Revealed: The learnt cognitive skills driving entrepreneur success

Conducted by The Centre for Enterprise at Manchester Metropolitan University on behalf of the Business Growth Service, the study is based upon research with owners of high growth businesses – a number of whom have repeatedly grown businesses – and an extensive review of existing literature.

The study identifies six main elements in the outlook and approach of entrepreneurs that contribute to their success. “Market expertise” was revealed to play the most important role. In the entrepreneurs studied this detailed understanding of the market was also underpinned by a positive attitude to selling.

Rather than being innate qualities, the research shows that all of the elements of the growth mindset can be learnt through experience, challenging the perception that successful entrepreneurs are born and not made.

Rob Turner, Head of the Business Growth Service’s research team (GrowthObservatory), said: “Though there has been a significant amount of research into entrepreneurship, there is far less which explores entrepreneurship specifically in relation to business growth. This study tells us that the leaders of successful growing businesses combine deep understanding of their markets, a vision of what the business will look like in the future and a fundamental commitment to achieving set goals.

“This visionary leadership enables businesses to innovate products and services that they have confidence in. With certainty that the business is offering something of value to its customers “selling” becomes a given.”

Dr Tamara McNeill, Research Associate at the Centre for Enterprise, Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “People have long been fascinated by what makes an entrepreneur. Around the middle of the twentieth century there was a quest for the definitive ‘entrepreneurial personality’ but we have seen a shift away from that and researchers have mostly moved on to consider different questions, for example, about how entrepreneurs think, learn and are motivated.

“The Mindset of High Growth study demonstrates the importance of learnt cognitive processes in the ‘high growth mindset’ such as development of expertise in growing businesses, development of growth intention and the ability to self-regulate decision-making processes.”

Do you have the six elements of the high growth mindset?

Do you have market expertise?
The research suggested that the thinking processes of successful entrepreneurs are geared for generating sales, but that the true driving force behind growth is a broad understanding of the market and opportunity. Market expertise was found to be the biggest contributor to the growth mindset.

Can you visualise your business in the future?
Successful entrepreneurs are often credited as being ‘visionary’ in their approach. The research showed that having strong levels of conviction in their ability to deliver is key – but this doesn’t mean they have it all mapped out. The determination of high growth business leaders to achieve their vision drives their ability to find out ‘how’ as they go along.

Do you think about how you make decisions – then make sure you see them through?
Far from being impulsive, leaders of growth business ‘choose how to think’ – adapting their decision making processes to minimise risk, and moderating their approach to draw on the influence of other people and formal processes. Once they make decisions, they are committed to seeing them through, summarised in the words of one of the business leaders interviewed as, “let’s get on with it!”

Do you want to grow your business?
Increasing the size of the business is a distinct and important aspiration. A key finding from the research was that growth could be viewed as positive in its own right but only where growth had a purpose to achieving wider ambitions.

Are you committed to selling?
The business interviews uncovered a particularly strong drive to achieve sales amongst retail businesses, although the study suggested that sales and a positive attitude towards selling might be a ‘given’ for many.

Do you innovate?
Interviewed businesses stressed the importance of being able to sense new opportunities – often this related to new products and services, but also to new markets.