Sunday, January 10, 2010

Are entrepreneurs really risk takers?

I've often said that, in my experience, entrepreneurs are not risk takers. Instead, they don't know most of the risks they are taking. There is a disconnect between the risks that experienced entrepreneurs, looking back on their careers, realize they took versus the risks that new entrepreneurs think they are taking. Why is this?

First, newbie entrepreneurs don't know what they don't know. When I ask a new entrepreneur to list the risks he or she is taking while in the start-up mode, the entrepreneur is often hard pressed to list more than two or three risks. This list is not even close to the kind and number of risks the entrepreneur is taking. This explains the frequent comment experienced entrepreneurs make that, "If I really knew what I was getting into, I probably would not have started my company."

Even when I or others point out risks that the entrepreneur is taking, the entrepreneur usually denies the existence of the risks or assumes the risks can be easily managed. It takes courage to admit that there are major risks that are being taken and that some of the risks, if they come true, may cause the business to fail.

I often remind my students that no one "knows what they don't know." If an entrepreneur knows what he or she doesn't know, then the entrepreneur can research the matters and come up with answers. But, when they don't know what they don't know, they are operating blindly and will usually be surprised by challenges that jump up and threaten the survival of their businesses.

Most entrepreneurs don't know the risks they are taking. The best way to know is to ask questions of those who have "been there, done that."

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