Skills to be a successful entrepreneur

Have you ever wondered what skills entrepreneurs have in common? As I was reading The Creator’s Code by Amy Wilkinson, she discusses the skills she found to be shared by the 200 successful entrepreneurs she interviewed.

Also, just a content warning, this book is a bit outdated and highlights some people who are now considered either controversial or no longer successful, such as Elon Musk and Elizabeth Holmes. If reading it, take it with a grain of salt.

Photo by Ariel | Accessed on

Main impacts

  1. Stay agile and test your ideas.
  2. Find inspiration everywhere.
  3. Develop the essential skills.

Find inspiration everywhere

One of the really interesting parts of this book was the discussion of how these entrepreneurs come up with ideas. Amy groups the common thought processes into three types:

  • “Sunbirds: From one domain to another”
    • Sunbirds tend to look at other industries to solve a problem in their own industry, by taking something that already exists and using it somewhere new. An example of this was getting inspiration from a helicopter blade for a heart stent.
  • “Architects: building new models from the ground up”
    • Architects identify a gap or need and building something new that fits. Generally, they look for what is missing or for common pain points, then they find solutions by questioning assumptions and challenging how things are normally done. An example of this is how spanx was developed, Sara Blakely realized there was no reasonable option of what to wear under white slacks and she created something to fulfil the need.
  • “Integrators: Combining concepts”
    • Integrators tend to combine existing parts to create something new, such as putting unexpected things together like unusual spice combinations. They tend to mix and match until they find breakthroughs. An example of this is Chipotle, as the founder wanted both fast food and the best, fresh ingredients.

But overall, the key ingredient for each of these is curiosity.

Stay agile and test your ideas.

So not that you have your idea, you need to start putting it out in the world.

A key part of the initial stages is to remain agile. You need to find ways to test your ideas, ways to get started and see if that’s the best direction to go.

Being able to test parts of your strategy allow you to fail on a smaller scale, and fail wisely, before fully committing to a large investment or an overarching strategy. It also ensure that you’re not restraining yourself by going all in on aspects that you can’t change later on if fail. It’s also a great way to quickly get feedback on your ideas, allowing you to continuously improve without getting stuck.

While staying agile, it’s important to keep your overarching goal in mind, guided by the general direction you want to go. This mix of maintaining an overarching direction while testing lots of things in the shorter term, provides brand consistency and resilience.

Develop the essential skills.

The backbone of this book is that Amy interviewed and analyzed over 200 successful entrepreneurs to find similarities between them. Based on all of her research, she created a framework that outlined what she saw as six essential skills of all the entrepreneurs.

The six essentials skills she found are:

  1. “Find the gap:” To keep their eyes open for opportunities, be curious about the world and look for new ideas.
  2. “Drive for daylight:” To stay focused on the future. Similar to a race car driver, keep your eyes on the horizon as generally you will go wherever you look.
  3. “Fly the OODA loop:” The OODA (observe, orient, decide and act) loop was developed by a pilot. It means to keep updating your assumptions, stay agile, and always be evaluating your situation/environment.
  4. “Fail wisely:” To practice and master small failures so that you can avoid catastrophic mistakes. Basically make small bets to test your ideas and develop resilience.
  5. “Network minds:” To bring together diverse individuals and collaborate with unlikely allies. As well as find interesting and engaging ways to connect with others (ex: gamify work, competitions, etc.)
  6. “Gift small goods:” To be generous to others, often by sharing information and offering kindness. This strengthens the relationships in your network and helps build a positive reputation.

Final Thoughts

I thought this book was okay. There were definitely some interesting concepts. I think it’s refreshing that this book on entrepreneurs was based on research rather than just someone’s subjective perception of their own success.

But there were definitely some dated examples (like Elizabeth Holmes) that you have to read with an updated perspective. I also can’t help thinking about how personal environments are likely to have a huge influence on an individual’s success but that it wasn’t considered in this framework.

I wasn’t overly impressed with the book. But I really did enjoy the discussion on how new ideas are created and inspiration is all around us.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!