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Playing to Win: Five Traits Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Athletes This entrepreneur explores the similar mindsets of athletes and startup founders and the single most important attribute you can develop.

By Tom Otton

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You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

There are many fairly obvious similarities between the entrepreneur and the athlete. Many articles you might come across will talk about focus, determination, goal-setting and the like- instead, I'm going to explore a slightly different approach, one that highlights a few of the less addressed shared attributes. I've been fortunate in having the experience of building a fast-growing digital agency, Create Media Group, which has grown from a startup to a current team of 20.

More recently I have also been exploring the world of distance running. This has taken me from running the Dubai Marathon to completing the Marathon Des Sables, a 250km race across the Sahara Desert, named by the Discovery Channel as the Toughest Footrace on Earth. These experiences have made me realize that a successful mindset is the single most important attribute you can develop, it's simply the cold hard difference between winning and losing.

1. A different path

One character trait that becomes clear when you spend time with elite athletes or successful entrepreneurs is that they are very comfortable with being on their own path- they devote very little time to considering social pressures of how society thinks they should conform. They know what their destination looks like; it's often not the same as those around them and therefore they quickly become at ease with being that little bit different. This isn't in arrogance, it's in a way that gives them the confidence that sets them apart on the playing field or in the boardroom.

2. Balance

As an elite level, this is a myth. How many Olympic swimmers do you think have balance in their lives in the few years leading up to the games? None. In order to get to a level that you are considered an anomaly amongst your peers, you need to act like one. If you train like the others, work like the others, you will end up with the same results as the others. From a business perspective, you might see the highlight reel of fast cars and cushy real estate, but don't think that anyone who created that life for themselves didn't put the hours in to the detriment of most other areas of their life at some point.

3. Control

Those that find success in the sport or business arenas both know that they control the outcome, eventually. Of course we can point to cases of people being unlucky in both fields, but more often than not those that succeed know that they did because of the hours they put into training and the relentless attitude that they brought to the table. Unlike others, they do not see life as something that happens to them, they make a plan and then deliver on it.

4. The process

Business is a game and it's those that enjoy playing that will find success. Warren Buffett still turns up to work each day and there's no doubt that Lionel Messi would be playing whether he was being handsomely paid or not. These two individuals (along with countless others) are successful in their field of sports or business not because their goal was to make a lot of money or win trophies. Certainly, cash and accolades are both welcome byproducts, but Messi and Buffet did what they do best because they fell in love with the process above everything else. With a focus on the process and making continual self improvements (kaizen is the Japanese reference) success is the inevitable outcome.

5. Positioning.

Those that look up at people they consider successful sometimes refer to a single event as the reason for an individual's achievements. Inaccurate reasons like, "They got a lucky break here," or "They met that one person that changed everything for them," and many other generic dismissals can be given apart from the real reason that a person have proved successful. The mindset of those on the other side of this equation is very different. Those that are successful know that they cannot get there entirely alone; everyone gets help along the way, whether that's a mentor, a coach or a serendipitous meeting. The key difference is that they train/work day in, day out for when that opportunity comes. It works out for them because they have positioned themselves to be able to deliver when that opportunity arises.

If you love that process, then the different path you need to take, the balance you will likely lose, and mindset of taking control of the destination will be the difference between trying and succeeding in both sports and entrepreneurship.

Tom Otton

Founder and Managing Director, Create Media Group

As the Managing Director and founder of digital communications agency Create Media Group, Tom Otton has been at the forefront of the growth in the digital space in the UAE in recent years. Taking the company from a startup to employing a team of 17 with an average growth in turnover of 50% year on year for the past three years. The company works with brands such as Red Bull, Jaguar Land Rover, Standard Chartered Bank, Flash Entertainment, and both Abu Dhabi and Dubai Governments.
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