What does it really mean to be an entrepreneur these days? Often, the quick answer to that question will be all about the trappings: the celebrity status, the laid-back clothes and funky work environment… Obviously, Richard Branson's, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerbergs of this world have had a hand in forming this image...

...but there are many other less high-profile but very successful entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily fit that stereotypical mould.

In order to find out what actually makes an entrepreneur, it’s necessary to dig a bit further than the outside appearance – does there have to be genius behind the jeans, or is sheer, dogged determination the quality that sets entrepreneurs apart? Well, both and neither.

If you Google what it takes to be an entrepreneur, there are thousands of articles with thousands of slightly different opinions on the subject. Many of these articles have titles like ’10 qualities you need to have if you want to be an entrepreneur’ but the irony is that, whilst they’re written for people who think they would like to be one, the very fact that they’re reading the article to check shows that they probably aren’t.


There are a number of qualities these articles agree makes an entrepreneur, including drive, determination, passion, intuition, desire to solve a problem, flexibility, connection, confidence, authenticity and not being afraid to fail. These are clearly evident in most successful entrepreneurs and are all undeniable assets to the would-be start-up. Yet the main attribute in entrepreneurs, according to a study by Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of Virginia, is the way they think differently from others – they use effectual reasoning rather than the more corporate-style causal reasoning.

Causal reasoners set a goal and then go about making the choices and gathering the means that will get them to that goal. Entrepreneurs are normally effectual reasoners, meaning that they turn this way of thinking around and define their goals by the choices they’ve made and the means they have already. They are flexible too, shifting goals as necessary like turning sails to catch a favourable wind. This is probably why so many successful entrepreneurs eschew the traditional advice to make a business plan or do any market research – they let their inventory and their intuition guide them instead.

So the readers of those articles, hoping to discover that they have the necessary attributes to reach their goal of becoming an entrepreneur, have already shown they don’t think in an entrepreneurial way. However, if they tick enough of the boxes, who have to say that, they can’t use their passion and determination to learn to reason differently on their path to success?

If you want to think like an entrepreneur, try shifting your focus from that intimidating goal you’ve been chasing to noticing your strengths, your resources and the opportunities that come your way instead. Throw out the rule book and make that leap. Who knows – you may end up flying!

By Claire Bradford of Straight Forward Coaching