Tenacious and Oblivious

I’ve often said that two emotions that are irrelevant for an entrepreneur are fear and anxiety. My favorite quote from Dune is “Fear is the mindkiller” and many people get confused and don’t understand the difference between panic and urgency (where panic is just a more extreme version of anxiety.)

Several weeks ago I spent an evening and a day in Colorado Springs. I participated in a number of entrepreneur-related events, but my favorite was a talk that I gave to a freshman class at University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with John Street. John is a long time friend and one of the first entrepreneurs I met when I moved to Boulder (I actually met his wife Mary through YEO’s Birthing of Giants program in 1993 when I was still living in Boston.) In addition to being a good friend, John is a very successful entrepreneur who has had plenty of ups and downs and ups, but has perserved through it all and created several important companies.

The class that we spoke to was a freshman seminar about “Being Your Own Boss.” John and I quickly told our stories and then spent the majority of the time answering questions. One of them was something like “what characteristics have made you successful.”

John went first and stated the two most important things about him were that he is “tenacious” and “oblivious”. Having known John for many years, tenacity defines him. He simply does not give up. While he can appear stubborn, he’s a learning machine, open to any feedback, constantly asking questions – especially when faced with challenges, and searching for better approaches on his quest to solving any problem he encounters. I view this as a perfect example of a tenacious entrepreneur.

I was puzzled by oblivious until John explained it. He said that he’s oblivious to why something can’t be done, or why something is difficult, or why someone doesn’t want something to happen. That made perfect sense to me and is a characteristic of many of the great entrepreneurs I’ve worked with over the years.

I followed up John with my rant on fear and anxiety. I explained that these are normal human emotions that often are helpful, especially when you are in physical duress (fear = fight or flight) or struggling to understand something new or uncertain (anxiety). However, when viewed from a business perspective, my view is that “fear is the mindkiller” and “anxiety slows you down at a moment when you should increase your urgency.”

I added two new thoughts to my view of what makes a great entrepreneur – tenacity and obliviousness. Think of your favorite entrepreneurs – do these apply?