Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?

As a professor who teaches entrepreneurship for a living, I’m often asked the question, “Are entrepreneurs born or made?” It reminds of a similar question...: “Are leaders born or made?” There seems to be one fundamental question at the heart of these types of “born v. made” questions:  What drives success more – inherent talent (born) or hard work (made)?

We can all think of examples of prodigies who were gifted with tremendous innate ability – Mozart started composing musical pieces at the age of 5 and Tiger Woods appeared on a talk show at the age of 2 driving a golf ball with perfect form. We can also think of examples of people who succeeded due to their relentless work ethic and voracious appetite to learn and improve – in Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers, it was reported that both The Beatles and Bill Gates amassed over 10,000 hours of practice in music and programing, respectively, to develop the skills they needed to be successful in their fields.

What these conflicting examples tell us is that there are many ways to be successful in life. And, likewise, there are many ways to be successful as an entrepreneur. I look at “born v. made” questions like the card game poker. We all start with the hands we’re dealt (i.e., the cards we’re “born” with), but it’s how we play those hands (i.e., what we “make” of those cards) that usually determines whether we win or lose in the long run.

I’ve seen entrepreneurs who are born with “great hands” lose because they didn’t continue working hard to build on their natural advantages. And I’ve seen entrepreneurs who are born with “bad hands” win because they made the most of their hands by being resourceful, working hard, and learning every day. My parents, who immigrated to the United States from China are an example of the latter. They came to America barely able to speak English, with very little money, very few friends or family, no entrepreneurship experience, and very little education. Yet they worked incredibly hard to learn what they needed to learn and to do what they needed to do to successfully start and maintain a Chinese restaurant name Ming’s in Huntington, WV for over 30 years.

Bottom line – any disadvantages you may have in innate talent or the situation you are born into, you can make up with hard work.

Brad D. Smith, a native of Kenova, WV and the former CEO and current chairman of Intuit, once said to a group of my Marshall University students that intelligence is applied effort. In other words, what we often see as innate talent is actually the manifestation of hours and hours of practice and hard work.

In the final analysis, are entrepreneurs born or made? Well, if you really think about it, it doesn’t matter. Here’s why: you probably have very little, if any, control over the amount of inherent entrepreneurial talent you are born with or the situation you are born into. But what you can control is how much you learn about entrepreneurship and how hard you work at being an entrepreneur. So, if you want to be an entrepreneur, just get in the game – play the hand you’re dealt the best you can and learn how to get better with each hand you play. If you do that, you’ll not only be an entrepreneur, you’ll be a successful entrepreneur.

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