When asked about his recipe for business success by Inc. Magazine, Chobani founder, mentions that “to think like an immigrant” helps. Hamdi Ulukaya, “born to nomadic dairy farmers” in Turkey, moved to the US for college. Here’s what he has to say about the immigrant mindset:
There’s an excitement, a can-do attitude, a magic to thinking like an immigrant. When I started out, the biggest advantage I had was not knowing many other people, not knowing business, and not knowing where this journey would lead. It allowed me to concentrate, to stay in the moment and find ways to solve one problem after another.Hamdi Ulukaya | Founder of Chobani
Research from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) showed that immigrants are more likely to start firms than native born. According to Forbes, most billion dollar companies are founded by immigrants. And of course, the poster child for immigrant success story is Elon Musk, who migrated from South Africa.
More than a Business Mindset
Beyond business success, thinking like an immigrant can provide tools for living. At the heart of it, immigrants leave home with the hope of seeking a better life. This aspiration rests on finding a better place. Voluntary immigration (immigrating because people choose to) comes with optimism and possibilities.
The immigrant mindset references a broader sense of comparison interms of how bad things can get. And with this comes an appreciation for what you have and what’s at stake if you lose it. Google CEO, Sundar Pichai grew up in drought-stricken Chennai, India. Here’s what he had to say about his childhood:
You know, there was water scarcity when I was growing up and droughts were frequent events. Over time, the water table became really low and many homes didn’t have access to fresh water. We would have to wait for rationed water to be brought in on trucks, and then wait in long lines to carry water back home.
There were times when the trucks didn’t come at all — and it was all just part of normal life.Sundar Pichai | CEO Google
This story reminds me of Ulukaya’s characterization of the immigrant mindset:
Sometimes, we get beaten down by large scale problems and feel hopeless. Or we feel as if we have hit rock bottom. By focusing on the now and what we can do as individuals, we are able to dissect a situation and work through the problem in a targeted manner. When it comes to rock bottom–well, you know that it can get even uglier.
Anyone Can Have the Immigrant Mindset
I am not saying that only immigrants have the capacity to have hope or understand that things can always get worse. But there’s value to the exercise of making your way through an unfamiliar place without your usual support system. Immigrating to a new country, bringing only what you truly need, teaches you how to deal with reality head-on. You understand that the world is a spectrum —some places in this world are better than others. With a hope for the future and gratitude for what you currently have, you build an understanding that things might not be easy currently. However, you can’t look back, because the past is even harder. You look forward towards possibilities. You build on what you currently have.
The good news, we can all practice the immigrant mindset. Immigrant stories allow us to empathize and understand. If you’re interested, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Netflix Docuseries, Arnold, embodies the immigrant mindset well.