Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

The Entrepreneur's Brain

Successful entrepreneurs are wired to see the world in a particular way. Are you seeing what they see?

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Countless institutions, organizations, pundits and media have posed the following questions: What makes an entrepreneur an entrepreneur? What traits and characteristics best describe that unique person who successfully starts and grows a business enterprise?

There have been as many answers as there have been inquirers. Some say cannot be taught. Some say it can. Some say you're born with it; some say you acquire it. Some define entrepreneurs as artists; others as scientists. Some see entrepreneurs through a prism of words: passion, leadership, tunnel vision, clarity of mind, focused, disciplined, charismatic, creative, competitive. Some see entrepreneurs through a prism of feelings: possessed, obsessed, intense, consumed, rigid, insatiable, driven. Some describe entrepreneurs as obsessive compulsives; others as control freaks. Some describe entrepreneurs as insiders; others as outsiders. Some describe entrepreneurs as risk takers; others as risk averse.

And yet, while all these words describe some entrepreneurs, they don't describe all entrepreneurs-at least not those who are preeminently successful.

It's my position that all successful entrepreneurs possess one fundamental ability, one fundamental quality, one fundamental skill, one fundamental interest, without which they would never be successful: Entrepreneurs possess the ability to perceive the world as a system. Without a doubt, every entrepreneur worth his or her salt is a "systems thinker." They could not do what they do without it.

What is a systems thinker? A systems thinker is one who intuits and sees the whole of a thing, the entirety of it, the one-ness of it, the integrated unity of it, as opposed to merely the sum of its parts. A systems thinker:

  • Transcends the world in order to transform it.
  • Is an inventor as opposed to an engineer.
  • Sees purpose in everything, and sees the system as the realization of the purpose.
  • Sees meaning in everything and, if not, pursues everything until the meaning becomes clear, until the system reveals itself in all its glory.
  • Is possessed by the meaning of things.

All great entrepreneurs are systems thinkers. Your business isn't simply a group of people doing work. It is, or it should be, a business system that's operated by people. The systems do the work, and people operate the systems. Your business should be systems-dependent, not people-dependent. Systemic thinking will set you free.

With no systems in place, your business depends on you and on a few people who run things for you. If you or they disappear, even for a short time, your business is thrown into chaos. But if you have the right systems in place, the systems run your business, and nearly anyone can run the systems.

If you have the right systems in place, you can decide suddenly to take a three-month vacation, and your business won't skip a beat. If you have the right systems in place, your key employees could suddenly quit, and you could replace them easily with no ill effect on your business. If performance isn't up to snuff, rather than blame your people and argue with them, you simply adjust the system. If problems and opportunities arise, you respond by creating new systems or adjusting existing systems. With the right systems in place, you can work every day in your business-or not. It's your choice, because your system is what's really running your business.

Systemic thinking is second nature to successful entrepreneurs, and it's the real secret behind building a business that works. All who wish to become great entrepreneurs need to learn how to become a systems thinker. Or, more accurately, they need to develop their innate passion for seeing things whole and transcending the world. Their world. Our world. All worlds.

Michael Gerber is the founder and chairman of E-Myth Worldwide, where he invented a revolutionary small-business development system that's been proven in thousands of businesses across the globe. Since 1977, Gerber has been sharing his business success strategies with millions of fans of his E-Myth books, audiotapes and programs. As a business-coaching pioneer and bestselling author, Gerber has changed the face of by providing entrepreneurs with an innovative and stunningly clear understanding, capability and process to transform any small business into a world-class enterprise.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks