“Are entrepreneurs born or made?” This is one of the eternal questions in entrepreneurship. Some people believe that entrepreneurship can be taught, and that there are skills needed to succeed in business that you can learn. Others, on the other hand, think that entrepreneurship is innate and that some people are born with the qualities that make for a successful entrepreneur.
In a good discussion in LinkedIn Answers on whether entrepreneurship can be taught, Susan Payton, President, Egg Marketing & Communications said in LinkedIn Answers:
“You can learn qualities and characteristics of entrepreneurship, but the truly successful ones are born with the ability to handle risk, work hard and work for no money at times. They’re born with the ability to go when there seems to be no reason to continue to go on in a business. That cannot be learned.”
There are also people who say that some aspects of successful entrepreneurship cannot be taught, but that some parts can definitely be honed and learned. Mike Pisciotta, a Social Media & Internet Marketing Strategist
“Entrepreneurship is a two-faceted skill and pieces of it are naturally inherent and others are learned and honed. I believe the drive and motivation can’t be taught but the ability to see opportunity and how to capitalize on it can definitely be taught and honed.
Very often entrepreneurs are rough around the edges and need some honing and with the right amount of training and focus they can blossom into successful business owners!”
It is undeniable that some people are more predisposed to becoming an entrepreneur — and succeeding at it. While those people will certainly have a head start, others believe that entrepreneurship can be taught to anyone. Andrew Corbett, in his article “You Can’t Teach Entrepreneurship” argued that colleges and universities can teach entrepreneurship well. He writes that you can certainly teach the general skills that are needed in business. Furthermore, the education and research sectors have improved significantly through the years that the schools are now better equipped to teach about entrepreneurship.
To support his assertion, he quoted his friend and colleague Mike Haynie from Syracuse University’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises about teaching entrepreneurship:
“Arguably, you can teach anyone 99% of the ‘activities’ related to launching and growing a venture, and we do every day in b-schools everywhere. This is because, at the end of the day, these are fundamental business skills and processes that are not necessarily idiosyncratic to entrepreneurship – other than the context of new firms. So given that, I would argue that I can teach someone to be very skilled in those processes. We can teach someone how to write a great business plan, develop a great marketing strategy, produce financial projections, etc. – thus we can teach the activities that compose that act of ‘entrepreneurship’ – starting and growing a venture.”
Perhaps one of the best pieces that looked at the issue whether can be taught or not is Wall Street Journal’s article “Can Entrepreneurship be Taught?” . The article features two authors arguing for both sides of the debate: Dr. Noam Wasserman (entrepreneurship professor at Harvard) arguing for pro and Mr. Victor Hwang (author and managing partner in a venture capital firm) argues for con.
Dr. Wasserman urges to “take the lessons about what works and what doesn’t, analyze and organize them, and then teach them—just as we do with engineers, doctors and lawyers.”
Mr. Hwang asserts that, “Entrepreneurship can’t be taught in a regular classroom any more than surfboarding can. To learn it, you have to get your feet wet in the real world.” He doesn’t believe the argument that business education can teach people the skills needed to succeed as an entrepreneur. As he states,
“M.B.A. training helps you learn to allocate resources and calculate risk, which are skills that can be quantified and taught. The life skills needed for entrepreneurship can’t be …. Entrepreneurs hone their craft through experimentation and collaboration in the real world. They learn best by rolling up their sleeves and building companies, while surrounded by a supportive mentor and peer community.”
There are lots of good points in both sides. My takeaway from all these is that there are definitely qualities that an entrepreneur must possess in order to succeed. It’s up to you to honestly look at yourself to see whether you do have those qualities. For those qualities that you don’t have, you can find ways to improve yourself, develop that skill or find someone you can work with who possesses those skills. After all, one of the most important skills of the most successful entrepreneurs is their ability to find and surround themselves with the best talents.
I just believe that if you put your mind to it, you can learn anything. It doesn’t mean that you have to go back to college or business school (though they are certainly valid options), but learn the skills you need through the technique that works well for you. If you learn best by reading, start by going to the library. If you learn through observation, then find mentors or advisers whose wisdom you admire and observe them closely. There are techniques, exercises and learning materials to teach you the skills you need.
Do you think entrepreneurship can be taught? Or are entrepreneurs simply born with it?
Recommended Books on Entrepreneurship:
- World Changers: 25 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Business as We Knew It
- The History of the World’s Greatest Entrepreneurs: The Biography of Success
- The Intelligent Entrepreneur: How Three Harvard Business School Graduates Learned the 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship
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