Nature Vs. Nurture: Were You Born an Entrepreneur?

We all want to believe that anything is within our reach if we just work hard enough and believe in ourselves; I mean, it’s the American Dream, right? Everyone wants to be special. Everyone wants to be a unicorn. But the question that’s popping up in scientific studies across the world, is ‘can everyone be a unicorn?’ Albeit, with a little more academically phrased terminology than that.

We’re talking about entrepreneurs, and whether you’re born with entrepreneurial wisdom (i.e. unicorn dust) in your DNA or whether it’s something that can be learned. With the thriving startup culture that we live in at the moment, it’s no wonder that we’re questioning just how big the leap is from employee to entrepreneur.

And the answer is far from black and white. It falls more into the grey area of ‘it depends’.

The findings are conflicting and opinions are divided in the nature Vs nurture debate, but according to a new study by New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development — both actually play a part in entrepreneurial success.

The Facts

The NYU study involved 375 U.S. business undergraduates, 109 M.B.A. students and 210 German students in a 5 year business program. The participants undertook a personality test which analyzed for their relative extraversion and introversion. They were also surveyed about their college experiences and entrepreneurial intentions. In a statement upon the release of the study results, Matthew Mayhew, associate professor of higher education at NYU Steinhardt, said that “Cultivating innovative entrepreneurship appears to involve both nature and nurture, both personality and experience.”

Mayhew further noted that the study dispelled the idea that nature takes precedence over nurture when it comes to entrepreneurship;

“This study disrupts the position that higher education may not be conducive to fostering innovation by suggesting that both personality and structured higher education experiences contribute to cultivating innovation potential among college students […] The good news is that innovative entrepreneurial intentions can be influenced by educators, regardless of the many differences in traits and experiences that students across cultures bring to college campuses.”

The Entrepreneur Stereotype

What do you think of when you imagine an entrepreneur? I bet it’s someone who’s extroverted, assertive, extremely confident, charismatic, and full of life. This isn’t surprising because it’s the entrepreneurial stereotype that’s been created within our society.

With that in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s a certain ‘type’ of person who can/should be an entrepreneur; however, the reality is that entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. And, I assure you, there are many entrepreneurs out there who are laying low and simply getting on with their lives whilst kicking ass on the business front — without sharing it all with the world. I personally know a range of entrepreneurs from varying backgrounds and personality types — all of whom are running equally successful businesses.

Just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You know… like unicorns.

Life Experience

To say that entrepreneurship cannot be learned is highly dismissive of the journey we all take from adolescence to adulthood and beyond. Think about your life experience to this point; how different are you now to the person you were 5 years ago? Or 10? Or 20? Your life experiences are what shape you into the person you become and those learning blocks heavily influence your success in both your personal and professional life. Sure, maybe you wouldn’t have been a successful entrepreneur at 16 years of age whilst still living at home with your Mom. But, what about at 30 years of age, with 10 years of corporate experience under your belt and a few life lessons to go along with it?

Before Twitter took off, co-founder Evan Williams, developed a podcasting platform called Odeo that sunk pretty quickly after the subsequent launch of Apple iTunes. But, instead of giving up, he learned from the experience and went on to set up one of the biggest social media platforms in the world. The Twitter mogul’s journey to entrepreneurship is further supported by a recent study from Ernst & Young which found that experience is a key factor in people becoming entrepreneurs. 58% of the study participants were people who had transitioned from an employee position to the role of entrepreneur, and many of them cited their corporate experience as an essential training ground for their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Buckets co-founder, Eric, honed his entrepreneurial skills in the schoolyard;

“I started my entrepreneurial career in 5th grade by using the buy 2 get 1 free coupons on the back of Willy Wonka’s Gobstompers boxes to purchase them in bulk and sell them for $0.10 a piece to my classmates. I bought a Sega Master System the next summer with all the profits. All my other friends got Nintendo’s that year and I was devastated by the superior games I was missing out on… so I raised the price to $0.25 in spite. I was in love with the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Hey, a kid’s gotta do what a kid’s gotta do.

Think about it; as you age, you constantly grow, mature, and evolve as a person, so why shouldn’t that apply to your prospects of success as an entrepreneur? After all, if we’re saying that entrepreneurship relies heavily on key personality traits and a particular psychological profile, can’t it also be suggested that those traits can be learned and your psyche can evolve and adapt? Otherwise, why do we continually strive to challenge and educate ourselves at all?

Education

Richard Branson is one of the most prolific entrepreneurs around and it’s hard not to hear about him on a regular basis. I mean, the guy even has his own island! So, you’re probably already aware that he left school at 16 years of age to go and shake up the world of business as an entrepreneur. But does that mean that every 16 year old should quit school to launch their own startup? Or, does it mean that only certain 16 year olds should take the leap — i.e. the lucky few are the ones who were simply born entrepreneurs?

It means neither.

You see, Richard Branson’s success may well be down to the fact that he had the perfect mix of personality traits that made him more likely to succeed in his business endeavors; but that doesn’t mean that those traits cannot also be learned.

In 2011, Professors Julian Lange, William Bygrave and Edward Marram at Babson University, worked with 2 graduate students to investigate whether entrepreneurial education has a lasting influence. They put together a database of over 4,000 alumni — of whom two thirds had taken at least one core elective course for entrepreneurs. The study found that taking two or more of these elective entrepreneurship course had a positive effect on the student’s intention to become an entrepreneur. The effect was long-lasting and continued well beyond graduation. Thus proving that you may not have been born an entrepreneur, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t become one.

Tenacity

This is what it boils down to at the end of the day. You may have made up your own mind on the nature Vs nurture debate, but what can’t be argued is that tenacity is the key differentiator between success and failure in most areas of our lives. If you keep trying and pushing to succeed, you’re much more likely to achieve your dreams than the person who gives up at the first hurdle.

Maybe you weren’t born an entrepreneur; maybe there is some special gene that makes you predisposed to becoming one — but there’s no reason why you can’t learn, grow, and evolve into the entrepreneur that you want to be. Listen, I’m a 5’10’ woman who’s basically built like a Kenyan; genetics say that I should be on a running track and not in a weights room. And yet the only place you’ll find me running towards is the squat rack. If every person who wanted to achieve something in this life simply ‘accepted their lot’, then there wouldn’t be very many inspirational people around to learn from. And life would be pretty darn boring too.

Like Thomas Edison once said; “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99% perspiration”. So, whatever about your genetic talents — that’s a bonus — but I personally think it’s the having grit and determination to work hard that will get you to where you want to be.

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