In 2013, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) found that 13% of the U.S. population were entrepreneurs running a business or in the process of starting one. The rest were employees.
What does it take to become an entrepreneur and why is that percentage so low? According to The Journal of Socio-Economics, it’s because there are a lot more people out there who are happier being single-minded or being a specialist. These are employees who have mastered one trade, who have a predilection to not move beyond what they know, and who like it that way and don’t have ambitions to branch out or start their own company. In contrast, those individuals who are jacks-of-all trades, people who balance many different skills rather than just one or a few, are more likely to become entrepreneurs.
The study was penned by Uschi Backes-Gellner of the University of Zurich in Switzerland and Petra Moog of the University of Siegen in Germany in 2013. With over a decade of research using data from 2,000 German college students, the two professors found that entrepreneurs were people who had broad experiences, were interested in and had knowledge of many things, and were able to juggle different ideas at the same time.
Backes-Gellner and Moog also took into consideration social networks. They discovered that those who had a diverse set of skills also had a diverse network of relationships. Those relations included business contacts, friends and relatives. The finding was important in establishing how budding entrepreneurs can achieve success. They do so because they are able to surround themselves around different people from different walks of life who can help them in the creative process, give them advice along the way as they start to build a brand or business. These networks can serve as sounding boards for ideas.
But aren’t techies known for having a hand in many successful startups these days? They certainly are, but they’re not out there networking, finding the right talent and recruiting them to work for their company, building the business brand, acquiring and serving clients, or taking care of the cash flow and trying to get financial backing while also pleasing investors. In other words, they’re not jacks-of-all-trades and they’re not talking to a diverse population who each have different ways of expressing themselves. As Backes-Gellner and Moog wrote:
“The mere computer nerds are not likely to become entrepreneurs because they are both too imbalanced and thereby less likely to be successful as entrepreneurs.”
We can add to that what psychologist Adam Grant has told us, that success isn’t just due to talent and hard work — it also depends on your relationships. In other words, it’s who you know who can help you become the next Jeff Bezos.