Entrepreneurial personalities: small business owners, emphasize your unique strengths

Have you ever felt as though you were different from other people? Do you love brainstorming new ideas? Do regularly scheduled cyclical tasks bore you?

If so, then author John Dini, an executive business coach for The Alternative Board (TAB), would most likely tell you that you’re a hunter, not a farmer.

John’s most recent (award winning!) book, Hunting in a Farmer’s World: Celebrating the Mind of an Entrepreneur, describes that concept in detail – and, today, we’re going to share what we learned in a one-on-one interview with John.

Hunting in a Farmer’s World: Celebrating the Mind of an Entrepreneur

First, some context

If you think back to your social studies classes, you’ll probably remember the concept of the long-ago hunter-gatherer society. If not, here’s a quick refresher: a percentage of society, usually the men, used to hunt wild game while others – typically women – gathered plants. When food became scarce in an area, people moved on.

About 12,000 years ago, a revolutionary agricultural shift took place, as people began planting and tending to crops. Society was often then a hunter-farmer one.

Fast forward to 1992. That’s when psychologist and author Thom Hartmann published a groundbreaking book, Attention Deficit Disorder: A Different Perception. This book compared people with ADD to hunters living in a farming society. In other words, there isn’t anything wrong with people with ADD. There’s nothing that needs fixed. People with ADD are simply different from people without ADD, with different strengths and challenges.

“I give credit to this book,” John says, “for making me realize that many entrepreneurs are actually hunters living in a farming society. I looked at the symptoms listed in the ADD book and recognized that many business owners behave in the exact same way.”

He expands upon those thoughts, saying:

  • Hunters needed to bring home the meat or the tribe starved. So, it didn’t matter if it was snowing or raining or very muddy. People needed to eat, so the hunters needed to produce.
  • Even though only about 3% of people own a small business (one that employs other people), small business is responsible for 65% of all new job creation in the United States. So small business owners are providers, just like hunters.
  • These modern-day hunters aren’t recognized for their importance, at least not beyond lip service. People don’t grasp the extent of their risk taking and stick-to-it-ness. Hunting is linear. Even though you score today, you still need to figure it out all over again tomorrow.
  • Meanwhile, farming is cyclical: you need to till, plant, water, reap – and then repeat. Big business is like that, so it doesn’t make sense for a small business owner to simply try to duplicate the strategies and efforts of corporations.

Here’s something important to know: being a hunter does not make you more intelligent than a farmer – or less intelligent. The reason it’s important to correctly identify your personality is so that you can play up your strengths and find employees to handle areas where you are weaker.

So, are you a farmer – or are you a hunter?

John works with as many as 70 to 100 business owners at any given time and he’s paid attention to consistencies in their personalities. “I see people who are tireless in their problem solving,” John says. “And, they don’t see failures, only setbacks. They are tenacious and have a third-eye instinct in steering their companies in the right direction, even when everyone else is dubious.”

John cautions, though, that not all business owners or entrepreneurs are hunters. “Some are technicians,” he says, “who did their job well and then realized that they could make more money going into business for themselves. Others inherit a business. They may have worked at the company virtually all their lives, but they may be charged with keeping the business as is, to not screw anything up.”

He continues with these two entrepreneurial personality types:

  • Acquirers: “These are usually hunters. They buy a company to build it up and make it better than before. Their mindset is usually that they’re smarter than the sellers.”
  • Creators: “This is the rarest of entrepreneurs, the type that completely fulfills the definition of a hunter. They gather together capital, labor and other resources. They may not know how to do the work themselves, but they know how to create opportunity.”

If you’re wondering if you’re a hunter or a farmer, John offers this quiz.

If you’re a hunter: now what?

Consider reading this book. It’s based on John’s experiences (thousands of hours) coaching entrepreneurs. The book contains true stories from dozens of small business owners, all except one of which is identified by the company’s and owner’s real name – which is unusual, because John often discusses the struggles of a particular company.

This book is the 2014 winner of the NY Book Festival’s Best Business Book and the silver medal winner for the Best Business Book of 2014 by the Independent Publishers Association. The book has also received three more finalist/honorable mentions.

In Hunting in a Farmer’s World, John uses Star Trek as an analogy, since Captain Kirk clearly is a hunter. He doesn’t play it safe and he expects to make mistakes. Think back to just about any episode and Captain Kirk will be coming up with a plan that Spock says won’t work. Kirk doesn’t care – and the plan doesn’t work. Spock notes that they failed. Kirk doesn’t care because he has another plan, probably worse than the previous one – but he moves ahead, anyhow.

This analogy illustrates how being a hunter or a farmer doesn’t equate to being more or less intelligent. In this case, Spock is clearly smarter, but he’s not a leader. He’s a manager. And, the underlying point is that hunters should focus on hunting activities that they enjoy: creating, developing, selling and building new things.

“Entrepreneurs cringe at the thought of getting bogged down in management, reviewing budgets and financial statements and performance reviews. Hunters get bored with something that they need to do three times. So, they should hire managerial people who like farming – who like participating in cyclical activities, improving them each time. Then, the managers can provide quick graphs and flash reports to the owner.”

He shares one final thought. A friend of his conducted a CEO survey and found out that they typically spend about 20% of their time focusing on what they do well and then spend the rest of their time doing whatever else needs done – and that doesn’t make sense. “I’m not suggesting,” John says, “that business owners should be spending all of their time being creative. But, what if you could spend, say, 40% of your time doing what you do best. How would that benefit your company?”

Are you a hunter or a farmer? What are your thoughts about John’s categories? Please leave a comment below.

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