April 11, 2015 by Dr Andrew Lancaster
What makes a good business brain? How does studying business or working in business management develop your skill set? What characteristics are needed to succeed in business compared with other environments, such as science, the arts or government? What is the nature of the business mind? Here I identify the top 5 qualities of a mind that is made for commerce and entrepreneurship.
Questions about the business brain fascinate me. My curiosity grew as I moved into different roles in the business sphere. I studied economics, worked on industry policy for the Australian Government, assessed major business projects where public funding was sought, and eventually founded and developed my own business, UniCurve.
Managing a business feels good and natural for me, whereas the other roles didn’t feel quite right. Teaching a classroom full of first-year university students was stressful; doing research felt pointless at times; fitting into the public service culture was always a compromise. Business is a field which suits a small number of people. Other fields seem to suit other people with quite different minds and temperaments.
Business brain characteristics
Being immersed in the business of business poses certain challenges and demands certain skills. You sink or swim depending on whether you really have a brain for business. While people follow many different paths to business success, certain characteristics appear vital in any challenging business environment. Here are my top 5 characteristics of the business brain.
1. Risk tolerance
It is possible to succeed in business without taking major risks. But you have to be in a lucky position to start with for that to happen. It may be difficult to continue building a business or take on new ventures without exposing yourself to risk at some stage.
So the ability to tolerate risk is part of the business brain. You need to be prepared to risk capital and your reputation to create something new that adds value.
Being able to tolerate risk doesn’t mean you like risk or like to gamble. Over the long run, being rational is better than gambling speculatively. But you definitely need the gumption to put your neck on the line when required.
Part of the quality of risk tolerance is the ability to apply trial and error. Taking many small risks can be a sensible and vital strategy for learning and innovating. Constant risk aversion is, on other hand, a sure way to stifle creativity.
All successful entrepreneurs have the ability to see a future product or service and then follow through to realise their vision. An ability to see the future is what enables you to keep your business on track. It gives you a guiding light. It also provides inspiration to keep persisting during the tough times. Giving up is all too easy if you don’t have a clear long-term objective.
A vision is also a device for motivating others. If you can effectively communicate how you are going to change the world, it inspires others to follow your business leadership.
A visionary quality is useful in some other fields, but certainly not all. If you’re sandwiched somewhere within the hierarchy of a government department or large corporation, a vision can be more of a hindrance to your career than a help. It can put you at odds with bosses and co-workers and lead to behaviours that others don’t understand. You may be expected to follow the culture and norms of your environment; not think for yourself.
3. Solution finder
What deters many people from taking on a business venture are all the problems they see ahead. They see difficult issues that could sink the venture.
A person with a good business brain doesn’t think like this. A business mind sees challenges to overcome and problems to solve. You expect to find solutions, not brick walls.
Building a business inevitably throws up all kinds of challenges. There are technical issues, financing issues, management tasks and aggressive competitors. If you see each challenge as a problem with multiple potential solutions, you will do better than if you fixate on the problem itself.
Managing a business teaches you problem solving skills. You have to do whatever it takes to stay alive and grow your business. Whatever the best solution is, it is up to you to find and implement it. You cannot sit around complaining or waiting for someone else to solve the problem for you. Passive and defeatist doesn’t work; active and “just do it” does.
Operating a business forces you to be accountable for everything you do. There is the ultimate performance indicator: the bottom line. If you don’t perform, your business will fail. If you don’t produce practical, real, good outcomes, guess what? That’s right, you fail. You have to be accountable every day in order to succeed over the long term.
Being able to readily accept and shoulder responsibility is an important quality for a good business mind. If you are naturally this way, you may find business and entrepreneurship a comfortable profession. But it is also something you can develop with enough exposure to the ups and downs of managing a business.
You may have noticed how business leaders are easily frustrated by groups such as government officials, lobbyists, politicians and lawyers. There is a brain-related reason for this.
Business people operate in an environment where they are constantly accountable and must be in touch with the real world (of business). Some other professions lack true accountability. Performance indicators might include not making mistakes, arguing persuasively, getting elected, or impressing fellow legal professionals. It is possible to succeed on such performance indicators while being out of touch with reality. Business people are usually quick to notice when someone is talking out of their hat.
5. Seeing opportunity
A business mind sees abundant opportunity around them. Building a business is about creating value. So if you don’t live in a world where opportunity abounds, you will definitely struggle to succeed in business.
Seeing opportunity is about more than making money, though this is important. A good education in business and management will cover accounting and finance. It will give you the financial tools to calculate how much things add to or subtract from the bottom line.
But seeing opportunity is also important in business relationships. Getting deals done is about finding win-win opportunities. It is much easier to build successful partnerships with suppliers or customers if you naturally construct deals in which everybody benefits.