Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Can entrepreneurship be taught?

Before you can be an entrepreneur you need to be a few other things – alert, perceptive, curious, enthusiastic, brave, creative among them. You also need to be clear about what you want to achieve in life. No, you don’t need a plan for all your 100 years on earth. You couldn’t have one anyway. Life is full of rough and tumble, opportunities and accidents. As I’ve heard said, there is a banana skin on every step up – and two on every step down. The trick is not to identify the banana skins but to know which way every step is leading. Steps aren’t always what they seem.

Curiosity confirms the entrepreneur!
Of all the words I’ve listed above ‘curious’ stands out, a shining light ahead of the rest. The people who have made history have all been curious about who we are, why we are, how we work, what makes us tick, where we are heading and what’s it all for. Progress is driven by a thirst for knowledge and a desire to make a contribution. Anyone who gets into a high-ranking position in the world will sooner or later think about their legacy, what they leave that will mark them out as an exceptional human being. And if you are with someone whose life is coming to an end you can say nothing better to them than that they have made their mark.

In a word – you must be very self-motivating if you want to be an entrepreneur. Just as an athlete must want above all to win so an entrepreneur must desire achievement ahead of everything else. What if you don’t have that? Get a mentor to help you establish your purpose in life, to teach you how to be interested in everything that comes your way, and what will make you enthusiastic. You can do it, but only if you accept that you have lots to discover and are truly capable of learning.

Creativity is at the root of enterprise
Creativity is the ability to perceive relationships. Lots of people find that concept difficult to start with. What initially made me creative was that I didn’t know very much. A poor home life and limited education, with too much discouragement, had convinced me that I wasn’t very bright. So, when I was asked questions to which I didn’t know the answer – in the days of my youth something little short of indictable crime – I sought a way to ask what seemed a more important question. You can learn creativity by a series of simple exercises in discovering relationships. Start simple and get progressively more complex, not difficult.

Thinking through what your mind observes, conjures or perceives is another discipline that many find hard. Let’s face it, it is difficult enough to ask questions of someone you meet for the first time even if they must clearly have a wealth of information and interest. Hardly surprising that it is even more troublesome to ask yourself searching questions. But you must do so – all the time. Does it sound exhausting? It is, and that is why you sleep better when you try to think things through. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that your sleep is active in helping you sort out your thoughts. You cannot, of course, think through everything in detail, nobody can. So, you have to be selective about what matters that you must know and what details others are better equipped to understand while you keep a view of the overall strategy. Especially your own.

Get to the heart of the matter
And perhaps the greatest gift an entrepreneur can develop is to be able to get to ‘the heart of the matter’ quickly and clearly. All enterprises have some issues that determine their success or failure. When I started building Cerebos Pacific in Asia, based in Singapore, I reckoned that what was needed most was new products. The business was tiny, the products traditional, the pace leisurely. There were few challenges. But businesses grow or decline, they seldom stay on a straight path for long. Launching new products may be difficult but it is the kind of test most people enjoy being part of. So how did I set about deciding what sort of products to launch? I related the market to our assets, our image to the opportunities and our skills to the discovery of what married these needs and capabilities. The business grew fast. We had tackled the heart of the matter.

Is entrepreneurship for you?
Can anybody be an entrepreneur? No, I don’t suppose everyone can. But here’s how I assess a client seeking to be an entrepreneur when s/he first comes to us for help.

[1] Are they open to ideas, to being explored and discovered? If they aren’t, can they be encouraged and helped enough to become so? Those who are so disposed will almost certainly succeed in whatever they want to do.

[2] Do they accept that everything we have learnt so far, however experienced or inexperienced we are, is in a stage of massive discovery? Yesterday’s rules are almost certainly out of date before the next morning. Fundamental behavioural disciplines will always endure, of course, but we cannot rely on the experience of how those were applied to see us through today.

[3] Do they realise their own biases and how these can cloud judgment, whatever form they take? We all suffer from preconceived ideas – indeed much of education is designed to provide them. Unless we recognize them and learn to handle them, we will take a series of predetermined decisions most of which will be wrong.

[4] Do they see the potential for humankind, if not in a detailed way at least in a way that makes striving for the next step a challenge and a joy? Everyone has potential. Everyone has some opportunity.

Gleaning sea shells from the shore may be a fairly passive activity. Turning them into a jewellery business worth millions of dollars won’t decide the future of humankind. But it may make life very well worth living for those who do it and for those who wear it.