I think the answer is undoubtedly yes. The definition of “taught” is broad. It can be exposure to other entrepreneurs, reading about entrepreneurs, or formal education. I had been planning on a career in foreign policy when I happened to read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography. It stoked a keen interest in business and a change of plans, which resulted in an MBA and a move to New York to start a company. Subsequent books about business leaders only heightened the desire, and resolve, to run my own venture. Those were inspirational. Business school gave me the tools to actually run a company. The desire and ability to be an entrepreneur can lie dormant until it’s brought to the surface by external events.
Not taught, but it must be learned. There are innate qualities that make successful entrepreneurs—misfits, iconoclasts, risk-takers, the unsatisfied—the list goes on. But even if you’re a person that is plagued by these qualities (Ernest Hemingway's famous advice applies: if you can possibly not be a writer, don't), you must harness your drive to grab knowledge. You'll lose otherwise. There are too many best practices out there already for your competitors to grab while you are busy inventing it your brilliant self.
If just anyone could be successful, we may not be in the current economic situation. Similar to those Malcolm Gladwell described to as outliers—the ones who appear to deviate markedly from the rest—entrepreneurship is instinctive and cannot readily be taught. I believe many are naturally driven to strive for more. The right education can teach steps of, or paths to, success, and opportunity can present itself to just about anyone, but entrepreneurship is owning the ability to leverage what is presented and run with it. Success, however, is not the measure of an entrepreneur, since 75 percent of business ventures fail. The ability to learn from each experience and to get back up and run with yet another idea is vital for a true entrepreneur.
To be a true success, one must not take no for an answer, have the ability to work around excuses for failure, and push good ideas to the forefront—and that is not for everyone. Yet, people who cannot be entrepreneurs can be great successes too; just about every entrepreneur who generates new ideas and creates new businesses needs good people to help carry their ideas forward. Leaders need lieutenants, and a born entrepreneur will surround himself with those people who are great at making their business bigger.
I believe there are certain organizational and managerial skills that can be taught, but entrepreneurs gain most of their skills through real-life experiences. While learning about the common pitfalls of running a business can ultimately assist you in making more informed decisions, you really need to fail on your own to learn how to gain those valuable lessons.
Entrepreneurship can certainly be taught. I don't think entrepreneurs are just born that way. I am sure it helps to grow up in an entrepreneurial family. That's where the hook is set early and the early learning starts.
Every profession can be learned (CPAs, lawyers, doctors, architects, and others) and I think entrepreneurship is every bit a profession as any of the others.
One trick is to have entrepreneurs and the supporting professionals who work with entrepreneurs (bankers, web developers, CPAs, lawyers, social media gurus, and others) teaching the content. The bulk of the teaching cannot be done by tenured professors who have never started, grown, wrecked, bought, sold, or merged an evolving business.
A second trick is to teach content that is dead on target with the challenges that face entrepreneurs, including: assessing the new business idea; developing a viable business plan; raising money; attracting and retaining superb talent as advisors, supporting professionals, and employees; developing strategic alliances; understanding the numbers; developing multiple revenue streams; creating a business-winning website and SEO; planning for succession and having an exit strategy; and more.
And a third trick is to scrap most of the textbooks and start using the WSJ, leading US and international magazines, relevant books, websites, LinkedIn groups, and newsletters as a starter.
I believe that entrepreneurship is a talent one is born with. It is no different than musical, athletic, or math talents. That said, just like with any other talent, experience, practice, and learning greatly enhance an entrepreneur's ability to perform and succeed. Thus, teaching entrepreneurship to someone who does not have an entrepreneurial bone in his or her body is probably futile. But teaching entrepreneurship to someone who has innate talent is a winning combination.
I think it is an innate personality: someone who is a visionary but is willing to take risks.
You can teach technical and communication skills but you can't teach someone how to have guts. Part of entrepreneurship is experimenting and pivoting when it doesn't work out.
On businessdictionary.com, entrepreneurship is defined as, “the capacity and willingness to undertake conception, organization, and management of a productive venture with all attendant risks, while seeking profit as a reward.” This definition treats entrepreneurship as a state of mind rather than a set of academically learned skills.
The challenges faced by entrepreneurs are myriad and unpredictable. There are so many factors that can jeopardize the success of the entrepreneurial venture, and just as many creative ways to deal with these factors. When starting a new business, the entrepreneur is often the CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO, head of HR and “chief bottle washer.” What can be taught are the tools that will help develop the organizational and management skills needed to perform these required tasks successfully. I would argue that developing these skills is critical to success. What is inherent and not able to be taught is the willingness to risk it all and face these challenges over and over again.
Knowledge and the basic principles of entrepreneurship are lessons that can be taught. I’ve often been asked to be a guest lecturer at different universities to share personal insights in entrepreneurship classes on my own personal journey. The drive, perseverance, and passion for an idea, however, has to be embedded in the individual’s DNA. Entrepreneurs and visionaries also see market opportunities that are not necessarily visible to other people. Those are always not skills that can be taught.
Sharing knowledge and collaborating with other successful entrepreneurs is a great way to pick up additional ideas and nuggets of wisdom that help guide your own personal journey. My view on entrepreneurship is that people need to have a vision, passion, and endurance to stay focused on an idea and a plan on how to achieve their goal. You have to be willing to adjust as needed, even when the going gets tough, and sometimes failure is also an important part of the learning process. There is always certain amount of risk involved in being an entrepreneur, but at the end of the day the vision, passion, and belief for an idea can help you overcome moments of self-doubt and help you succeed.