Are Entrepreneurs Schooled or Are They Born?

December 27, 2007

The question highlights much of the debate surrounding what experts have been debating for the last 500 years: Are entrepreneurs born? Or are they schooled to turn great ideas into successful enterprises?

Now the reason why I am discussing this topic is because I am one of those who strongly believe that many of our problems as a small nation with zero natural resources can really only be resolved if we can leverage on more small to medium scale enterprises. I am not talking about the juggernauts like Temasek and Singtel as much as I am referring to the God of the really small here; small private limited firms.

Now don’t look down on the small guy who runs a small enterprise, on paper, he doesn’t look like very much, but if you look at it cumulatively, he packs quite a punch. Small to medium sized firms for example all but makes up the U.S. economy as it struggles to claw back 2.4 million jobs lost to the recession. Entrepreneurs historically have led the nation out of hard times. Start-ups, often begun by laid-off executives, create as many as 80% of jobs! So there you go, there’s a god to small, but how true is it that entrepreneurship can be learnt?

Judging from the way universities have poured $1 billion into the subject in the past 10 years. Along the way, they’re upending business schooling — adding hundreds of instructors and thousands of classes to beef up business know-how, it seems that entrepreneurship can be taught. Then again, I am rudely remind there was once a time, when kings and princes of ages poured huge amounts into the science of alchemy – hoping to transmute lead to gold. Doesn’t mean it works, just because there is a whole lot of people who are gainfully employed in doing something, publishing papers and even regularly filling up lecture halls with dead wood. All it means is they’re going through the motions like rain dancing.

Personally, I don’t really believe it’s possible to school someone to be an entrepreneur. Only because I don’t really believe a lecture theatre is where one actually hones and sharpens the skills to be an entrepreneur any more than I believe a harem is a good place to train gladiators – there is much more to it then just learning the financial skills how to balance accounts along with the whole of idea of profiling a business plan to max on the return on investment (ROI). Now I know that I have just linked blood sports to the whole idea of being a successful businessman, but that’s really how I see it. If I had to pin down only one attribute what makes any entrepreneur successful, it has to be killer instinct.

Most people will tell you killer instinct is just a technical skill, like being able to find water in the desert or knowing 10 ways to cook your grandma if you’re trapped in the basement when the aliens invade this planet – not true. I have done a lot of research into ‘killer instinct’ and one of my most interesting finds is how far it actually goes back into the memory most successful entrepreneurs. For example, I know this chap in school who every called a ‘piah kiah.’ To cut a long story short, he’s just about failed every single subject, a good for nothing. Well fast forward to present date, Mr good for nothing is probably one of the largest suppliers of aluminum ingots in south east Asia!

How did he get all the way to the top of the hill? This is what “Piah Kiah” shared with me one evening in a KTV lounge after polishing a quart of brandy, 

“You know what darkness, I just want to show all you atas people that I can hantam you all left right and center lah. I really hate all of you! You have no idea, how much I hate you Darkness especially!” 

I guess what ‘piah kiah’ is trying to say in not so many words is he didn’t like my pencil box very much when we were back in school. He had this burning obsession to prove us all wrong i.e we used to think the only thing he was good for was to slow down cars – impersonate road humps.

So one day, he just got sick and tired of all that humiliation and snapped – hold on there – freeze the frame – that’s also what I call the killer instinct.

Now I want to emphasize this, paih kiah’s example is not all together unique in the genre of those who typically make up the ranks of successful entrepreneurs – Edison was well know to have suffered from a chronic case of inferiority complex, he was often made to feel like the lowest of the low by the academic establishment of his day who looked upon his dubious qualifications with suspicion – the Wright brothers were largely driven to invent the Kitty Hawk because they were considered the aka bird brained brothers, the equivalent of the village dunce – Christopher Columbus resented the aristocracy in the Spanish court and regularly picked fights because he was regularly ridiculed for believing in the New World – I mean when you really peruse through the list of great entrepreneurs it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it’s pretty close to a rogue gallery.

The inventor of the Colt repeating six shooter that sold by the millions during the cowboy days was even an unapologetic huckster and charlatan when he actually admitted, “Well you see, I used to sell snake oil for a living, but I just as well figured out, people were willing to pay much more to kill each other rather than to feel better.”

I am telling you, I am very serious, if you really study the life of successful entrepreneurs – most of them are either so psychopathic or unhinged that they’re probably the people who you are least likely to emulate or model your life on, unless you’re seriously considering being a serial killer – if there’s one reason that accounts for their trail blazing success, it has to be this. They all share a profound sense of discomfort. A sense of estrangement even from the establishment – as to how they either see themselves or believe that society sees them – that’s to say, they’re are an unhappy lot and often perceive success as the only way of alleviating their status and liberating them from their deep seated fears or feeling that someone is stomping on them.

So here’s a good tip that has served me very well, if you’re looking for a real entrepreneur to partner with – don’t be surprise if you find him with his motley gang bitching away in some dank corner in blogosphere, cursing the world and slagging off everyone and everything – find a stool, sit down and take a closer. For despite all his anger that he’s just spewing out like a volcano, you may just be in the presence of someone who might just have the right stuff to make it successfully to the other side – he just has it, the killer instinct, that is! 

“How does one find a diamond? In the deepest bosoms of a place so dark, smelly and god forsaken. That no man in his right mind will even go there!”


This is to you Piah Kiah, reader No 88376/39.

Darkness & Harphoon -2007

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One Response to “Are Entrepreneurs Schooled or Are They Born?”

  1. […] Discourse – Just Stuff: Are Entrepreneurs Schooled or Are They Born? – YAwning Bread: Happy to eat apart – Utopia: singapore’s style of solving any […]

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