Updated: May 1, 2019
This is a question that I get asked on a daily basis and not from any specific demographic group.
In all my years as a business consultant, coach, trainer, and speaker I can tell you one simple answer — in my opinion, it is a combination of both.
But the answer is actually a little more complex than this. You see when most people speak about being an entrepreneur they are referring to the innate qualities that most entrepreneurs possess such as risk-taking, excellent communicator, leader, motivator, ability to inspire, able to think quickly and make decisions on what looks like an impulse but are actually on excellent gut instinct like a hunter who has an excellent situational awareness or a top scorer on a team.
You see great entrepreneurs have great instincts and are naturally brilliant — with it without formal education. From the data I have gathered in my 20 plus years, I have found that natural entrepreneurs are different from aspiring entrepreneurs (who have education as their base of knowledge) as these individuals to tend to have more practical experience, drive, passion, can do attitude, confidence, strategic thinking, self-motivation, can think on the spot, very goal oriented, and are very tenacious individuals. These individuals can get up after multiple failures and keep going until they succeed. And then when that’s going smoothly, they are already planning their next project. They are like hunters — always on the hunt for a new kill or new deal.
I can teach, train, mentor and coach someone to be an entrepreneur and I can even do the same to improve one's entrepreneurial mentality and skills — but the natural entrepreneur's soft skills are vastly elevated and different from those who need to be educated. Natural entrepreneurs often learn by trial and error, by doing and experiencing and even failing in the process and learning from it. It’s a kind of “balls to the wall” approach with a little of being fearless but at the same time being wickedly quick at calculating their risks and willing to fail in the process as part of their growth and professional development as an entrepreneur.
Some of the skills that make successful entrepreneurs are ones that are learned through trial, error, as well as experience. You also have to factor in a couple other key skills such as — having good interpersonal or leadership skills and these are an innate trait that is cultivated over time. If you were to have a closer look at successful entrepreneurs you find that what has lead to their success is a combination of things such as, but not limited to of hard work, luck/good timing, and to some degree innate/inborn traits that make these individuals so well suited to be leaders, CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs. Their success does come with much effort, as well as risk, and plenty of failure along the way. As a matter of fact, one of my professors at the Queen’s EMBA program once told the class that “if you are not failing 80% of the time, you’re not trying hard enough”. This was on the subject of entrepreneurship.
There has been much research indicating that successful entrepreneurs also have gathered (over time) many various achievements on their way to becoming a successful entrepreneur such as their education, work ethics, and personal character traits but there are some key findings that you will note that set apart the really successful entrepreneurs from the pack. These traits are usually more than one at a time and vary from one individual to another such as naturally being of an innovative mindset and a penchant for disruption, the commitment and focus invested into their company in the first couple of years of business, a high and consistent level of passion for the business, attract and inspire the right talent to work for the company, also being of a flexible or agile mindset and being able to take advantage/leverage assets such as a new technology, they also tend to be early adopters of innovative technology as part of their learning process and tend to be ahead of the curve. They also tend to be natural and calculated risk takers, always willing to be flexible and listen to others and knowing when to cut their losses and not go down the rabbit hole.
What I find very interesting is the overwhelming majority of successful entrepreneurs tend to have ADD or ADHD (Attention Deficit or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). You see, ADD/ADHD individuals tend to be natural entrepreneurs, as they tend to prefer to lead than follow, and more importantly their ability to hyper-focus, an overabundance of energy, risk-takers, multi-task and think creatively and out of the box are enormous strengths — almost super-powers. So for entrepreneurs, ADD/ADHD seems to be a plus, not a problem and you can even cite some famous ones such as Sir. Richard Branson, Charles Schwab, Ingvar Kamprad, David Neeleman, Paul Orfalea and Dr. Johan Wiklund, professor of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management where he believed that ADHD individuals become successful entrepreneurs “because of their ADHD” and according to his research, they tend to be “intuitively” attracted to entrepreneurship more so than others.
In Dr. Wiklund’s research, he found that two of the key attributes of ADHD individuals were specifically most helpful, this being hyperactivity and impulsivity. The hyperactivity has its positive side to it as it translates into an above average in work capacity. This in combination with the ability to hyper-focus “on things the individual likes”, give this ADHD entrepreneur the ability to be extremely productive. The other strength is impulsivity and in this case, it means the ADD/ADHD people tend to live more in the present and less so in the future and often capitalize on opportunities by making quick “gut feeling” decisions — very much a skill that is required to be a successful entrepreneur. This by no means implies that all ADD/ADHD people should be entrepreneurs, but those who do, tend to naturally gravitate towards entrepreneurship.
So at the end of the day, a person can learn to think like an entrepreneur but the natural behavior and soft skills associated with being able to piece things together to make shit happen — that’s not teachable — that’s innate. And for these reasons and more, I state that a true entrepreneur is one who will learn and become a great entrepreneur regardless of someone educating them, as they will do this on their own in their own way. So if you wish to be an entrepreneur and wonder if you can be a great entrepreneur think about the idea of being one versus if you are one but just lacking the push to start to act like one.
I tell you this, if your risk adverse it’s likely your not a natural entrepreneur and if your not full of energy and natural drive it’s also less likely but who knows — perhaps all “you” may need is a good coach or mentor to provide you with the guidance to become one and then off you go like teaching a child to ride a bicycle.