 entrepreneurs and 30 non-entrepreneurs while performing decisions. When recognising a problem, the entrepreneurs were quicker to respond and less inhibited in the initial phase of decision making. In the latter stages of decision-making, entrepreneurs dedicated more brain resource and thought more intensely to resolve the problem.

Be instinct smart

Gut instinct is trainable. Much of it is built out of a combination of all the other smarts mentioned above. Being more in tune with ourselves and others, smarter at managing our resources and more knowledgeable about the world. This will help us make the important snap decisions that can make or break our business.

Get smart

The key takeaway here is that unlike traditional IQ, which many people think is fixed, the types of smarts that build successful entrepreneurs can all be crafted. We just have to be open to reshaping ourselves.