Someone once asked me whether I thought there was one trait that all successful entrepreneurs share. After thinking about it for a while I concluded that, in my view, that trait was paranoia. But I don’t mean it in a literal, or medical, sense. I mean it in a positive, healthy and NECESSARY way.

Any Groves, the founder of Intel, once stated that the mantra he used to run his company was that “only the paranoid survive”. Groves understood that what worked yesterday might be out of date tomorrow and that beliefs, practices and behaviours needed to be challenged regularly. This type of paranoia manifests itself in a relentless desire to find new and better ways to attack old problems and exploit new opportunities.

Successful entrepreneurs don’t hang their hats on past successes; nor do they talk about least year’s results or pine for the old days. They also don’t protect sacred cows in their businesses or tolerate behaviour that holds a business back from reaching its full potential. Essentially, they know they are only as good as their ability to execute their future plan.

Consequently you will rarely find a successful entrepreneur suffering from delusions of grandeur, complacency or hubris. Everything is up for challenge in their desire to find the best solutions possible to push their businesses forward.

The source of paranoia for most entrepreneurs is external events. Will new products, competitors or regulatory threats emerge that could de-rail our business? Will customers continue to pay a “fair” price for our products? Where are our vulnerable points that competitors could exploit or could stop customers buying from us?

Entrepreneurs think about these issues 24/7/365 – they don’t switch off. Paramount to this approach is a heightened sense of urgency, even impatience, to get things done quickly. Time is an entrepreneur’s worst enemy and the great ones use it wisely.

When I started my first entrepreneurial enterprise in 1995 I learnt these lessons quickly. I didn’t have a choice. It was learn or perish. Even now, 16 years later, I retain a healthy degree of paranoia and an inability to switch off. I find myself constantly working all the angles to uncover where the vulnerabilities (and opportunities) are for all the businesses I am associated with.

I carry a notebook wherever I go to record thoughts, ideas and other random observations. This has led to several opportunities that I otherwise would have missed. It helps that I love what I do and that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Paranoia might seem an odd trait for an entrepreneur but you’ll probably find that the successful ones have it in spades…

image via Focus