Entrepreneurs have what I like to think of as random brains. They can pull wildly disparate ideas and inspiration from the ether and they have an intuitive ability to apply those ideas in creative, imaginative ways. Their antennae are always twitching, tapping into everything around them, absorbing, synthesizing and storing what they discover for future use. It's an intuitive, holistic, improvisational right brain sort of thing.
If you're the kind of person who needs to connect the dots in a more linear, step-by-step fashion, and you had the chance to spend some time in an entrepreneur's brain, you'd likely find it messy and chaotic. You might even start looking for the exits. But entrepreneurs don't run from mess. They're comfortable with it. In fact, they embrace it. Many of them do their best work that way.
I gained a fascinating insight into the benefits that can flow when a random entrepreneurial brain embraces the mess (not to mention listened to a riveting personal story) when I watched Steve Jobs deliver his famous commencement speech to the students at Stanford University in 2005. You can watch it here.
Jobs tells the students that he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life when he went to college, and no idea how college was going to help him figure it out. Six months in, failing to see the value of a college education, he dropped out, sleeping on the floor in friends' dorm rooms, walking seven miles across town once a week to get a good meal at the Hare Krishna temple. But freed from taking the required classes that didn't interest him, he attended others that did, and much of what he stumbled on simply by following his curiosity "turned out to be priceless later on". One such discovery was a course in calligraphy, which Jobs found fascinating. While nothing about that course held out any hope of practical application in his life, ten years later when he and Steve Wozniak were creating the first Macintosh computer, everything he learned in that class came back to him and he put that knowledge to use designing the first computer to feature beautiful typography.
I love that story because it's such a great example of how the random entrepreneurial brain works. It's also the story of someone who can live with mess, who intuitively trusts that the dots will eventually connect, and who creates his own luck by putting himself in the path of opportunity.
You can find another interesting story about how great entrepreneurs think here. The Inc.com article, by Leigh Buchanan, focuses on research conducted in 2001 by Saras Sarasvathy, a professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, on how some of America's most successful entrepreneurs handle business problems. Buchanan reports that Sarasvathy concluded entrepreneurs are brilliant improvisers who don't start out with concrete goals, but instead are constantly in motion figuring out how to tap into their strengths, resources, connections--whatever's at hand--to work out goals on the fly, "while creatively reacting to contingencies". Sarasvathy compares entrepreneurs to Iron Chefs, who are "at their best when presented with an assortment of motley ingredients and challenged to whip up whatever dish expediency and imagination suggest, while corporate leaders, by contrast, decide they're going to make Swedish meatballs, then proceed to shop, measure, and cook Swedish meatballs in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible." It's not that entrepreneurs don't have goals, writes Buchanan, "only that those goals are broad and--like luggage--may shift during flight."
I love that analogy, too. I think I'm going to be referring to it a lot. So what about you? Are you an Iron Chef? Or a methodical measure-the-ingredients sort of person? And how important do you consider random thinking and a comfort level with controlled chaos to be if you plan to embrace the entrepreneurial lifestyle?