Did you know that one of the most searched questions about entrepreneurship on Google is: “Are entrepreneurs born or made?”
The answer is…complicated. This is actually a pretty controversial question among business leaders. The answer may be the reason why Bloomberg estimated nine out of ten startups fail and why eight out of ten entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. Already have an opinion about this? Stay tuned for our final judgment.
Good to great
by Jim Collins
⏱ 16 minutes reading time
🎧 Audio version available
Let’s get started.
First of all, we have some good news and some bad news.
The truth is every successful entrepreneur is probably a born entrepreneur. That’s the bad news. The good part is that there is not only one type of entrepreneur.
When you think of entrepreneurs or super successful people – like, billionaires – do you think those people who made fortunes off their work would be nearly as successful in another career?
Richard Branson, the founder of The Virgin Group, controls over 400 companies, and while he expressed interest in becoming an entrepreneur at a young age, would have made an awful software developer.
Sara Blakely, the innovative mind behind Spanx, has a net worth of over a billion dollars as of 2020, and utterly failed as an attorney.
Oprah Winfrey, who built an empire from her TV talk show program, probably wouldn’t have made it far coding.
Mark Zuckerberg never would have managed to build a career being a talk show host.
Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk– the same applies to them.
Just because most entrepreneurs are supposedly born this way doesn’t mean that it’s the ultimate answer to the question. Being a great entrepreneur could be more about finding something that works for you and your nature.
How many fields are there that you might excel at? Finances? Marketing? Entertainment? Software? Engineering? Healthcare? There are so many, and that is exactly why it’s so hard to find one skilled personality type who earns the “entrepreneur” title effortlessly.
We don’t have it down to a science yet. It’s more of an art.
Like acting or painting. Not everyone can be a good actor or painter, and not everyone can be a great entrepreneur.
You, however, are born with a set of crude talents. And unless these talents are refined, you’ll never become great at anything, never mind the cutthroat world of business and leadership.
Let’s break it down even further.
Are the skills of an entrepreneur, the core skills, something you’re born with or something that can be learned?
A core skill of being a leader, a successful entrepreneur isn’t just about being a genius innovator; it’s about having the ability to influence others. A business would never get off the ground if no one buys into it– literally.
Being influential is something that is both innate and learned. You need influence to run a business and all its complex parts– all the marketing, finances, sales, communication, product creation, et cetera. Your team will need to be inspired enough to invest in your vision. And it goes without saying that customers need to feel the same.
People need to see you as a leader, someone who’s worth spending time, money, and energy on. Luckily, for those born without this particular skill, it’s a skill that can be learned through experience and advice.
Let’s play the devil’s advocate for a moment. Let’s see the other end of the spectrum– the side that says it’s innate.
A lot of people cite education and background as a major factor that contributed to being both a leader and a successful businessperson. Those who do point out examples such as Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Mukesh Ambani as ideal candidates.
These three own some of the world’s biggest corporations. Richard Branson and Steve Jobs are high school dropouts and received little to no formal training. Ambani’s father was the one to start Reliance Industries Limited– the company Mukesh later developed into India’s most valuable company by market value.
But all three showed entrepreneurial skill from childhood. Their early ventures are proof enough. Even non-billionaire entrepreneurs credited seeing ambitious, self-employed parents are a major reason why entrepreneurship took root in their minds.
Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter says,
“My business education wasn’t at university, it wasn’t at school, it was in my dad’s shop. It was the life skills, my own determination, and the many mentors I had around me providing the right guidance that made me successful.”
Adding to that, here’s another player in the game.
Peter Ryding, a business coach and specialist firmly believes entrepreneurs are born this way. He divides it into percentages.
Ryding further backs his claim by naming two “genetic” characteristics: “adaptive thinking” and “seeing reality with a positive spin.”
Those with “adaptive thinking” are the ones who can effortlessly pinpoint a business need, a gap in the market, and then see what skills are needed to address this need. Every time, they rise up to meet the needs or requirements.
Being able to turn a problem into a positive is “seeing reality with a positive spin,” which links to problem-solving– an indispensable trait.
He also addresses that 20% training bit. He says,
“you can train people to manage stress, be better leaders, how to be tenacious, how to be humble, how to be positive. But if they don’t have the underlying genetics, it is hard to do that.”
The silver lining to this point of view is that most of what’s required to create a successful and sustainable business – such as technical and financial expertise – can be acquired through courses, college, hands-on experience with companies, and getting the chance to experiment with your business skills.
Business magnate Alan Sugar believes,
“There is no such thing as entrepreneur juice that you can buy from Boots. So, you’re either born with entrepreneurial gifts or not.”
Siding with Alan Sugar’s point of view is entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk. He says,
“everybody is born with some capability to run a business. But 90% are born with the capability to run a business into the ground.”
He also credits his “lack of education” to why his software is so successful.
Richard Branson, who we brought up earlier, was actually directly asked whether entrepreneurship was something you’re born with or something that can be taught. He answered that
“Everyone is born an entrepreneur, and everyone has the potential to be an entrepreneur. It’s just that not everybody gets the opportunity.”
Growing up with a role model, a family where everyone has stable jobs, a 9 to 5 career, and a set salary, it makes it all the more difficult to take the leap into entrepreneurship.
And if we’re still following their example, according to them, education isn’t the magical answer. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey dropped out of school.
But what if we told you that while these are remarkable examples of entrepreneur leaders without formal education and experience, they are in the minority of successful leaders. A survey found over 45% of the respondents said they only started their first business venture after the age of 30.
There is a counter-argument that contests the claim that these amazing skills are something you’re born with.
Nowadays, it’s been proven repeatedly that there is no perfect cocktail of traits that make a great entrepreneur. Name any trait and you’ll find at least one successful entrepreneur who has it.
Extrovert? Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
Introvert? Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and the list goes on.
Risk-averse? Warren Buffet.
Risk taker? Mark Cuban.
That brings to a close and a crossroads. Nature versus nurture. What’s your conclusion? Ours may appease you. It appears, as Richard Branson believes, that entrepreneurship skills are something you’re born with. However, and this “however” is very important, if you don’t do anything about these skills, test them, nurture them, and actually apply them, they’re no good.
The bottom line is that as long as you dedicate yourself to something, as long as you apply yourself to it, who’s to say you aren’t a born leader? If nurture can be dismissed that easily, then are education systems really that futile?
Every day, hard work trumps talent.
As long as you apply your traits, the ones you’re born with and the ones you pick up along the way, you’ll do okay– no, not just okay, but great!
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