It is a given that individuals who choose the path of entrepreneurism as a way to make their mark or fortune are by nature optimists. Have you ever met an entrepreneur who is not at the core a “glass-half-full” person? Sure, entrepreneurs may mumble and grumble about all the obstacles, problems and challenges they face, but when pressed, they believe deeply that – against all odds – they will be successful. It has to be that way, because the shelf-life of a pessimistic entrepreneur is less than ice cream on a hot griddle.

Unfortunately, optimism by itself is not enough to assure success. It’s only part of the answer. Optimism steeps one in the belief that answers are out there to be found. On the other hand, unbridled irrational optimism can be as deleterious to success as pervasive pessimism. Still, without the suspension of doubt – which is what optimism really is – no entrepreneur can be successful. It is just that it takes more than simple optimism to be successful as an entrepreneur; or leader, for that matter.

The Importance of a High IQ

To make a mark as an entrepreneur or effective leader (both often share the same philosophical mentality) requires a certain level of IQ. But we’re not talking about the customary measurement of Intelligence Quotient here, because I’ve had personal experiences with a number of accomplished entrepreneurs and leaders who seemed to have the IQ of a goldfish. No, for this discussion, IQ refers to what would be called Inquisitive Quotient.

In simple terms, the successful entrepreneur is an individual who has never grown out of the naturally inquisitive nature of a child. Remember the movie “Big” in which Tom Hanks played a young boy – Josh Baskin – who had a wish to be “big” and became a boy in a man’s body working for a toy company? Josh’s naturally questioning nature innocently challenged the status quo thinking of the “adults” and was met with constant skepticism, but in the end, caused the company to change for the better.

Entrepreneurs with a high IQ are the Josh Baskins of the real world. They are forever asking questions that start with: Why? When told something can’t be done – “Why not?” When chastised with “we’ve always done it this way,” they ask, “Why isn’t there a better way?” When told that “everyone does it that way,” they wonder “ Why?” When warned that their ideas will not work – “Why not?”

Entrepreneurs see the status quo as a tyrant to innovation and creativity; a tyranny of oppressive conformity. The entrepreneur is in constant rebellion against the status quo and has pledged allegiance to change. They don’t accept the answer to what is known or seek to do what has already been done; rather they strive for the answer to what is not known or search for ways to do what has not been done. What this means is that successful entrepreneurs and effective leaders are inquisitive optimists. They have the curiosity to discover what has not been done and the optimism to ask: Why not?

The mindset of the successful entrepreneur is the personification of the George Bernard Shaw line: “Some men see things as they are and say, why? I dream of things the way they never were and say, why not.” (The line was made famous in Ted Kennedy’s eulogy of his brother Bobby.) This is not an on-again, off-again attitude that applies only to the big visions, but is an everyday approach that creates the ingenuity to solve big and small problems.

Learning from Masters of High IQ

There is an obvious lesson to be learned in the fact that we know the names – or at least the success – of those who demonstrated high entrepreneurial IQ; and that those who don’t are as anonymous as a losing presidential candidate.

The list is long – too long for here – but as representatives for the group of those with a high IQ we can recall:

  • Bill Gates – Why can’t everyone have a computer on their desk? When all the computers that existed at the time were in airplane hangar sized barns.
  • Fred Smith – Why can’t mail be delivered overnight, all across the country? When the only option was the post office.
  • Henry Ford – Why can’t automobiles be made that everyone can afford? Why can’t workers be paid a livable wage so they can buy the cars they make?
  • Walt Disney – Why can’t entertainment be a family event and destination? When the only option was the sleazy carnival.
  • Ray Kroc – Why can’t hamburgers and fries be consistent, served fast and at stores as ubiquitous as a street corner? When the local diner was the opposite.
  • Steve Jobs – Why can’t computers do what we want them to do? When it took a degree in programming to make them do anything.
  • Debbie Fields – Why can’t cookies be made for the world that taste like they were made in my kitchen? When all the store-bought cookies did was crumble.
  • Hugh Hefner – Why can’t women . . . (Never mind)
  • Helen Gurley Brown – Why can’t men . . . (Never mind)

There are hundreds more who did what had not been done, because they were blessed with a high entrepreneurial IQ. They revolted against the tyranny of the status quo and pledged allegiance to change. There are multitudes more that are unknown because while they may have had the optimism of the entrepreneur, they lacked the needed level of IQ and melted on the hot griddle of failure.

Don’t make the assumption that the concept of entrepreneurial IQ applies only to the “big things.” Successful entrepreneurs don’t accept anything – big or small – at face value. This attitude does not come from cynicism, but from an insatiable desire to find a better way; when most accept the status quo as the only way.

There is, however, a downside for the individual with a high entrepreneurial IQ. Like the child who drives parents crazy with inquisitiveness, the individual with a high entrepreneurial IQ is (at best) an irritant to most others. The truth is that individuals with a high entrepreneurial IQ are not very welcomed or popular with most people they encounter—especially in large organizations. But remember, this is because most have meekly submitted to the oppression of the status quo and those who have not are to be shunned; mostly out of envy and how wimpy it makes them look and feel. This is where the optimism of the entrepreneur joins forces with inquisitiveness in a way that allows the individual to move forward, impervious to and immune from the cynicism and skepticism of the naysayers.

The upside to the cynicism and skepticism the entrepreneur will encounter in response to challenging the status quo and searching to do what has not been done is that these attitudes can be used as a measure to gauge the potential for success. An entrepreneur recognizes that if they are not receiving resistance to their ideas, they are not far enough ahead to make a difference. This is the encouragement that motivates them to continue to ask: Why not?

And the Moral of the Story

If you desire to be a successful entrepreneur or effective leader, it is not only okay, but mandatory to always ask: Why not? Why? Because if you don’t, you never have a chance to find out why.

In America – if not the world – almost everyone seems to have an innate desire to be an entrepreneur. The lure is often to “be your own boss,” or “make a fortune;” and many have the optimism to believe they can be successful. But that is not what true entrepreneurialism is all about. Desire and optimism can get you started, but that is not what will assure success. Why not? Because to meet all the obstacles, challenges and naysayers the entrepreneur will face, you need a high entrepreneurial IQ – Inquisitive Quotient. It is optimism combined with the desire to rebel against the status quo by pledging allegiance to change that allows the entrepreneur to see what others do and ask why and to see what others don’t see and ask: Why not?