Management + Leadership

How your entrepreneurial DNA can drive your career

Do you think of yourself as an entrepreneur? When looking at your own unique characteristics, is being entrepreneurial one of them? Joe Abraham, entrepreneur, author and keynote speaker at ASDA’s National Leadership Conference (NLC) this November, believes that an entrepreneurial mindset is something that’s in all of us.

“Research has found that there are 14 behavioral traits that entrepreneurs exhibit, including having future focus and being a self-starter, accountable and innovative,” Abraham says. “Anytime we exhibit these traits, we are ‘being entrepreneurial.’ It is considered a mindset because we all have the choice to display these traits or suppress them.”

In his 2011 book, “Entrepreneurial DNA: The Breakthrough Discovery that Aligns Your Business to Your Unique Strengths,” he identifies four types of “entrepreneurial DNA,” which capture the unique qualities of different subsets of business owners: Builder, Opportunist, Specialist and Innovator. Here, Abraham dives deeper into what these DNA types can mean for dental students.

In your research, you outline the “Specialist DNA” group as those who tend to stay in a field for a long time and build their expertise. Would you say that dental students fall into this subset?

It is true that a significant majority of dental students may fall in the Specialist DNA category, but there are some things to consider related to that. A smaller subset of members will fall in the Innovator DNA category. These are highly creative, artistic individuals who will use dentistry as their way to display their creativity. They are mission-driven and go to work each day not to make money, but to see significant improvement in the lives of those they touch. Their traits in business differ from Specialists, and we will uncover those at NLC together. 

Those in the Specialist DNA category will invest a great deal in building their expertise. This includes their graduate education but also continuing education, specialization, advanced studies and even research. Credibility is important to those with Specialist DNA, so they don’t like to sell. It’s beneath them to lose their expert status to appear to be pandering for money. 

Additionally, those with Specialist DNA build a strong network of trusted advisors and allies in the marketplace. They get most of their business (or career advancement) through referrals, networking and recommendations. 

Also, those with Specialist DNA struggle to stand out in a crowded marketplace of competitors who, on the surface, appear to be offering the same expertise for about the same price. 

How does this subset differ from the others?

The Specialist DNA subset is the behavioral opposite of Opportunist DNA. Here are some examples:

  • Specialists tend to be highly risk-averse in business decision-making. Opportunists are high risk-takers. 
  • Specialists generate most of their business/career advancement through referrals. Opportunists do so through cold calls or recruiting. 
  • Specialists tend to build stable, long-term businesses that grow at industry rates. Opportunists tend to build high-growth ventures that last a short period of time, followed by a transition to the next venture. 

Builder and Innovator DNA are behavioral segments that are often found as “secondary” traits of those in the dental field. A dentist who builds a large brand with multiple locations or even begins to acquire other dental practices is demonstrating the traits of Builder DNA. Meanwhile, a dentist who finds themselves a “mad scientist” at heart, inventing new devices, procedures and solutions at a fairly consistent pace is discovering their Innovator DNA. 

How can we start to identify entrepreneurial qualities within ourselves and begin to activate this mindset?

There is a bit of all four entrepreneurial DNAs in all of us. The key outcome of my study was to find that those who are self-aware enough to know the primary DNA that is driving them, as well as the secondary DNAs that may be involved, have a more rewarding and peaceful business journey. Those who ignore the signs tend to make costly decisions related to people, strategy and money. Discovering our DNA comes down to assessment. (There’s a complimentary assessment available at

Activating the mindset is about not suppressing it. Entrepreneurial mindset, by default, wants to activate and display itself. [Yet we may] tend to cover it up for fear of “looking different.”

What does the next level look like for those who already are thinking entrepreneurially?

Leverage this asset for career and business advancement. If our research is correct, and most in the dental industry are forcefully suppressing this mindset/behavior, then those who are willing to think and act entrepreneurially have a significant market advantage. 

Organizations are beginning to advance those who are thinking innovatively, problem-solving with a lean/agile mindset and finding ways to drive revenue into the organization. To do any or all of those requires an entrepreneurial mindset, and those who are drawn to do so should act quickly.

Other recommendations include:

  • Find a mentor or hire a coach who can help you evaluate opportunities and act on them appropriately.
  • Participate in entrepreneurship programs on campus or after graduation in your community.
  • Spend time with business owners in your community, especially those who are doing innovative things in various industries. Their activity, methods and decision-making processes will help immensely.
  • Find a thought leader and follow them via social media, events, etc. They will keep you from falling into the Specialist DNA traps. 

What is the hardest part about embracing entrepreneurial thinking?

Overcoming fear — fear of not being accepted, of being singled out, of retaliation. The truth is, fear is often a liar. Sometimes it is there to warn us of impending harm, but often it is there to hamper progress. 

With the right advisors and insight in place, I would encourage every student and practitioner to embrace entrepreneurial thinking and filter decisions through the lens of reality before taking any action.   

Many dental students will go on to open their own practices when they become dentists, so some of them may already be preparing for entrepreneurship. What are some tips that will allow them to dig deeper within themselves?

  1. Before starting your practice (or concurrent to getting started), work with an entrepreneurial startup in town. It is best to learn how to succeed and fail with others than going it alone. The experience and knowledge you will gain in that “incubator” environment will be priceless. 
  2. Find one business mentor in the industry and one outside the dental industry. These should be business owners who have built successful businesses and are still actively growing. Ask to intern with them, sit in on staff meetings, legal/accounting meetings and more. The experience gained watching someone else doing it well will be priceless. 
  3. Follow thought leaders in marketing, social media and entrepreneurship early. To thrive in today’s marketplace, you’ll need access to cutting-edge thought leadership outside the industry. 

For those who may go on to be an employee, how can you maintain your entrepreneurial capacity when you’re not in charge?

This is a great question and one that every employee should ask going into every role. It comes down to the answer of this question: “What is the entrepreneurial culture of the organization I’m joining?”

You cannot afford to rock the boat in your new organization to a point where you are perceived as a risk. Conversely, you cannot afford to be in an organization where entrepreneurial thinking and innovation are not celebrated. Think about:

  • Who will you be reporting to? How entrepreneurial do they appear to be?
  • Who is the senior executive team? How entrepreneurial do they appear to be? (What risks have they recently taken? How “outside the box” does their approach and strategy appear to be?)
  • How does the brand present itself?

The answer to those questions will tell you how much of your entrepreneurial mindset and DNA you need to bring to work every day. There is much more to be said about this topic, but this should give you a good start. 

What are the downsides to refusing to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset?

At a human level, when we don’t embrace our entrepreneurial self, we set aside a part of us who knows how to make life fun. If you think back to the days when you were a child and some of the joyful times innovating games with friends, inventing stories to tell each other and, yes, even dreaming big dreams for a wonderful future, those are all parts of our entrepreneurial self. Checking that self at the door as you walk into work is a denial of achieving what you are truly capable of.   

Joe Abraham is the technology keynote at NLC. He will be speaking Saturday, Nov. 2 at 8 – 9:30 a.m.

~Frances Moffett, ASDA Publications Manager

Frances Moffett

Frances Moffett is the publications manager at ASDA.

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