Upon first looking at the topic I had answer ready made for this and I’m guessing you did too. As I did research on the topic however, I started to find myself swayed between born made as I came across new information. So to say the question is divisive is no understatement. So let’s get right into it: are entrepreneurs made or born?
Let’s define an entrepreneur first and understand entrepreneurship a little better.
Entrepreneur – a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the pursuit of profit
The definition above is pretty simple. To understand the entrepreneur better let’s take a brief look at the characteristics that make a successful entrepreneur. Through these we will be able to frame our arguments as to whether they are born or made. There are so many lists out there with 5, 9, 10, 12, 15 and even 21 qualities that make a successful entrepreneur. For the purposes of our discussion let’s keep with 10. While you can find more, they all roughly boil down to these same 10 characteristics;
- Passion – they possess an enthusiasm and desire in a certain or many fields
- Strong work ethic – driven to produce quality work and solutions
- People skills – they have strong networks and maintain their networks
- Determination – they are committed to the successful completion of tasks and goals
- Creativity – they will often come across stumping points but will rearrange their business to overcome them
- Competitiveness – they constantly aim to better than others or self
- Motivated/ self starter – they continually energise them self towards their passion
- Open mind – they are open to learning new things
- Confidence – they know their strengths and use them well
- Discipline – they prioritise and put first things first.
Entrepreneurship traits start to show at a young age
For those who argue that entrepreneurs are born this is a major point. The characteristics listed above can be seen in many if not all successful entrepreneurs from a very young age. Many stories of entrepreneurs tend to have that early story about how they started a business at a tender age or showed some initiative early on. Now surely you can’t make someone an entrepreneur or at least teach the traits to young children.
Nature vs Nurture
The other side of this coin of course is a matter of exposure and influences. While entrepreneurship characteristics can be seen from a very young age learning starts almost instantly for the human being. So it’s possible to say these characteristics are learned from a young age due to influences and environment. The human mind is fascinating in the way it learns and does not always learn through direct methods or influences. Matter of fact we should all know a story or two of an entrepreneur who was spurred to success by the lack of it in their early childhood.
In the book Outliers, which I recommend you must read if you haven’t, Malcolm Gladwell studies the structure of success. While the book is famously known for the 10000 hour rule he also puts forward the idea that timing has a lot to do with success. According to him it’s no surprise that success stories in certain fields happen to cluster around particular ages, the timing has to be right. The ages of Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and Steve Wozniak all fit into a certain band because one needed to be young enough to understand the idea of computing but old enough to break out on their own in the late 70s and early 80s. So perhaps our answer is not in the entrepreneurs but rather in the marketplace and industries. Traits of course are universal and transcend time and opportunity constraints.
Another important thing to consider is that while all successful entrepreneurs possess some or all of the traits mentioned above the same can be said of unsuccessful entrepreneurs too. So while those traits may be present in successful entrepreneurs they are certainly not unique to them. The term for this is a survivor bias, where we tend to look at the success story as unique without taking time to consider that the success and failure story are usually the same, save the outcome. For our Econet we have lesser successes such as Telecal as well as projects that never got off the ground but had the same ideas.
Entrepreneurship is learning
I’m going to stick my neck out and choose a side. To my understanding entrepreneurship in itself involves a lot of learning. I am one of those who did however start a few businesses in high school and I do largely agree that many of the characteristics that make great entrepreneurs are things people are born with. Many have had to learn or hone these skills and characteristics along the way. However, being born with said characteristic maketh not an entrepreneur, entrepreneurship is not a state of being but action. I believe entrepreneurs are made.