I am a huge advocate of teaching entrepreneurship early in a child's life. I have been advocating K-12 entrepreneur programs and CEO mentorship programs for a long time. A great teacher, whether a CEO or public educator, can motivate a young child to take a path in life that leads to putting his or her life's dreams in his or her own hands versus the more common way of moving up the corporate ladder. It's hard to find the motivation and drive on your own, especially with all the bad news out there.
Why can't a child be taught how to run and scale lemonade stands in addition to history lessons about how this country was created? Why can't we start giving children the tech skills they'll need to run their own businesses in elementary school while they’re learning basic math skills? Instead of just selling goods to our kids in book fairs or bake sales, why can't we teach them how to organize them from start to finish, so they can see what it takes to create versus just being a consumer? Bottom line: you can definitely teach someone to become an entrepreneur at an early age.
Entrepreneurship emphatically cannot be taught. In fact, I believe it is something 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 and integrity. It demands an understanding of people that can come only from real-world lived wisdom. It demands that you know who you are.
There seems to be a romanticism that has developed around entrepreneurship. It's cool to be an entrepreneur. But, I tell you, most of the successful entrepreneurs I know are somewhat eccentric and out-of-the-box, if not downright odd.
I would tell any aspiring entrepreneur to study anything but business. Study physics, philosophy, poetry, history, economics, or biology. Study anything and everything. Except entrepreneurship.
Note British business owner Anita Roddick, who founded The Body Shop. Here's how she talks about entrepreneurship: "Listen, don't even talk about business—don't be controlled by language. Don't even say the word business. Bury it. Talk about livelihood. Talk about a livelihood that you can create for yourself, an honorable livelihood that gives you freedom."
They do not teach that at Harvard Business School.
I do think that entrepreneurship can be taught as long as the person has a great idea, drive, and the focus to make it happen. If they have never started a business, I would recommend that they surround themselves with experienced mentors who can help guide and teach the entrepreneur best practices for success. There are plenty of entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs who didn’t grow up in an entrepreneurial family, yet were extremely successful in business.
I do not think natural abilities determine who will be a successful entrepreneur, and many of the successful traits can be taught, or learned, over time. That said, having certain innate qualities certainly gives you a leg up.
I liken entrepreneurship to my favorite sport: surfing. Surfing is one of the toughest sports I know. It takes balance, coordination, strength, and ability to read the direction of the waves and to always stay ahead of them. A lot of the same qualities are needed as an entrepreneur.
When I've taught surfing, some people, amazingly, can stand up on the wave immediately. Others can take many months to pick it up, and then one day, they figure it out, and they're as good as a natural-born surfer.
While being an entrepreneur does take a lot of innate abilities, mostly it takes courage, and the ability to believe in yourself. You just have to be brave enough to paddle out.