Can Business Entrepreneurship be taught?

This is probably about the ten-thousandth article to question the roots of entrepreneurial success, a topic of eternal interest to anyone starting a business. But the issue has never been studied so urgently as today, under recessionary pressure, when all techniques of self improvement are under the spotlight, and the ‘secrets of success’ are being analysed and quantified as never before.

Born or made, then?

Our instinct is always to answer ‘Born’. The popular image of the tycoon is the person with little or no schooling, who makes it to the top through sheer guts and determination. We want to believe in this formula as the key to success.

But very few of today’s business leaders actually fit this profile. Instead, I have identified a large group that I would classify as not ‘born’, but ‘re-born’ in the spirit of self improvement.

I happen to spend quite a lot of time reading the memoirs of many top tycoons, to try to identify their key to success, and I find a particular interest in the story of their early careers, when they were still unknown. It is remarkable how often I find them having to tackle an acute crisis at this early stage, which apparently determines their beliefs and actions in their future.

One of our youngest airline chairmen is someone I have known since he was a teenager with, at that time, no plans for further education or a career. Eventually his mother persuaded Len to work at a small airport as a junior apprentice in aircraft maintenance. Here he just wanted to make the minimum effort, and soon came under the influence of a shocking malingerer, who always cut corners on the maintenance work, but knew how to make it look right for inspection.

One day a small executive jet experienced a temporary system failure and caused a near-miss with a holiday flight of nearly 200 people. After going into denial, Len faced up to the admission that it was his poor workmanship that had nearly cost human lives. Overnight he resolved to dedicate himself to improving airline safety, and soon became an outstanding and inspiring figure for the industry.

Does that mean that business entrepreneurship cannot be taught, either as an academic subject or as the theme for training courses and seminars?

Here we need to make a distinction between the popular Business Studies in universities, which explain the dynamics of commerce, from motivational training in the entrepreneurial mindset.

Many of my corporate clients are agreed that this mindset can impact favourably on many aspects of daily business, other than that drive to the top job, where the world actually labels you ‘entrepreneur’.
In this mode, all manner of tasks can be performed more effectively and better decisions made too. At those times, you are your own CEO, taking a clear, authoritative overview of situations, questioning all assumptions, exercising initiative, taking risks. Equally, someone starting a small business can think entrepreneurial, instead of thinking small.

My own first-hand experience of training executive teams has convinced me that this branch of self-improvement is worthy of a new keynote speech of its own. And sure enough, my presentation entitled, ‘Unlock the Hidden Entrepreneur in You – Lift-off to Success’ has now received bookings by corporate companies all over Europe, and I am just off now to deliver it at one of London’s big universities.

Key points about entrepreneurship

• We like to think of the entrepreneur as the untaught genius
• Enterprise comes down to a mindset which can be taught
• Corporate players need to encourage this mindset in their teams

The most successful people you’ve met – born or made?
In your experience, did they move up through sheer determination or through their training?

Do leave your comment in the blog.

[Reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News]

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