Greetings from Kentucky!
I`m new to the communty, so please forive me if I miss "special" ettiuette in this post. Thank you.
I believe that business partners, if serious enough to talk with you, will also be serious enough to share their expectations, goals and ideals. It takes a team of people to truly become successful, a team that can hold eachother with absolute trust, and absolute reliance. This is hard to find, after a few failed businesses, I speak from experience. It is easy to take someone at face value, and never due proper research and educate yourself about the person you are dealing with. That`s a lot like looking at a car on a carlot, and saying you`l take it before you ever see it run -- for all you know, it may smoke and shimmy every time you turn it on!
Then again, many people, unfortunately, attempt to put up a "smoke screen" to hide their bad side, and only present you with their (slightly ebelished) good points. These people think that if you see any failure, or weakness in them, you won`t want them as partners either. Seriously, if your partner looks too good to be true, they most likely are.
I like to ask people questions that can seems totally off the wall. Talk about your business, and from time to time, slip in questions about current events (like the War in Iraq), then return to business concepts. Slip in another question about family or religion, then return again to business. This helps you get a keen understanding of what the person is really about. A lot of times, people try to wrap themselves so tightly within their "business mode" that they will neglect seeing that the other person they are talking with has a life too. If you can get them to open up about some "personal" iems, not just business, and you do the same, it will go a long ay in helping to determine how well you can work together. I found that if you can get along with someone when speaking about business, or non-business items, they make a much better match for potential partners.
I must agree with David, experience is a much more thorough teacher than education, so don`t forget to ask situational questions -- as they may help you to see how your potential partner would handle a given situation. Again, I also must agree with your friend, watching how they treat servers, cab drivers, hostesses, even total strangers will help you in identifying possible strengths and weaknesses within their makeup.
I think that optimism has its place, but it should be shared with equal doses of pessimism, realism, and real thought. I find that many times, people don`t dynamically approach anything, they simply make a choice, and move on. Make another choice, and move on. While this allows them to continue on through life, they also are a time bomb waiting to blow. It takes a lot of thought and actions both to make the hard choices. I think that there is a lot to be said for people who create "success teams" wherein they create a group of individuals (whether directly involved or not with their business) with a wide array of skills so they can ask "experts" qustions, and get feedback from people they trust.
I belive that a "success team" or "power team" should include somewhere between 3 to 15 people, depending on areas of expertise, and range of experiences required for the team. Of course, I like to keep a few teams like this, so I can pose a question to each team, and then compare answers, to help make a more solid decision. Amazingly, by utilizing my power teams even in potential future partners, I have been saved many times from people who came across as being very talented, yet proved otherwise in their future endeavours. When I decided to go against my team`s suggestions, I found myself in quite a problem... a company making 3 million a year went under, and by the time I could close the doors, I had to swallow a 3/4 million loss! I`ve not strayed far from my power team`s opinions since, and I`m glad... my future is looking better, and it`s because I have people help me make the hard choices... people I know I can trust!
Power teams aren`t hard to form, I like to hold "tryouts" wherein I accept a few people into a group, and then pose a series of questions to them. Their responses help me determine how thoroughly they considered my question, and how serious they take the idea of being a valued colleague. I love most the fact that power teas are free to start, and a lot of people like to offer their input!
In fact, I think this StartupNation is nothing more than an oversized powerteam -- MAJOR KUDOS to the designer and owner!
I hope this helps, and I`m sorry for being long-winded.