Wake up, America: You elected an entrepreneur

By Brian Hamilton

Tribune News Service

After listening to the entirety of President Donald Trump’s recent press conference and then reviewing the coverage of it, it’s obvious the media doesn’t understand and cannot accurately interpret his style and approach. Put simply, most people don’t understand how entrepreneurs think.

It’s one of the main reasons — outside Trump’s propensity for stepping on his own feet and seemingly making up facts on the fly — for the confusion and chaos we’ve witnessed during his first weeks in office.

For the record, I didn’t vote for Trump. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s misunderstood.

After all, it’s easy to entirely dismiss someone if you don’t understand their approach. We all do this and become more insular and arrogant as a result. But go out on a limb and consider, if you will, that entrepreneurs have a different way of looking at the world and attacking its problems.

First, entrepreneurs make moves with the goal of fixing broken or inadequate systems. They don’t start businesses thinking the particular market they’re entering — in Trump’s case, the federal government — is already efficient, or one where supply meets demand. Rather, entrepreneurs assume they can make things better.

Second, because of their solutions-oriented worldview, entrepreneurs often take a destructive approach to analyzing problems and bringing about improvements. They are prone to poking big holes or even entirely dissembling the status quo to get a fresh perspective and improve a product or service or market. If Trump, for example, decided to take over a fast-food burger chain that had been serving lukewarm cheeseburgers, he wouldn’t accept anyone telling him it’s impossible to serve hot-off-the-grill food. He’d probably take the kitchen processes apart wholesale and figure out a way to produce piping hot burgers.

Those who haven’t started a business often mistakenly view this destructive aspect of entrepreneurship as negative or nonsensical. But again, no business operator takes on a new venture assuming all is well or that there aren’t material things to improve.

Third, entrepreneurs have a bias for action. In business, you’re not paid to talk, and the market doesn’t reward those whose words don’t come with results. It’s questionable whether the leadership of Trump’s predecessor, who was well-noted for his oratory skills, really moved the needle. The same, minus the oratory skills, can be said of George W. Bush. In fact, given the decades-long, near-unabated rising of our national debt, it’s clear America could have benefited from more action-oriented leadership from many past presidents. With entrepreneurs, everything is geared toward solving problems, which is why such leaders are willing to consider sweeping, possibly errant radical moves in order to address challenges. We saw this with Trump’s executive order on immigration.

Fourth — and this one can be hard to reconcile — entrepreneurs are willing to make mistakes. In fact, they accept mistakes as an inevitable part of their iterative process. While some might argue that a trial-and-error approach is no way to run a government, one need look no further than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Depression-era maneuverings for an example of a leader who used such tactics to great and lasting effect. What’s most important here, is that the best of these risk-takers know how to correct course and keep moving ahead.

What’s happening in America is predictable. Trump, with a long and much-publicized business career, came to Washington with the aim of fixing a broken system.

If you think America is fine as is, Trump’s approach is probably terrifying you. But if you think America faces material threats and challenges that cannot be addressed on the margin, trust that our chief executive views the world in similar terms. If Trump can hold himself in check, the country might benefit from having a leader with a mindset for solving problems.

Trump means business, and in Washington that’s unusual.

Brian Hamilton, a regular CNBC guest, is an entrepreneur and the co-founder of Sageworks, a financial information company. Mary Ellen Biery, a research specialist at Sageworks, also contributed to this article.