I recently logged in to a webinar hosted by the London Business School, where I listened to entrepreneurship professor John Mullins talk about his new book, Break the Rules!: The Six Counter-Conventional Mindsets of Entrepreneurs That Can Help Anyone Change the World.

I got to know Prof Mullins many years ago when he was the adviser to USIU on case studies they were developing.

I worked on one of these, about an IT company whose CEO I was, and I have kept in touch with him ever since.

In 2014 I also wrote an article about an earlier book of his on entrepreneurship, Getting to Plan B, in which he revealed that we would never have heard of some of the most successful business founders if they would have stuck to their original Plan As.

For over 20 years Prof Mullins has been exploring what sets successful entrepreneurs apart from other business people and from those who fail to reach their goals.

In the webinar, he took us through what he has found – including through having been an entrepreneur himself before entering academia.

It is that successful entrepreneurs exhibit one or more of the six break-the-rules mindsets through which entrepreneurs challenge assumptions, overcome obstacles and mitigate risks.

Here they are:

1. When you’re tempted to say “No”, instead say “Yes we can”. Then figure it out.

2. It’s the customer’s problem that matters, not your solution. Problem-first, not product-first.

3. “Moving the needle” doesn’t matter much to entrepreneurs. Think narrow, not broad.

4. Entrepreneurs get things done with almost no money. Ask for the cash, and ride the float.

5. Make the future winnings yours. Beg, borrow, but don’t steal.

6. Don’t ask for permission. Beg forgiveness later.

Each of these six mindsets can be learned, he has seen, by anyone, in any business setting large or small, old or new, create thriving sustainable businesses that grow and prosper.

And during the webinar, he quoted examples from entrepreneurs we are all familiar with, who practised at least one of them.

He referred to Dell PC founder Michael Dell, who in harmony with Mindset two ensured the company made products that were trusted to solve the problems of their customers; to Nike founder Phil Knight, who aligned with Mindset three when he started, narrowly focusing on products for elite athletes; to Tesla founder Elon Musk, who followed Mindset five by obtaining deposits from customers even before the car was launched that financed their production; and to Uber founder Travis Kalanick, who in keeping with Mindset six didn’t ask for permission before challenging the modus operandi of traditional taxis.

He might also have mentioned Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson, who saw the need for more customer-friendly flights and despite lacking experience in the domain just went for providing what no other airline did, in the firm belief that he could and that customers would be attracted to his offering.

In his book, Prof Mullins describes strategies for overcoming the daunting obstacles that stand in every innovator’s way.

He shows how to challenge assumptions and mitigate (not avoid!) risk – often by externalising it – in order to take advantage of opportunities. And he takes us through the steps we can take to make one or more of these mindsets our own.

He ended his webinar by asking which of the mindsets are already embodied within us personally, and which others can we learn to apply to a challenge we are currently facing.

I’m always grateful when my daughter Amy sends me a book to read, including the most recent one I received from her, Total Rethink: Why Entrepreneurs Should Act Like Revolutionaries, by David McCourt, published in 2019.

McCourt has indeed proved himself to be a serial revolutionary entrepreneur, disrupting the telecommunications industry in multiple markets around the world and earning himself a fortune in the process.

He came up with radical new ways of transforming how customers’ needs could be met, comparable to what the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Airbnb came up with in their domains.

McCourt saw how previously unthinkable ways could be devised to dramatically improve services and reduce costs – often by eliminating middlemen.

He won himself bold contracts, sometimes without having fully thought through how he could deliver on them but confident that necessity would be the mother of invention… which it typically turned out to be.

So what does this “Total Rethink” require? What are the characteristics of revolutionary entrepreneurs? It starts when we are young, says McCourt, with how our parents support and encourage us, and how our teachers also do.

Then there’s developing a strong work ethic, again from a young age. As a teenager McCourt took it for granted that he would help around the house and in the garden – as I used to do! And while at college – again like me – he always took up summer jobs.

In the American education system there’s too much emphasis on overcoming weaknesses and not enough on further building natural strengths, McCourt notes, while worrying that virtually all school curricula in America are geared towards helping children get good results in standardised tests – which then enables them to get into universities.

Here they are subjected to more such tests, as a result of which they qualify to enter graduate schools.

“If they do really well they get into Harvard,” he continues, “where the whole premise of the business degree is to teach them to think outside the box – the exact opposite to everything they have been taught up until then.” It makes us feel really good about our new Competence Based Curriculum, which has done away with the problems this revolutionary has identified in the US system.

All the top universities around the world now have courses on entrepreneurship, McCourt has observed, it being a “fashionable” subject to offer. But if you ask the students why they want to be entrepreneurs they will most often say it’s because they want to be rich and because they don’t want to have a boss.

He’s not impressed, asserting that no high quality entrepreneur he’s ever met has chosen that path in order to get rich, and that while not having a boss they all rely heavily on mentors and on the support of others.

He writes at length about the importance of confidence, based on capability; being willing to collaborate and compromise in order to get to win-win; sharing generously rather than being selfishly secretive (worrying in particular about middle management in this regard, who too often see their colleagues as competitors rather than teammates); listening to others and not talking at them (this for all managers, politicians, teachers, and others too).

He also stresses the need to be a good story-teller; to articulate one’s message simply, briefly and clearly – as in the elevator speech; and to write well. He was once told that his “secret sauce” was his ability to chat with anyone, whether they were three years old or 80 years old, and that they would feel like he could relate to them and that he respected them.

Here he quotes Dale Carnegie, who famously said that “you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than in two years by trying to get other people interested in you”.

All that I have selected so far are personal attributes, and in my next article I’ll focus on the business side of entrepreneurship, on how to deal with customers so as to get the business and then how to deliver on it.

But before I conclude today I’ll leave you with a question his mentor put to all those at dinner aboard his yacht: “If you could come back as something else what would that be?”

McCourt’s immediate thought was that he would return as a revolutionary. Mine? Maybe a tennis professional or a photographer. How about you?