Start-Up Lessons: Raising the Bar

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The space could easily be mistaken for an expansive art studio. The floors are old sleeper beams. The sash windows creak and need a stiff jolt to open. The red brick walls mixed in with stark white paint create an eclectic feel. Oh, and we definitely cannot forget the massive floor-to-ceiling pin board belonging to the ever-so eccentric in-house designer, Emma. She makes sure we all look good. Really good.

Just down the road, the sister buildings boast huge glass windows, bright open spaces, canteens that offer free lunch, pool tables and collaborative corners where minds buzz. The rivalry in this city builds daily as Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Salesforce, IBM and Microsoft fill more and more buildings.

This little country of four million people, whom the rest of the world mistake for pint-drinking folk, has big ambitions. Pint drinkers they may be, but a lot more is brewing than meets the eye. Business incubators such as Dogpatch Labs and NDRC abound to tell the tales of the start-ups sweating it out to make it really big, but there are also the failures that spin into different directions and the ideas which simply never make it to the cellar.

So this business of brewing the entrepreneurial pint, what does it involve?

Research shows that entrepreneurship is not a gene or a gift bestowed only on the select few. Given enough time and deliberate practice, it becomes a learned skill that anyone can master. There is, however, one inherent trait that researchers have shown to be the defining characteristic of those who pursue entrepreneurial notions: the need for achievement. The good news is that this too can be taught and learned.

David McClelland and his Harvard associates have studied this topic for more than twenty years, discovering three core defining traits that people with a high need for achievement share:

  1. They set high, attainable goals.

  2. They seek job performance-related feedback (how did that last project look?) rather than attitudinal feedback (do you like me?).

  3. They are more concerned about personal achievement than they are about the rewards of success.

Entrepreneurial companies know this and define their cultures by it: allow employees to strive personally, and they will excel. This type of personal striving requires looser structures, open-minded management, and big vision: broad terms but clearly achievable as so many companies are leading the way to show us how.

Over the next few months we will be exploring various facets of the entrepreneurial mindset, entrepreneurship in practice, and what it means to really succeed in this space.

Considering the need for achievement, where do you find yourself on the entrepreneurial scale? Do you think entrepreneurship can be taught?

This article is part of an ongoing series on business lessons learned in the day to day setting of a small business tech environment. Other articles in this series are linked below.

Image by Len Matthews. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Claire Burge.