"I never thought I had it in me" is a phrase I hear so often towards the end of an entrepreneurship course at the several Universities in which I have had the good fortune to teach or present a seminar or in some way be in touch with graduates.
Why? Because it seems that the formal education system is so weighted in favour of assessed learning - where we want our students to know things rather than know themselves.
There are also rather too many models of heroic leadership that seem to convey the impossible or perhaps the impression that being an entrepreneur is for those with the right genes!
But, if we think about becoming an entrepreneur as a career choice, it is not for everyone. This is not because we have to be born into such a career, anymore than we are born into academia or management or the armed forces!
Entrepreneurs are both born and made. So the argument is not to ask if they are born or made. We can make both assertions because there is no empirical evidence either way and we can refute both claims for the same reason. So what can we discern about the key entrepreneurial characteristics that may be unique to some people?
Entrepreneurs typically show higher levels of risk tolerance and ability to cope with ambiguity. They are also alert to opportunities, in the sense that they are able to make connections between apparently unrelated events and turn that into a business. They are also incorrigibly optimistic, creative in finding resources and solutions to problems. They are also highly self confident in their ability and have a strong belief in their own motivations and abilities.
Some of these characteristics may well be what we are born with, but they are shared with people from all walks of life to a greater or lesser extent.
The counterpoint is that entrepreneurs are made and this is also true, because we see that to be successful as an entrepreneur we need to be in the right environment where we either formally learn how to do it or absorb it from our families and surroundings. We also need a strong motivator. Either we grab hold of an idea and this builds and builds inside us till we get “Pulled” into the career of an entrepreneur or something happens in our normal day to day life and we get “Pushed” into it.
Under these “made” circumstances we need creative skills, living on meagre resources, being part of a community where opportunities flow past and have the managerial know-how to make things happen.
Fun and satisfaction then keeps people at it!