Entrepreneurs always like to think of themselves as trailblazers, boldly going where no one else dares. That doesn't mean they don’t have idols -- people they look to for guidance and inspiration.
Many people have had a profound impact on my life, personally and professionally. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to salute one of those people when I attended my good friend Fran Tarkenton's 75th-birthday celebration.
He is a man who has done a wide range of things, having been a NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, a TV personality and a computer-software executive. I have long admired his tenacity and business savvy.
Everyone who spoke at the event explored the idea of what makes Tarkenton so great and how he has been able to excel in so many areas over the years. Many people are fortunate to succeed in one arena, but he has tackled sports, business, entertainment and investing with a fire that others can only dream of.
So what's his secret? What makes him such a dynamic and successful presence?
As the celebration continued, a common theme emerged, a trait that has defined my friend his entire adult life: curiosity. His greatness comes from an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a willingness to accept that he does not (and won't ever) have all the answers.
Curiosity is a powerful tool not only for entrepreneurs but also for professionals in any role, department or industry. If you truly want to achieve success, pay attention to what curiosity can teach you:
1. Accept and pursue the things you don't know.
You’re not the smartest one in the room. Entering any situation like you have all the answers is a quick route to failure. Learn to humble yourself enough to embrace your ignorance.
Tarkenton's gift is to approach everything in life as an investigation.
Arrive at investigations without prior prejudices or presumptions. Explore a topic from every possible angle and incorporate every detail, no matter how small or seemingly irrelevant into your overall assessment.
That's how you start to become knowledgeable about any topic, from football to software. You can only achieve that knowledge by accepting from the outset that you always have more to learn.
2. Listen to the stories.
The people around you are one of your greatest assets, in life and in business. There’s so much that leaders can learn about their organization or industry simply by listening carefully.
Another one of Tarkenton's gifts is his genuine willingness to hear other people's stories. He is insatiably curious. And he wants to learn from the experiences of others. That genuineness compels those around him to share what they know.
Have you taken the time to hear the stories of the people in your organization? You never know what ideas or whose insights might blow a problem wide open or unlock your next major innovation.
3. Examine every point of view.
The absolute worst thing that entrepreneurs or business leaders can do is to surround themselves with and listen only to positive opinions.
You need dissension. Contrary ideas and competing points of view help businesspeople fully understand a problem and reach an informed decision. Tarkenton has always understood that the path to greatness comes with a fair amount of friction.
The comfort of focusing on the input of people who agree with you can become a trap. Everyone wants validation that his or her ideas are the right ones.
I have found through the years that being told my idea stinks can be just as revealing an experience as a room full of nodding heads. Dissension forces me to re-examine deep-rooted ideas.
Your point of view is inevitably shaped by your experiences. Without considering other opinions, you are biasing yourself with your own assumptions.
By all means, go out there and blaze your own trail. But don’t forget the lessons of the pioneers who have forged paths of their own, like Fran Tarkenton.