When you’re impulsive, you take decisive action, fast. You don’t overanalyze, you don’t hesitate. You’re a doer, not a thinker—a leaper without much looking.
In school, you wouldn’t stay seated, you talked more than you paid attention, and on your way home you pilfered candy from the drug store.
Now you spend money freely without thinking. You run yellow lights, and jump through subway doors as they close, not wanting to wait for the next train.
You’re impulsive, says Freeman. You act on instinct. Not only do you never hit the brakes—you’re not even equipped with them. That can be a safety risk, but it can also help you win.
“The basic business model of the human species is hunter-gatherer, nomad-forager,” says Freeman. “The benefit of impulsivity is quick reflex. Things happen very fast. They happen so fast that you don’t have time to think about it.
“You hear a rustle in the bushes, and you turn and shoot without thinking. Because of that you get the rabbit, and you’ll be able to feed your family.” On the other hand, if that had been Bob in those bushes, you would have had some explaining to do.
When venture capitalist Robert Siegel and his colleagues looked back at all their successful deals over nearly a decade, they found that one of the attributes that was consistent among all of them was impatience.
“We want somebody with the desire to build something quickly,” says Siegel, an entrepreneurial expert at Stanford School of Business. “In our vernacular, you want somebody who’s a little bit broken but not a lot broken.”
Fact is, only a minority of entrepreneurs succeed; the odds are against them. But they have to be willing to go for it anyway.
“It’s kind of like Han Solo flying through the asteroid field,” says Siegel, “and he looks at C3PO and says ‘Never tell me the odds.’ You want a little bit of that.” And we’re back to movies.
Impulsivity and intuition can look similar—if the decision turns out to be a bad one, we call it impulsive. But if it’s good, we call it intuitive.
Johan Wiklund of Syracuse University has found that impulsive mental disorder is high among people who start businesses. What’s more, he’s argued that by examining impulsivity we may learn more about intuition, even generalizing it to other jobs where high uncertainty reigns, such as firefighters, coaches, and parents.
“Entrepreneurship is a quintessential notion not of ‘what if this goes wrong?’ but ‘what if this goes right?’” Siegel points out.
“The impulsiveness is the ability to see the upside. Sometimes you don’t think things through, but it’s kind of this notion of ‘Yeah, this is going to be great!’”
“They’re the ones who are not paralyzed by indecision,” says Freeman. “They make decisions based on limited information. Someone else might want more time to think about it, but he who hesitates risks losing. So the person who doesn’t hesitate has an advantage.”
Impulsive might border on rude sometimes—but with a payoff. One entrepreneur was out at a cafe and overheard a stranger talking about his startup, Freeman says. The man impulsively walked over and butted into the conversation—and the stranger ended up becoming an investor in his company.