7 Tips for Developing an Entrepreneur Mentality

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Perennial Seller" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have a business idea in mind? More importantly, do you have what it takes to make it into reality?

There are oceans of people who come up with brilliant business ideas. They all could be successful entrepreneurs if only this one thing weren’t in the way—their mentality.

If you have a business idea but aren’t quite ready to start turning it into reality, start by cultivating an entrepreneur mentality.

The Idea Is the Easy Part

There are tons of people with great business ideas, but that is all most of them have—ideas.

Casey Neistat, to someone pitching an idea: “I don’t want to hear your idea. The idea is the easy part.” This statement captures what it means to have an entrepreneur mentality—proactive, focused on doing rather than dreaming. If you want to make your idea a reality, this is the mindset you need to adopt. Here are seven tips to help you make this shift.

1) Actually Sit Down and Create

Don’t dream about it or talk about it. Actually do it. 

They think that the wanting, instead of the work, is what matters. These are people who don’t want to write a book – they want to have a book. (Pity them – they’ll never get what their ego wants.)

2) Expect a Struggle

Want to avoid a lot of hard work and just be “the idea person?” Too bad. There is no assistant or investor or editor who will take care of the things you need to handle.

You need to take control of your fate. You need to be the one who cares about the painstaking details that separate the memorable from the mediocre. You need to be the one who articulates how your creation is going to change people’s lives. You need to stand up for integrity.

Don’t fear the burden of responsibility. Don’t delegate to other people, merely so you can blame them when things go wrong. Take ownership over your work, because you are the only one who can produce what you want to produce.

3) Be Patient

Don’t fall for the myth that great works are done spontaneously in one sitting.

Great work requires a reverence for the craft, a respect for the medium, and patience for the process.

Examples:

  • Jack Kerouac supposedly wrote On the Road in three weeks. In reality he spent 6 years on editing and refining it. 
  • Years passed between when Matthew Weiner had the idea for Mad Men and when he made the pilot. Then it took more years to get it on air, then 7 years to finish the series.

Creative ideas evolve over time, colliding disparate ideas organically. It builds layers into the work.

People who think they can rush to the finish line will disappear. There are no shortcuts to greatness.

4) Confront Your Fears

Creating something better than anyone has ever done it is scary. What if people don’t like it? What if someone forces you to change it? What if it’s not ready?

Embrace your nervousness. This is a normal part of the process. Fear will make you diligent. Let the feeling guide you, and honor it.

Only impostors are wildly self-confident. The real innovators are scared to death. 

Don’t worry about others stealing your ideas. If your work is truly original, you’ll have to ram it down people’s throats. You’ll have to pay them to pay attention, or to work alongside you.

Don’t worry about falling short compared to other people. The best you can do is all that matters. There is no competition. There is no objective benchmark to hit.

If you’re feeling stuck, take a drawdown period – a time of quiet reflection when you sit and wrestle with your project.

5) Polish Your Work

After you’ve made progress creating your work, now you need to take your idea and polish it. The process of receiving feedback and improving your work will elevate your work from mediocre to great.

Don’t push your project prematurely toward marketing, if you haven’t polished and received feedback on your work. It’s not ready yet to compete for your users’ attention.

Don’t get feedback a week before your launch. Once you set a deadline for releasing your work, you commit to this date, and you psychologically close yourself off to feedback.

6) The Mentality of Improvement

Don’t feel that you have to create a perfect work the first time around. Even the world’s leading creators don’t magically produce perfect drafts.

  • Harper Lee took two years to rewrite To Kill a Mockingbird, with her editors’ help. Her less reworked book, Go Set a Watchman, had nowhere the impact (the book argues this is because she didn’t edit as well as with her first book).
  • Adele recorded demos for her followup album to 21 and told Rick Rubin she was ready. He listened and said, “I don’t believe you.” Frustrated, she toiled for two more years of additional work.

Just when you think you’re done, you’ll often find you’re not even close. Don’t fret about this – it’s normal.

Why is producing high-quality work important? With competition nowadays being so high, no consumer wants the hassle of cultivating a diamond in the rough. For your users, using alternatives to your product is so easy. Your product has to seem as good as or better than all the others.

  • The barriers to entry have fallen dramatically. Every minute more than 400 hours of content are uploaded to Youtube. Every year more than 6,000 startups apply to Y Combinator; 125,000 people graduate with MBAs; 300,000 books are published in the US. Further, the backlog of incumbent alternatives keeps growing.

7) Getting the Right Feedback

To polish your work, it’s critical to get feedback from someone other than yourself. Often this comes from either from an editor who can point out things you don’t see, or your target users who will be consuming your work.

Find an editor who can be more objective than you. This might be someone who has less of a personal stake in the work’s success, or has seen more works like yours and can credibly evaluate it.

Be humble to feedback; don’t be afraid of someone telling you your darling is a turd. “What are the chances I’m 100% right and everyone else in the world is 100% wrong?” You’re better off considering why other people have concerns – the truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

Define the right test for your work. Align the test with the type of impact you ultimately want to achieve, so the feedback you get points you in the right direction.

  • Songwriter Max Martin uses the LA Car Test, blasting nearly finished songs along PCH. He wants to feel what the music is for – to brighten people’s days, to heighten ordinary life experiences.
  • Other tests: Are early users of your product addicted to it? Would you use your own product? Does a summary of your work intrigue new viewers?

Feedback has its limitations.

  • Don’t expect feedback to give you all the answers. When people say the product doesn’t work for them, they’re usually right. When they tell you exactly what’s wrong and how to fix it, they’re usually wrong.
  • You might get contradictory feedback if you reach broadly enough for feedback. To avoid getting paralyzed by this, have an idea of what you’re trying to accomplish, so you know how to weigh different types of criticism.

At the end of the day, you might get so much negative feedback that you have to change your direction. This is OK – creative people produce lots of mediocre works in pursuit of one great one.

7 Tips for Developing an Entrepreneur Mentality

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  • How to create enduring products with a loyal following
  • Why word of mouth is the only marketing channel that endures time
  • What to do after you've created a great work

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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