Too Much Can Be Too Bad

06/09/2015 07:23 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2016

Early in my consulting career I found myself constantly impressed by what I called, for lack of a better word, "geniuses."

These were men and women who were incredible scientists or first class students who earned "A" grades in all their classes. Or they were extremely creative people who came up with innovative ideas. Or they were people who were very sophisticated and won most of the arguments in debates.

I thought that in their exceptional talent, or intelligence, or creativity, I had found a gold mine. I started investing my money with them. I thought with my consulting experience and money and their genius we were going to make it big.

Just the opposite.

I lost a lot of money and lots of time.

What was wrong?

When I compared these geniuses to the successful entrepreneurs I came across in my consulting experience, I realized that those who really made a lot of money were not that knowledgeable. The successful entrepreneurs I discovered were not that articulate. Not that sophisticated. Not even very educated. Some were even pretty poor students. There is a joke about it that goes like this: "A" students work for "B" students that are bought out by "C" students.

What is going on? It defies logic. Why did these less educated people become successful entrepreneurs while the "geniuses" failed miserably?

My insight is that to know too much hinders your ability to see the essence.

The entrepreneurs are not ordinary people either. But they are not geniuses in an educated way. What makes them stand out is that they have common sense. They possess the knack of identifying what is critical. The educated and very talented geniuses tend to complicate things. They "over engineer" the subject. They know so much they often fail to see what is really critical, what is essential. Or they are geniuses in their field but have no business orientation where it is essential to understand and evaluate cost versus value. I found the "geniuses" ignored cost and focused only on value.

This discussion brings me to a controversial recognition: studying entrepreneurship can be detrimental to becoming an entrepreneur. It does not have to be so. But it often turns out that way.

Knowing too much hinders the ability to take risks, which is critical and essential for entrepreneurship. Most important of all -- to start a business, you need to be fearless and that comes from not knowing too much. If you think too much or know too much about what you are going to do, you probably will not do it. Real entrepreneurs quit school or they were "C" students.

If you have a very talented son or daughter who paints exceptionally well, has incredible talent, do not send your offspring to an art school. Their talent will be destroyed. They will be taught what is right and wrong to the point that they begin to paint what the school deems appropriate and not what their talent directs them to do.

Once I got myself a dog, a Doberman Pinscher, and bought a book whose title was "Training a Doberman Pinscher." The first page surprised me. It said: "Do not train the dog to attack."


I kept reading to find out why.

Imagine that you train the dog to attack someone who raises his hands in a menacing way.

Next time an Italian guest visits you -- Italians like to use their hands to gesture as they speak -- the dog might attack.

What happened?

You blocked the dog from using its built-in intuition. By training your Doberman, you programmed him.

The same thing can happen with an artist. The school tampers with his/her intuitive talent and now the art student paints what "the establishment" claims is right, often producing commonly accepted art rather than what could be exceptional art.

The same thing, in a different way, I believe applies to entrepreneurs. Knowing too much can discourage them from taking risks. People with entrepreneurial talent know little, but feel intuitively what is right or wrong. They are people who have no fear because they lack too much knowledge that might deter them. But notice, what makes them a gifted starter of a business is what causes them to fail later on. Their lack of knowledge, lack of a systemic view of the enterprise can ultimately lead to the business going broke. They make decisions on the fly and their lack of fear results in actions that entail too much risk. They can lose everything. They can start a business, but cannot manage it.

To manage requires a more sophisticated, educated leader. That person could not start the business, but he or she is extremely effective running it. The entrepreneur on the other hand can start the business but often fails at managing it.