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So many things go into making a successful entrepreneur, it can be a fool’s errand to attempt to figure out what is, or is not, essential.
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That’s because so few entrepreneurial paths overlap. Some high-achieving entrepreneurs have multiple Ivy League degrees while others never finish high school. Others may work for years on a single idea, while another group will start dozens of unsuccessful ventures until one finally hits.
So, yes, there may be no single, truly indispensable element of entrepreneurship. But one thing is pretty close: When you talk to and work with enough entrepreneurs, the main theme that emerges is persistence. Some researchers call it grit.
I've even known people who have called it stick-to-it-ness. Whatever name is used, the idea is the same: the tenacity to not throw in the towel.
Omer Shai, the CMO of Wix.com, summed it up well. Wix is a company which has helped millions of people start their own online businesses and projects, so Shai has had some experience with grit. He said: "Starting something isn’t enough. The ability to persevere and be resilient after that something has been started is the true stamp of an entrepreneur. It's the people who stay the course and continue to invest in developing their enterprise beyond the starting point that should be the model for successful entrepreneurship. "
In entrepreneurship, grit is an "outlier" skill or attribute because it may just be the one skill without which failure is pretty much assured. In other words, it’s possible to succeed in business or the workforce or as an entrepreneur if you’re not creative. Or if you don’t collaborate well, or have not really learned to be adaptive and flexible. All three are important parts of an entrepreneurship mindset.
But if you are not at least modestly persistent or stubborn, and you tend to quit easily, you’re done — even if you are creative and collaborative and adaptive. Lack of grit is the entrepreneurship killer.
What also makes grit so important is that, unlike other things you often hear about why entrepreneurs succeed, grit is a skill that can be learned. People can learn to be more resilient and less impacted by setbacks.
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That grit is a skill sets it apart from other things entrepreneurship talk focuses on: luck, good connections and family support. That’s not to undercut the importance of other factors, but if you weren’t blessed with a strong and supportive family network, that’s not something you can find on your own.
Grit, however, can be developed. The skill of grit, in fact, is such an important thing, and such a big topic among academics and practitioners, that just one TED Talk on the subject has registered almost 6.5 million views. That talk by Angela Lee Duckworth has become so popular — both inside and outside of entrepreneurship — that she’s a bona fide VIP celebrity on the topics of success, innovation and persistence. The truth is, she was expert on these topics before that TED Talk. She’s just better known now.
Thanks to Duckworth, and others, the importance of persistence and determination is also now better known.
And that's a good thing. Elevating the importance of grit for success is essential because, unlike something like communication skills, grit is a difficult thing to practice: You can never be sure how far from success you are, so it’s a challenge to measure improvement. And there aren’t really many good exercises to prepare you to be more, um, gritty.
Instead, one of the best things we can do to instill grit and persistence in future entrepreneurs is to stress — over and over again — how important it is.
We need role models in and out of business who'll talk about their failures and setbacks and, in doing so, underscore the precious nature of grit. Ranking what’s really indispensable for entrepreneurs might not be possible or even helpful. But, if it were, my sense is that grit would be pretty near the top of any such list. Even if you are not an aspiring entrepreneur, grit is an attribute that will help turn any goal you have into reality.
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