The most successful guy I know started his business in a railway arch. Now he employs a hundred people and he’s worth somewhere north of ten million quid. Qualifications? He’s got one, and he’s proud of it. “I’ve got a certificate for the 25m breast-stroke,” he says. “Mind you, I put my foot down half way. But the teacher didn’t notice…”
I told this story at a recent Alternative Board meeting – and there were echoes all round the room. We started talking about self made millionaires that we know. What makes them different? How do they think? And the $64,000 question – can you copy their thinking and become just as successful? In no particular order of importance, here are half a dozen of the common characteristics we identified:
Focus – an absolute focus on what they want to do, to the exclusion of everything else. I remember having dinner with our millionaire swimming champ – as soon as we finished talking about his business he fell asleep.
Confidence – bucketloads of it. “I made a big mistake in business,” one of the Board members said. “Took me two years to get over it. Not financially – but psychologically.” That simply doesn’t happen with our millionaires. They make a mistake, shrug, forget about it, get on with the next project.
They’re stubborn – it’s almost a one-dimensional view of the world. Tell them something can’t be done, that it’s never been done that way and they just look at you and say, “Why?”
They’re not introspective – this goes with confidence and being stubborn. Self-made millionaires don’t pause to ask themselves if they’re doing the right thing. They don’t examine their motives. They just do it.
They didn’t do very well at school – you’d think this would change as more people make their fortunes from technology and the internet, but apparently not. Doing spectacularly badly at school – even to the point of getting expelled – was another common characteristic. And so was dyslexia – Richard Branson is famously dyslexic, but the evidence from around the table was that it wasn’t just well-known entrepreneurs that suffered (or should that be benefited?) from dyslexia.
It wasn’t about the money – interestingly, none of the TAB members said they thought making money was the motivation for the entrepreneurs. It was nice, it was a good way of keeping score. But the entrepreneurs were turned on by the deal, by doing what they’d been told they couldn’t do. Besides, what was money at the end of the day? One of the TAB members quoted his very-rich friend’s favourite saying: “There’s no pockets in a shroud.”
A fascinating discussion, and then everyone started arguing. Because having identified some common characteristics, the question was ‘could you be coached to think and act like a self-made millionaire?’ And the room split right down the middle. On the one hand, there was the ‘rich are different’ faction – who said that some people can sing, some can dance and some can make money.
On the other was the ‘Yes you can’ lobby. You can mirror behaviour, you can consciously imitate until one day, you’re doing it unconsciously.
Me? I struggled to keep the peace. But I guess I’m somewhere in the middle. Yes, I think you can watch and learn. But I also think there’s something that can’t be taught. Singing, acting, sport and business. Sometimes you just see star quality. And when you see it, there’s no mistaking it.