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The entrepreneur's Ferrari brain ... with bicycle brakes.

In my 30 years of working with business owners around the world, both as a consultant and as a psychiatrist, I have developed a keen appreciation for how the magical mind of the entrepreneur operates. I have learned that what separates successful from frustrated small-business owners is their ability--or inability--to capitalize on their massive psychological strengths and to minimize the carnage that can be wreaked by their weaknesses.

The difference between success and frustration lives in the mind, but it is not IQ or innate talent. It is the ability to make the most of what you've got. The great business owner learns how to harness and direct his or her mental power, while the frustrated one spends life trying to learn how.

Entrepreneurs constitute the guts and gusto of our economy. They're the people who keep us bouncing back no matter how bad things get and the people who break new ground no matter how many times they're told they can't go there. They are the business equivalent of farmers--not sitting in boardrooms or looking for bailouts but always out at the crack of dawn plowing the economy, dealing with whatever the weather brings, growing their crops no matter what.

The Psychological Profile of an Entrepreneur

If there is one psychological characteristic that defines entrepreneurs, it is what I call pop: grit combined with imagination and optimism. People who start their own businesses have a ton of pop. They never give up; they keep inventing new solutions, and they believe in the pot of gold.

But a rich, complex and often contradictory set of tendencies combine to define these ragtag rebels and swashbuckling pioneers. I say contradictory because for every positive trait the entrepreneur possesses, he or she usually has a corresponding vulnerability. Paradoxes prevail in their psychological makeup.

In order for entrepreneurs to thrive and achieve their magnificent dreams, they need to learn to overrule their destructive tendencies while taking advantage of their considerable constructive gifts. But learning how to do this requires insight--knowledge of one's assets and vulnerabilities--and planning, developing a method to take advantage of strengths and overrule weaknesses.


A big problem is that most entrepreneurs hate to introspect, and they hate even more to plan. They prefer to operate spontaneously according to the Nike solution: just do it. The Nike solution can work spectacularly well sometimes and has led to the making of many sudden fortunes. But over time it tends to fail and has led to the demise of many such sudden successes.

To help entrepreneurs gain control over their powerful minds, I offer the following compilation of what I've learned are the central traits and tendencies of the small-business owner. I couple each asset with a corresponding vulnerability, as it seems these qualities come in Jekyll-and-Hyde pairs. As you read down the list, put a star next to the assets or vulnerabilities that particularly characterize you.

How to Master Your Mind

As an entrepreneur, you are very lucky. You are blessed with an extraordinarily powerful mind. You have the equivalent of a Ferrari engine for a brain. That's why you are a winner in the making, a potential champion. But you must address one major problem that almost every entrepreneur has: You have bicycle brakes. You have difficulty controlling the power of your brain. Sometimes it runs away with you, so you may crash into walls or fail to slow down or stop when you should. This can cost you the race.

If you look down the list of qualities you starred in the inventory, you will see that the assets relate to areas where you regularly exhibit power over yourself and your circumstances. But all the vulnerabilities relate to your inability to control, discipline or inhibit certain tendencies.

For example, the visionary will continue to come up with new ideas, but the ideas will not become useful unless the entrepreneur learns the discipline of taking current reality into account--or listening to and believing others who can. The tenacious deal-maker will stubbornly walk away from a perfectly acceptable compromise out of an inability to stop chasing a win. The jokester will warm up the business meeting with humor and land the sale unless his uninhibited side mortifies the client with an offensive joke. The serial entrepreneur will pounce on the lucrative opportunity and skillfully avoid the sucker's bet unless her headstrong side goes all in on every hand.

When entrepreneurs learn systems that help them slow down, pause, ask for help, take advice, make a plan, get organized. submit to a certain discipline or think a project through, then their creativity, intuition, enthusiasm and turbocharged brain will generate victory upon victory.

But when they do not, I have seen time and again, they crash. Brilliant ideas sit hidden as scrap in the junk heap of failed projects. A year of hundred-hour workweeks gets destroyed in one hotheaded, impetuous conversation. A sudden insight that solves an industry-wide problem gets scooped up by a competitor due to enthusiastic loose lips, lack of boundaries or inadequate legal counsel. A killer business plan gets dismissed because the entrepreneur failed to show up at the right place at the right time.

Here are some action steps that can help you run your best race:

1. Read the list of assets and vulnerabilities and star those that apply to you

2. Meet with a partner, friend, colleague or hired consultant, and brainstorm ways to add structures to your life to increase the power of your brakes. Lists, schedules, detailed plans, priorities--these matter! Don't blow this task off as being too pedestrian or boring. Your success depends on it.


3. If this proves insufficient, consider working with a consultant over a protracted period of time. The skills that you need can be learned, but many of them go against your grain, which is why it is difficult to coach yourself successfully.

4. Try to make sure you are spending the majority of your time at the intersection of three spheres: what you love to do, what you have a special skill at doing and what advances the project, or what someone will pay you to do. Delegate the rest if you possibly can.

As you follow these steps, you will gain a greater feeling of control. Structure creates an atmosphere not of frustration but of positive emotion. This, coupled with the entrepreneur's innate drive, leads to focus the magic wand of peak performance.

