It’s easy to feel confident when you have a highlight-reel résumé like Jeremy Bloom’s. But any self-made businessperson will tell you that it’s not what you’ve done, but how you did
it that matters most.
Entrepreneurs may not have common personality traits, but they do share a small set of similar psychological characteristics, says Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman, author of The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup. While conducting research for the book, which incorporates data from 10,000 business founders, Wasserman continually encountered three characteristics displayed by entrepreneurs: passion, confidence and representativeness. Balancing each, he says, “is the critical art for founders to have.”
1. Passion. “A lot of the early magic comes from the founder’s passion,” Wasserman says. Infectious enthusiasm can get outsiders to buy into an idea early on. But if left unbridled, it will have the company looking skyward, while ignoring obvious obstacles at eye level.
2. Confidence. This key characteristic can carry startups when morale is low, enabling founders to persevere in the face of adversity or doubt. But merging high confidence with strong passion can be dangerous. “It means founders are only looking at the rosy scenarios,” Wasserman says. “They definitely tend not to look at worst-case scenarios, potential pitfalls and ways in which bumps in the road can lead to shattering the dream.”
3. Representativeness. The ability to reference past experience against a company’s current challenges can help founders overcome struggles at hand. But being overly reliant on knowledge gathered in previous endeavors can also cause entrepreneurs to underestimate future obstacles.