A couple of months ago I was one of several company founders asked to write an article on whether entrepreneurship can be taught. Here’s a sliver of what I said.
“Entrepreneurship emphatically cannot be taught. In fact, I believe it is somewhat of a racket that so many business schools now claim to teach entrepreneurship. They can’t. Entrepreneurship can’t be taught because it is simply messy. It is unpredictable. It requires a lived life and a broad personal experience to deal with the wide-ranging unexpected, unprecedented, and unquantifiable problems that crop up each day. It requires courage, intuition, and integrity. It demands an understanding of people that can only come from real-world lived wisdom. It demands you know who you are.” (The NY Enterprise Report, Sept. 5, 2012, p. 16)
Now comes a useful book called Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck by Tony Tjan, Dick Harrington, and Tsun-yan Hseih that buttresses quantifiably my highly unscientific and intuitive instincts. This book has a lot to say about what really makes for successful entrepreneurs.
To oversimplify, Tjan, Harrington and Hseih find that self-awareness is the key to successful entrepreneurship—and that book learning and business education is its least salient quality.
Over three years, 500 successful entrepreneurs and global business leaders were interviewed. The authors break down the human attributes of successful entrepreneurs into four categories. They are the following and are the source of the author’s book title.
- Heart. This is a person of passion and faith. He or she comes up with a great idea and simply believes that right things will happen if they follow that vision. Think Howard Schultz, John Mackey.
- Smarts. This is a person who recognizes patterns faster than anyone else. Think Warren Buffet, Meg Whitman, Jeff Bezos.
- Guts. This is a person of dominance, who has the simple guts to persevere and endure no matter what. Think Richard Branson or Nelson Mandela.
- Luck. While most entrepreneurs benefit from luck at one time or another, lucky people particularly possess optimism, intellectual curiosity, and humility. Think Laurel Touby.
The authors have developed a methodology, not dissimilar to the Myers-Briggs test, that allows you to analyze and increase your entrepreneurial self-awareness. It’s called E.A.T., which stands for Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test. (My own test showed my qualities to be strong in Heart with a touch of Luck.)
The authors further identify three fundamental business archetypes based around these aptitudes: The Founder, the Scaler, and the Extender. Most of us have to be a combination of these over time. Founders are Heart dominant with a little Guts or Luck. They are critical to initiating a company where vision, team building, and cultural definition matter most. Scalers mostly embody the Smarts-Guts profile and are focused on growth. He or she has to preserve the founding culture, while adjusting for purposes of scale. Extenders have strong Heart with Smart ability to recognize patterns. They explore and expand into new areas and markets.
The over-all conclusions of these authors are that intense self-awareness is probably the key quality of the successful entrepreneur. She knows who she is.
By analyzing your key qualities through self-reflection and a tool like E.A.T., you can more easily grow into areas you are lacking or hire someone to compensate for your insufficiencies. You can develop many of these qualities over time, but these qualities are certainly not conducive to academic pedagogy, according to Tjan, Harrington, and Hsieh. Tony Tjan’s research finds that over 70% of successful entrepreneurs do not start with a formal business plan. Tjan says, “Having … self-awareness may be the best marker of a successful entrepreneur—even more critical than having a high I.Q.”
As Dolly Parton sagely advises, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” Thanks, Dolly.