Back in the early ‘90s, I had a brief and inglorious career with the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. It officially lasted only two and half years but it was a formative experience and I learned a lot in a short time.
I have found that much of what I learned in sports applies to business. For example, what I learned about the characteristics of successful athletes also applies to entrepreneurs.
Innate talent matters in both cases but less than you think — the most physically gifted athletes are often not the best players. I believe talent comprises about 1/3 of what it takes to succeed in sports or entrepreneurship. Talent derives from genetics and no player or entrepreneur has control over it.
Another 1/3 of success comes rigorous training – physical conditioning, skill development, study of the game and other things that the individual can control. The player or entrepreneur must maximize his potential in this 1/3 in order to have a chance of success.
The last 1/3 of a successful athlete or entrepreneur comes from… I don’t know. No one does. It has to do with energy, belief, destiny, love for their profession… (That last one really matters – how many people don’t love their job but still make it to the top 1%? Not many.)
I can't define this final 1/3 but it often manifests itself in two traits: inner focus and urgency.
By inner focus, I mean that all of the person’s being is directed toward the goal. Even when he is not visibly working toward it, his being is pointed toward the goal. He does nothing contrary to it. All the elements of his life fit into the pursuit the goal (not the other way around).
In that sense, pursuit of athletic or entrepreneurial success may seem to be a selfish endeavor. It doesn’t have to be, but one must surround themselves with people that support the goal and understand the sacrifice needed to achieve it.
Less obvious than inner focus, great athletes and entrepreneurs posses urgency. I don’t mean hurry or imbalance, just urgency. They live a half-step ahead of the world. They anticipate what must be done and do it. Proactively. They don’t wait, they don’t procrastinate.
Sports has a tempo, a momentum. So does entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur’s urgency pushes the tempo and maintains forward momentum in his business.
One can sense whether an entrepreneur has urgency. For example, they ask for help but don’t wait for it. They move forward irresistibly, believing the world with eventually follow. (It often does, proving the old saying, "Move and the world moves with you.")
Of course, inner focus and urgency are necessary but not sufficient traits: you also need the first 2/3 of the equation — talent and training — but inner focus and urgency are unique traits exhibited by almost all high-achieving athletes and entrepreneurs.