When you look at a group of great basketball players, you can very well see that they share similar traits, such as: height, speed, agility, power, and court-sense – all of the traits that make them great. Of course, not all traits are prerequisites for becoming a great basketball player – there are some fantastic players that are not as tall, fast or powerful. Regardless, there seems to be an intangible common thread between many of the greatest players.
I was determined to find a different kind of common thread when I decided to book a flight to New York City to attend the Thiel Foundation Summit, an event for the world’s most impressive young minds.
The Thiel Foundation was started by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal (as well as an early investor in Facebook and the CEO of venture capital investment firm Founders Fund), to encourage more breakthrough innovation and to question the status quo of higher education.
I was curious to see how, at such a young age, these kids (for lack of a better word) were already gaining traction in the world of business. I have met hundreds of entrepreneurs, but I haven’t yet been able to pinpoint the common thread between them. I was desperate to get to the bottom of this. I figured by looking at young entrepreneurs, I would more easily be able to pinpoint the traits that predisposed them to success… as if they had inherent ‘success’ genes.
So what was the common thread between all of them?
After charging my credit card for a plane ticket to New York, I decided I would make it my goal to find the answer. Just like it is obvious that great basketball players have good ball control, I expected to find a motivated group of teens hungry for success – and I did. But, I wanted to dig deep beyond the obvious.
A Room Full of Young, Successful Contrasts
For every young entrepreneur who claimed that he or she had done very well in school, I met someone who admitted that he or she had received very poor grades (some even failed out).
I met many who were encouraged to pursue their dreams by their supportive parents. So inevitably, I imagined parental background played a role in these teens’ early starts and successful entries into entrepreneurship. But, that theory was soon overturned after I met somebody who was disdained by his middle-class parents for pursuing a rather uncertain career path instead of becoming a doctor (which is quite similar to my own story).
School was hard for me; I did not fit in with the normal crowd. In and of itself, the acknowledgement that I was inherently “different” harnessed my desire to create my own job as an entrepreneur and build upon my creative spirit. In the process, I met a lot of other entrepreneurs who were different, interesting, and also felt that they did not fit in with the average crowd. I thought I had pinpointed at least one commonality. But, I was proven wrong yet again when I met a group of entrepreneurs whom I hadn’t met yet up until that point (since they were so busy mingling with others). This group identified themselves as the popular type; they had a lot of friends and had no trouble fitting in throughout childhood.
This process continued: I would identify one trait as a potential source of commonality, but then had to throw away the theory after meeting someone who was an exception to the rule. I met people who started at different ages (some as early as ten). Many hated routine, while others relied on structure. Some wished they had a broader skill set, while many complained about not being amazing at any one particular skill. A variety of different motives were represented amongst the students, including: accumulating financial wealth, having an impact, or pursuing a passion. Some were idealistic dreamers, while others were die-hard realists. And maturity levels varied from one end of the mature spectrum to the other.
I realized that the entrepreneurs and change makers I met this past weekend represented not just one type of person; they were as similar as they were different. They came in all shapes and sizes, and they were from various different backgrounds. So, what was the common thread between them? Out of the millions of young people in the world, why were these specific people selected to come to the Thiel Foundation Summit?
I was disheartened because I did not find a clear answer to these questions, but I was also relieved. Relieved because I realized there is no limiting factor required for being an entrepreneur, a scientist, or a change-maker. Just about anyone could have been there in the room.
That’s when it hit me: the common thread was obvious. These young minds were not predisposed to success because of a high IQ or successful parents. They were there because each of them had an idea and did not wait for a college degree, the right connections, or the right time to turn it into something real. They had the courage to take a leap and act on their ideas. They were chosen to be at the Thiel Foundation Summit because they were all doers.
That’s how entrepreneurship starts: by doing. It’s as simple as that.