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Can you really teach someone how to be an effective entrepreneur? This topic has been a source of debate amongst academics and experienced entrepreneurs for a very long time.
Regardless of where you stand, the demand for entrepreneurial skills development and education has continued to be on the rise over the last 30 years, with many colleges and universities answering the call.
‘In the US alone, the number of on-campus entrepreneurship programs offered in universities has increased from 180 to 2000+ between 1990 and 2014.’
Many schools also invest heavily into building state of the art facilities for their students , ‘with the share of incubator programs associated with universities growing to a record high of 42 percent, according to the International Business Innovation Association’s 2016 IMPACT Index, up from around one-third in 2012 and one-fifth in 2006.’
After working with hundreds of entrepreneurs (successful and not) in both an academic and professional setting, and having interviewed dozens of ultra successful entrepreneurs, we’re seeing evidence suggesting that entrepreneurship can be learned, and have identified three core skills and aptitudes that make a successful entrepreneur – persistence, ability to evaluate risk, and adaptability.
First, let’s dispel the myth that only some of us are born with the entrepreneurial gene. Our curiosity about the world starts from the very moment we learn to crawl, and our desire to create only grows from the day we first learn to make macaroni art in preschool (growing up in Soviet Belarus we opted for drawing with a pencil while eating said macaroni instead). For future engineering minds, this might start with taking apart and rebuilding electronic gadgets around the house, and for future public speakers, a backyard performance featuring their favorite characters.
But given the proper support and reinforcement, every child can be seen displaying traits of a future entrepreneur. Since our propensity to build on our entrepreneurial experience from a young age into adulthood is more a factor of our environment than our genetic predisposition, we can confidently infer that yes, we are in fact all born entrepreneurs.
However, simply being born with these traits does not guarantee ‘success’ in its traditional sense – having power, money, and/or influence. What can we do to learn, or rather re-learn the aforementioned skills and aptitudes that make for a successful entrepreneur?
The Art Of Being Persistent
In sales, one of the very first things you learn is that ‘no’ does not always mean ‘no’. It’s usually either the wrong timing, the wrong target customer, or a miscommunication of the value proposition.
The only way to find that first true ‘yes’ is to continuously try again and adjust your approach until everything aligns.
Most entrepreneurs fail because they don’t last long enough to figure out a model that works. We’ve seen first hand how persistence from entrepreneurs that have worked on their businesses for years and even decades can turn into success, like in our recent interview with Carey Smith of Big Ass Fans who sold his business for $500 million.
‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ -Winston Churchill
Getting comfortable with persistence takes practice, and you can start to do this by taking micro actions that are easier to commit to.
Say you got some food at a restaurant and you’re not happy with the meal. If you’re the type of person that gets embarrassed when your friend sends their food back, try to reframe your thinking. You’re paying a premium for going out to eat instead of cooking, and chose this restaurant out of all the other options you could have picked. A restaurant only truly benefits when they get a loyal patron that keeps coming back. They want you to enjoy your experience and recommend them to your friends, so you should feel justified in asking for a different meal.
As you start taking small actions you’ll recognize that persistence actually works. With each small win, you’re more likely to apply the same approach to other areas of your life, especially an entrepreneurial venture that you’re working hard to get off of the ground.
Understanding Real vs. Perceived Risk
Part of learning how to be persistent is learning how to understand and evaluate risk. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t better at taking risks than the average person. They learn to quickly understand if a decision has the potential to result in a real negative outcome or if it is merely self-doubt that needs to be overcome.
Of course some risk is real, like the risk of not recovering from debt if you max out multiple credit cards, but much of the risk we encounter is actually perceived.
Let’s take networking as an example. You meet someone at a conference or an industry event, but when you sit down the next day to send a follow up you’re overcome with a fear of rejection and worry about the risk of bothering that person, resulting in inaction.
Consider the actual risk of following up. They may not respond, or they may tell you that they’re not interested at this time – a result that doesn’t actually have any real impact on your life. The potential reward, however, is that you build a meaningful connection with someone that might have really enjoyed meeting you, creating a bond that may result in business opportunities and even friendships, something you would completely miss out on if you decided not to follow up.
Getting ignored after a follow up is only a perceived risk because nothing will happen to you if you reach out and get a no. A similar analogy can be made with an entrepreneur pitching investors. Asking an investor for $1,000,000 is not a risk, even though it seems like a lot of money. It’s their job to evaluate whether the investment is worth it, and if you believe in yourself and your ability to execute on an idea, you should believe that their money is better invested in you over another founder that might spend it all in 18 months and call it quits.
Learning How To Be Adaptable
Simply being more adaptable can help you deal with many of the curve balls that life throws your way, but it’s especially crucial for someone building something completely new. You can’t know if every step you’ll take will be the right one, so you have to learn to continually try new things and adjust course as you’re moving forward.
Adaptability often goes hand in hand with coachability because you need to be able to synthesize the advice that you get and then actually act on it. When we see new founders that are struggling but continue to ignore advice from experienced entrepreneurs, never trying anything new, we know that their progress will either be very slow or non-existent.
Many entrepreneurs find this inherently difficult to do. Adaptability doesn’t seem like a learnable skill, but it can be acquired by first becoming aware of its absence.
Do you find yourself constantly saying no to new ideas from partners or employees without giving them any consideration? Try defaulting your answer to yes, even if it means you’ll fail. Failing with any one experiment is very unlikely to result in complete failure.
Another way to do this is to expose yourself to other people’s perspectives by reading more or consuming content with opinions that are different from yours. Once you see evidence of success from competing ideas, you might be more likely to adjust your own.
Learning to be an effective entrepreneur is like mastering any new skill. You learn best by doing, and you must be willing to put things into practice with consistency and focus. The question that you should be asking yourself is not whether entrepreneurship can be learned, but if it is something that you really want for yourself. If you think the answer is ‘yes’ you owe it to yourself to find out.
December 18, 2018 at 09:35AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs