That relates to something else entrepreneurs often have in common: struggles in school.
Our public school system was designed and funded in the early 1900s by the Carnegies and Rockefellers. Their objective was to prepare people for factory work. Our school system continues to reflect this. Teachers usually score very high on the Follow Through section of the Kolbe test but low on the Quick Start section. They are detail-oriented and expect the same from their students. Creativity is not taught or valued. Neither is big-picture thinking. What's valued is sitting still, paying attention, memorizing facts and figures, putting the right number in the right box, and being able to show your work.
To teachers, we look like we're broken, but that's not necessarily the case. Our brains are simply different. For a child with an entrepreneurial brain, the result can be devastating. I'm a high school dropout. At the time I felt there was something wrong with me, when in reality I just didn't fit into the school system.
Bill Gates dropped out of school before graduating. The famed venture capitalist Peter Thiel created a foundation that actually pays people not to go to college so they can get a real education.
Cameron Herold is the founder of the COO Alliance and the man responsible for the exponential growth of hundreds of companies, including 1-800-GOT-JUNK? He has a very high IQ but struggled in school too.
"There are different subsets of the community or society that are just wired differently," Herold told me. "We have this group of people that are very entrepreneurial, the outliers, the 3 to 4 percent that everyone looks at as being risk takers and crazy and out of the box and we can't sit still and we're all over the map and we're scattered, and to the teachers and the school system and the medical community they think we're a little bit nuts. They think there's something wrong with us, and they often try to medicate us. The reality is that there's nothing wrong with us at all. We're just not like them."
THE PLACES WE GO
Those who have entrepreneurial brains feel like the rules don't apply to them. When somebody tells us we can't do something—for example, we shouldn't start a company but should go to college and get a 9-5 job instead—we tend to ignore them.
Believing we're different encourages us to skip the traditional path to success, and very often we go on to accomplish extraordinary things. That's the positive side of this trait. Unfortunately, believing that the rules don't apply to you is also a good way to end up in jail. Our country's prisons are full of people with entrepreneurial brains. Entrepreneurs might succeed without school, but we can't succeed without a moral compass, values, and proper guidance.
We are Ferraris. And we'll crash if we don't develop our brakes.
What does that mean, exactly? For one thing, we can be as good at losing fortunes as we are at making them. In 1998, James Altucher, the hedge fund manager, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist, sold his first company, Reset Inc., for roughly $15 million. Three and a half years later, he had less than $150 in his bank account. That didn't stop him. He created StockPickr, a social network for financial news and analysis, and in 2007 he sold it for $10 million. Within just a few years of the sale, he was broke once again. With company after company, success or failure, he lived on a tightrope of high risk-tolerance and extreme self-confidence. Every time he fell off, he'd get on again. A Forbes article once called him the most interesting man in the world, which had mixed meanings. Fortunately, with time James learned to manage his own tendencies. I'll have more to share about how he came to that wisdom later.
As entrepreneurs, we see choices differently than others do. Ray Kroc is the entrepreneur credited with turning McDonald's into the global franchise it is today, and he's not always celebrated for it. In the film The Founder, Kroc is portrayed as a man who victimized the McDonald brothers. As their relationship is depicted in the movie, the McDonald brothers cared more about quality than growth. Kroc saw that by dropping the quality just a little and selling milkshakes made from powder, they could rapidly expand the business. Kroc is seen as the villain of the story. But that's not how I saw him, because I could picture myself in his shoes.
Incidentally, I was embarrassed by my reaction; it was a bit like watching The Sopranos and realizing that you really like Tony Soprano. But how would I respond if I saw an opportunity to create a multibillion-dollar company and the people I had partnered with were committed to staying small? Would I let that opportunity pass by? Not a chance. I don't see anyone as the bad guy in the McDonald's story.