Eight Traits of Entrepreneurial Thinkers

What makes entrepreneurs tick? What do they do differently from anyone else?


For most of us, the word “entrepreneur” conjures up a mythology that’s been ingrained in our cultural psyche since 1913, when Henry Ford first established a mass-production line for his Model T. We imagine solitary visionaries who start out with next to nothing. Thanks to a mysterious combination of talents, perseverance, luck and work ethic — and a world-changing idea no one else believes in — they end up as titans of industry or technology. Some of us even imagine ourselves as the next Oprah Winfrey or Steve Jobs, parlaying our improbable dreams and hardships into global empires.

But, if you ask Houston Peschl what he thinks, you’ll get a curious answer. “You don’t have to start a business to be considered entrepreneurial,” says Peschl, BA’98, MBA’10, an instructor in UCalgary’s Haskayne School of Business. “The technical business side is only one of many aspects of being an entrepreneur, and may sometimes be over-emphasized.”

Instead, Peschl focuses on figuring out what entrepreneurs do differently from everyone else, and teaching those skills to students in any discipline, whether or not they ever start a business. “If you take a group of very successful entrepreneurs, their personalities, their backgrounds, their education are all radically different,” says Peschl. “There is no indicator of success based on any of those metrics. The only real metric that demonstrates success is their ability to solve problems. Entrepreneurs approach problem-solving in a very calculated way.”

The program, delivered through Kinesiology’s Active Living unit, started in 1989 and currently services 130 community members, as well as benefits students who volunteer or fulfill practicum hours for programs in kinesiology and community rehabilitation. Customized supervised exercise sessions enable individuals to attain their rehabilitative goals to maintain independence and improved quality of life.

The program cost to participants (a one-time $75 program design fee plus $205 per course) is kept affordable for every participant via a Scotiabank Endowment. Philanthropy — including a recent gift to the university’s Energize campaign from Rose and his wife, Hertha — also supports the maintenance and purchase of replacement work-out equipment and machinery. “This program has meant so much to me, and we wanted to give back so others can continue to benefit from it,” says Rose.

What Makes an Entrepreneur

According to Peschl, other traits that entrepreneurs have in common include being resilient in uncertain environments, being comfortable with failure, being empathetic to or understanding other people’s needs, being creative and making do with limited resources, being comfortable with teamwork, and being able to concisely and convincingly explain their ideas. And those traits are all teachable, in the same way that science is taught to all students. “We can’t all be Einstein, but we can all learn the scientific method,” he says. “We can teach the entrepreneurial-thinking method the same way.”

Rather than only using entrepreneurial skills to start businesses, Peschl envisions graduates who can apply them to virtually anything, like homelessness, health care or education. “With all the problems that we face globally, that researchers face, that our institutions face, that our society faces — we need to become better at solving them,” he says. “The best problem-solving people in our community have traditionally been entrepreneurs. They usually don’t have enough money or time or whatever, but they somehow make it happen. If we can empower our students to have those skills, then I think our society will be better off.”

Peschl adds that people with entrepreneurial skills will be better off personally, too. “The competencies of entrepreneurial thinking will make people happier,” he says. “When you realize the world is uncertain, but you have a method to cope with that and you can deal with uncertainty, you’ll have a lot more personal happiness, as well.”