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Are You a Real Entrepreneur or Just a Fake? Missing from today's entrepreneurial craze are real business leaders who question the status quo. That's what separates real entrepreneurs from the crowd.

By Steve Tobak Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Merriam-Webster defines "entrepreneur" as "a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money." In a broad sense, that might include every small business owner and perhaps even those who are self-employed, or roughly a third of our workforce. Fair enough.

In my experience, there are two distinct kinds of entrepreneurs. There are entrepreneurs that fit the classical definition and then there are Entrepreneurs. Those in the latter category take financial risks by creating businesses that attempt to disrupt the status quo of existing markets.

Why the distinction?

While I accept the broad definition, I don't quite understand why those folks wouldn't just say they're business owners or self-employed and call it a day. Throwing around a word like "entrepreneur" strikes me as self-aggrandizing. If you're not at least attempting to disrupt the status quo, I'd lay off the fancy labels and get back to work.

If, on the other hand, you aspire to become the latter kind – a true Entrepreneur who is courageous enough to challenge the status quo and take some real risks that might result in significant rewards – let's talk.

If you boil it down, true entrepreneurship is essentially the business version of the Socratic Method. Named for the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, it's a method of questioning common wisdom or beliefs to determine their validity or to seek a better solution to a problem.

Related: Why Politics and Business Don't Mix

The Socratic Method is also synonymous with critical thinking, the essence of the scientific method, and the basis for how court cases are argued. In other words, it's fundamental to modern civilization. Without it, society would digress thousands of years. And without it, there would also be no Entrepreneurs.

True entrepreneurs question things. They question common dogma, how things are done, how people behave, and even their own closely held beliefs. The reason they do that is simple. That's how you change things. That's how you disrupt the status quo. Otherwise, you're pretty much just following the crowd.

That's what's missing from today's entrepreneurial movement. Nobody's questioning anything. The cultural conformity is off the charts.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not the least bit surprised by that. Since the beginning of civilization, the overwhelming majority of people have been followers of the status quo.

What does surprise me – and distinguish today's entrepreneurial craze – is how many of those followers have somehow managed to delude themselves into thinking they're leaders. They're certainly not Entrepreneurs. Most aren't even entrepreneurs. They're wantrepreneurs. Amateurs. Fakes. Phonies. Posers.

The problem is the massive amount of self-serving groupthink flooding the online world with illogical nonsense that would make Socrates and Plato turn in their graves. What I'm referring to is all the fads and myths that have everyone marching to the same drumbeat like a horde of social-media drones.

Related: How Successful People Manage Stress

What's remarkable is that none of those people are questioning whether the path they're following makes a bit of sense. If they did, they would ask themselves some reasonable questions:

  • Does personal branding really matter? How will I know that it's actually having a material effect on my career or my business? What's the metric?
  • Have those who write the blogs and books I read actually accomplished something more than just generating feel-good fluff to get me to click or buy?
  • Are virtual personas accurate reflections of people's real accomplishments or overinflated facades?
  • Do inspirational quotes and speeches have any lasting effect on my behavior, or are they just superficial missives that feel good for a moment? Besides, shouldn't my work inspire me?
  • Does emotional intelligence actually correlate with business success or leadership performance? How can it when its sole measure, emotional quotient, is a self-test that any narcissist can manipulate?
  • Is it logical to assume that a successful person's habits or hacks would work for me? Besides, if folks like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs found their own ways of doing things, shouldn't I do the same?
  • Where is the evidence that social media delivers a return on investment that makes it worthwhile, or am I just addicted to the attention and instant gratification?
  • Am I wasting my life with my eyes glued to a screen when I should be out in the real world working, learning from experience, and gaining exposure to new opportunities and successful people?

Look, I'm not asking you to follow or even listen to me. I'm not trying to get you to click or buy anything. I've got no skin in this game. I'm just telling you to quit following the crowd and challenge the status quo. If you want to become a true entrepreneur, a real business leader, learn to question things. That's what separates real Entrepreneurs from the pack.

Related: How Real Leaders Make It Big

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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