Is entrepreneurship something people are born with, or do they learn it? Good question, I suppose, but not one I expect anybody will ever be able to really answer. Emily Malby does a good balanced job of reporting about it in Entrepreneurship: A Look at the Nature-Nurture Debate on the Online Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com).
I’ve always found the nature-nurture debates interesting because only a fool is ever really sure anything is one or the other. These are all great examples of arguments in which the only intelligent answer is uncertainty. Who could ever isolate all the factors involved? And what about Malcolm Gladfield’s book Outliers, for example, which suggests that true expertise takes 10,000 hours of hard work. Is the accomplished musician, or the successful artist, the result of talent, training, or both? And what’s the role of luck?
The WSJ quotes a survey taken with 500 entrepreneurs in the UK. It says:
Only 13% believe that skills they gained through education and experience were the main drivers in starting a business.
Hmmm … but what does that mean, “the main drivers?” and what does “skills gained through education and experience” mean? The report goes on to suggest a contradiction, and maybe a problem with definitions:
Almost 90% of entrepreneurs who took the survey had worked for another company before launching their own companies, and 30% had studied business and management.
So that’s kind of mysterious. I think it goes back to how hard it is to get data like this. We don’t get the facts — as if there are any — but what people say about themselves. And nobody asked unsuccessful entrepreneurs what they thought … what if lack of education and experience increases the likelihood of failure?
The WSJ story, I should add, goes on to give a well balanced summary of this debate, quoting experts and research on several sides of it.
And either way, the nature-nurture debate has nothing useful to say about whether we can teach entrepreneurship, or learn entrepreneurship. Whether it’s learned or innate, there is still the matter of training, and skill, and experience. Don’t tell me born entrepreneurs don’t gain from learning the normal process, and skills like cash flow and marketing. Don’t tell me that the luxury of learning, if it’s available, doesn’t help.
For every Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg there are hundreds of millions of the rest of us.