If you ever took an entrepreneurship course in business school, chances are you’ve heard your professor ask, “Can entrepreneurship be learned, or is it something you are born with?”
As a fourth-generation entrepreneur, I used to be adamant that entrepreneurship was a trait that certain people were born with. What I’ve since noticed is that most people who say that entrepreneurship is something people are born with are typically successful entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs themselves. Quite frankly, I believe they like to think that they have a special gift.
I too believe that entrepreneurship is a gift. But it is also a talent — and it can absolutely be learned.
I should know. I dropped out of college and started (and failed) my first business at 19. I enlisted in the Marines after 9/11; after active duty, I went back to college to earn my bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship. I then launched a successful web marketing and software development firm and went back to school again, this time to earn a master’s in entrepreneurship from Southern Methodist University. Since then, I have launched a veteran nonprofit organization and completed the Entrepreneurship Development Program at MIT.
In fact, at MIT, one of my professors, Bill Aulet, asked the very same question: “Can entrepreneurship be learned?” As usual, the majority of the students mumbled “no.” He quickly interjected, “If you don’t believe it can, why are you all here?” The room fell silent.
This made me think. In the Marines, people often debate whether leadership can be learned. I’ve seen great natural-born leaders, and I’ve also seen horrible leaders who were ineffective. But the reason they were ineffective wasn’t because they couldn’t learn leadership — it was because they had not learned enough of it. Learning just takes more time, training and experience for some people.
So while I agree there are people who are born with or hard-wired with natural entrepreneurship traits that will help them become successful, to think that one cannot learn these skills and pick up these traits is simply prideful. Natural entrepreneurs can still receive formal education and experience in entrepreneurship to become great entrepreneurs (I did), and non-entrepreneur types can receive entrepreneur education and experience to become better entrepreneurs.
Here are 3 ways you can hone your entrepreneurial skills and elevate your competitive advantages — whether you’re a “natural-born” entrepreneur or not:
- Go to school. Whether an online course, community college, university, or MBA program, there is no question that education will make you smarter and help you make more strategic decisions in your business. College dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson may all argue that the con to going to school is the opportunity cost of time to market. Nobody in this universe would argue with these brilliant minds, but before you write school off, consider Mark Cuban. He did both: excel in entrepreneurship and education simultaneously.
- Reach out to your local Small Business Administration (SBA) or SCORE office. The websites alone both have a wealth of information, document templates for business plans and resource links, but they can also offer support in person. The con to using government programs or nonprofit organizations as a resource is that their usefulness is often contingent on the local office’s staff and capacity.
- Join the Marines. I’m serious. The Marine Corps instilled core values of honor, courage and commitment within me. Combined with the leadership and discipline the Marines taught me, this has been the ultimate X factor in my success as an entrepreneur. The con is that you will have to do things that you don’t want to do and stick with it. (Sounds like entrepreneurship, except when you’re an entrepreneur, no one is yelling at you.)
If you think you don’t have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, think again. Anything can be learned. It just depends on what you are willing to sacrifice. To quote Warren G. Tracy’s student, “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t so you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.”
So the real question you should ask yourself is, “How badly do I want it?”