Asset                                 Corresponding Vulnerability

Visionary, dreamer, pioneer,          Has trouble perceiving or
big-picture thinker                   acknowledging reality; overlooks
                                      important parts of project or
                                      idea, Haled by enthusiasm for big

Has an "itch," a constant             Has an itch that can also lead
desire for more that drives           to an array of self-destructive
ongoing achievement and               activities and habits
creative undertakings

Independent; self-reliant             Has difficult' working on teams,
                                      within hierarchy; has trouble
                                      delegating, listening to others,
                                      trusting others to do job as well
                                      as he/she would

Doesn't care what others think        Poor at self-observation

Tenacious, competitive                Stubborn; tries some failed
                                      method over and over; sticks with
                                      bad project too long

Original, thinks outside box          Has trouble thinking inside the
                                      box, following standard procedures

Innovator who loves risk;             Takes foolish chances; gets lots
cowboy                                of bruises and broken bones

Sensitive but covers it over)         Easily hurt (but covers it over)

Forgiving, trusting and               Lets bad people back in; not
generous                              discerning enough; gives away the

Loves startup phase and dosing        Has trouble with follow-through
                                      and middle phase

Can quickly cut to the chose;         Impatient, brings premature
decisive                              closure; shoots from the hip

Full of ideas; sees solution, has     Doesn't get around to
excellent plan                        implementing solution or acting
                                      on plan; has trouble
                                      sticking with idea long enough
                                      to develop it

Resilient, gritty, can't be defeated  Sometimes doesn't quit or slow
--only slowed down                    down when necessary

Loves role of underdog, thrives when  Sometimes takes on impossible
odds seem insurmountable              tasks or projects

Hugely enthusiastic about life and    Headstrong; loses perspective,
life's possibilities; passionate      balance easily; has trouble
                                      prioritizing, I learning from

Loyal, will be there for you when     Hurts self or project through
no one else is, no matter what        blind loyalty

Loves to multitask                    Cureless with details

Can hyper-focus when highly           Doesn't pay attention when not
interested or in danger/crisis        interested in topic or when
                                      situation is too calm

"Gets it" fast, a quick study;       Hates prep work, reading
amazing ability on the run,          directions
can learn how to fly in midair

Delves deeply into task and becomes   Poor or absent sense of time and
oblivious to all else                 external environment

Honest hates hypocrisy                Tactless, not politically

Values excellence, talent             Hates entitlements, politics

Intuits or "sees" solutions,          Can't explain methodology or
possibilities, novel approaches       teach others how he/she does it

Has a life marked by flashes          Inconsistent; can't be brilliant
of brilliance                         on demand or on schedule

Doesn't wait for permission;          Gets into trouble by not going
takes action while others             through proper channels
fiddle and diddle

Loves the chase, thrives in           Antsy or bored amidst stability or
crisis/danger                         after victory, even depressed; has
                                      trouble savoring the moment

Has a great sense of humor            Can be inappropriate

"Yes" is default position             "No" is foreign word

Charismatic                           Relies on charisma rather than
                                      well-thought-out strategy

Unbelievably hard-working;            Takes on too much; fails to reach
able to juggle many                   goals due to overload
projects/ideas at once

Embraces challenge, danger,           Finds stability and security
uncertainty; can avert                tedious; tends to sabotage
disaster at the last minute           or blow them up; procrastinates
                                      or sets things up so disaster
                                      looms likely

Drives toward goal with               Can become explosively angry when
herculean determination               frustrated, sidetracked or


Hallowell's Tips for Overcoming the Top Five Entrepreneurial Speed Bumps

Problem: You have lots of great ideas but trouble sticking with one long enough to develop it fully.

Solution: Work with a partner or hire an assistant who has "attention surplus trait," the natural tendency to sweat the details and see a project through its tedious middle phase into its final stages--when you will naturally become more interested again.

Problem: You're great in crises or other high-pressure settings but antsy and bored with stability.

Solution: Learn to recognize that antsy feeling as a potential prelude to disaster. Develop safe antidotes for that feeling, like physical exercise, creative brainstorming with a trusted colleague, deep meditation or exciting activities that do not put you at serious risk, like rock climbing, watching an action movie or wind surfing.

Problem: You rely on instinct and charisma rather than well-reasoned strategy.

Solution: Stop, think, plan, then think and plan again. Then consult with a trusted ally, and think and plan again. Preparation makes the difference between winning and losing, no matter how much natural charisma you might have. Remember, hope and charm do not a strategy make.

Problem: You are unbelievably hard-working but often take on too much, failing to reach goals due to overload.

Solution: When you feel overloaded, use the rule of CDE: Curtail, Delegate, Eliminate. It works wonders. And to deal with procrastination, which also creates overload, use the rule of DIN: Do It Now. Put the phrase do it now into your brain, and soon it will become an automatic reflex. Also works wonders.

Problem: You're able to anticipate danger well but tend toward toxic worrying, getting caught up in the infinite web of what if

Solution: Never worry alone. Worry can be constructive when done with someone else. Done alone, it is often paralyzing.

Dr. Edward Hallowell, psychiatrist and former professor at Harvard Medical School, shares his brain diagnostic to help entrepreneurs lap the competition.

Dr. Edward Hallowell is a psychiatrist and author of 18 books, including CrazyBusy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap and Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People.
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Author:Hallowell, Edward
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2012
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