Entrepreneurialism debate: nature vs. nurture

As a person focused on leadership development, I’ve been reading with great interest the flow of conversations taking place on TechCrunch lately about whether entrepreneurialism can be taught or if you’re just born that way.  I lean towards Vivek Wadhwa and his specific points about whether an MBA is the right educational requirement and in particular, his recent point about the focus of cash-poor founders on profitability and long-term sustainability of their business.  Within that, I see a questioning of the current VC model of start-up development.

I was really taken by today’s post by Sarah Lacy.  A professed nature over nuture person, her interview with Indonesia’s Ciputra and subsequent rethinking of the topic is refreshing.

As the daughter of a physican father who tinkered around the house, and an artist mother, I was an honors biology major in school who, after opting out of medicine, became that person who applied for jobs all her life.  These corporate jobs have served my professional and personal lives well and in fact, ultimately provided the skillsets I needed to become the COO of an online video start-up.

As the pragmatic mother of two very different children (15 and 11 year olds), and who switched her mind from nurture to very nature-based personalities after they were born, I recognize that it’s never just “either-or,” nature versus nurture.  It’s a combination of both.

To me, who you are today is a result of the interaction of the personality traits you were born with (or more accurately, start out with) and a whole host of environmental factors that influence you every day of  your life;  parents, economic upbringing, schooling, friends, even birth order and chance encounters, just to name a few.  Some people believe that if you were born with fears, or shyness, or being bad at math, that you’d always be that way.  But I can tell you from personal experience that most of the traits you exhibit as children, teenagers, or young adults can change over time.  But I believe that you need two important traits to make those types of changes happen –  I just haven’t decided yet whether these two traits themselves are inherent or teachable:

  • the openess to recognize you may need to make some changes
  • the motivation or drive to make those changes

Everyone has their own check list of start-up success factors.  As a former COO and now Executive-in-Residence at Play and Play Tech Center, I look at the CEO first.  In addition to the industry and market knowledge (which are teachable), I am personally looking for those unteachable qualities such as integrity, intelligence with humility, perseverance with learning, and decent people/management skills (also teachable but few want to learn).

A good CEO will beget a good team, and a good team with the right knowledge base and execution abilities to deliver the right product/services to the right audience at the right time, IMHO will have a much higher likelihood of a successful outcome.

What’s on your check list for a successful start-up?

One thought on “Entrepreneurialism debate: nature vs. nurture”

  1. A very practical, down-to-earth approach to nature vs. nurture. You made some excellent points including who we are results from the intersection of nature and nurture and “unteachable qualities (e.g. intelligence). In addition to “motivation and drive to make the change”, I would suggest adding “humility”. After all being part of a start-up (or an established company) can be a humbling experience.

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