Are Entrepreneurs Made or Born?

The ages-old nature/nurture debate has gone on for decades. Is a person the product of their environment (nurture) or the genetic traits and qualities passed down to them from their parents (nature)? Applying this question specifically to entrepreneurship – are entrepreneurs made or born? In other words, what is more important to your entrepreneurial success – your genetic endowment or what you do and experience out in the world?

In one sense, the way I posed the question isn’t fair. I asked it in the form of an either/or question. The reality, not surprisingly, is more complicated because it’s really a both/and situation. Both matter, and knowing where you fall in the mix will help you be more successful in your entrepreneurial efforts. 

It’s surprising how many people still hold to the belief that entrepreneurs are born, meaning that you’ve simply got to have a certain set of personality traits and inner characteristics to be a successful entrepreneur. Many such lists of traits and qualities have been posed over the years. Perennial favorites that seem to appear on most lists include the following:

  • Ability to spot opportunities.
  • Willingness to take calculated risks.
  • Tolerance for failure.
  • Strong internal locus of control (belief that actions taken affect outcomes).
  • High drive to succeed.
  • Tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.
  • Willingness to question and go against the status quo. 

It’s completely fair and accurate to say that if you’re born with all of these qualities in spades, you’re going to naturally have a whole lot easier time becoming a successful entrepreneur than someone who’s got less of them.

But the plain fact of the matter is that many of these traits can also be thought of as skills, which means they can be improved through education and training. You can learn how to get better at spotting opportunities. You be trained in how to tolerate failure (and learn from it). You can be taught how to not let uncertainty and ambiguity cause so much discomfort. You can be schooled in how to question the status quo. 

In a way, this both/and approach to entrepreneurship should come as no surprise. After all, most people know of a pair of siblings or friends where one was clearly smarter in terms of raw IQ but the other one always got the better grades because they worked harder at it. That’s why my answer to the nature/nurture debate when it comes to entrepreneurs is this: You’ve got to take what nature gave you and nurture along to reach your entrepreneurial goals.

There’s also an important implication here about self-knowledge. You need to know your natural baseline on the qualities listed above in order to come up with a nurturing game plan that will boost yourself in areas needing enhancement. Taking some time for honest self-assessment is one way to determine your baseline. Another way is to take any number of entrepreneurial self-assessment surveys. A great collection to choose from can be found in the article Entrepreneur Self Assessment: 9 Professional Tools and Tests. Armed with this kind of knowledge, you’ll be well on your way to entrepreneurial success no matter what your starting point. Good luck!

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