Nature or nurture? It is an age-old debate when discussing any behaviour. Are we born with certain skills and traits, or do we learn them?
When someone is a successful entrepreneur, there is a tendency to believe they were born with an innate ability to innovate. Some internal ‘sixth sense’ that enables them to spot a gap in the market and captain a successful business.
In reality, for every Mark Zuckerberg and Catherine Cook, most entrepreneurs have been honing their craft for several years before they get their break. In fact, the average age of a successful start-up founder is 45 and the majority have several years of education, practical business experience - and other failed start-ups - behind them.
These statistics paint a very different picture to the view that entrepreneurs emerge from the womb with one foot in the board room. In fact, it shows that for most of us, entrepreneurship and innovation is a mentality and skillset that we must develop and nurture within ourselves
Cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset
There are ways to mould your thinking and attitudes to enable you to develop successful business ideas that have longevity, whether that is planning your own business venture or leading change within the corporate environment.
A fundamental part of the growth mindset is having a clear vision and purpose for what you hope to achieve. You need to feel passionate about your business idea in order to see it through. By trying new experiences and listening to other people's perspectives and ideas you can begin to find what interests and motivates you. Curiosity is so important – as is an open mind.
“Passion cannot be taught, but you can learn what drives you” says Professor Dimo Dimov who teaches on the Entrepreneurship Management and Innovation online MSc at the University of Bath – an innovative course which sets students on a lifelong journey of enterprise.
“We provide a safe environment to explore and learn. Some students know where they want to go, others have a general sense they want to change career or have an idea of running their own business, but don’t know what that is yet. Our course enables you to collaborate with tutors and peers and gives an exposure to a range of interests and examples to help students explore their potential and learn what motivates them”.
But beware – vanity is a dangerous purpose. If you think of entrepreneurship as a means to an end – be that making money or gaining power or praise – you won’t have the perseverance to succeed.
Try, try and try again
Perseverance is something entrepreneurs need in spades. The space between an idea and business fruition has many ups and downs – probably more downs than ups! To be able to continue on their journey, entrepreneurs need to be able to pick themselves up and keep going. Having a clear purpose and an intrinsic motivation to make a change in a particular space gives you the resilience to give things another try when things don’t go to plan.
Determination is not just important in the early stages of a project either – in fact, you need to continually reinvent and innovate to survive.
“Don’t be complacent, the best time to innovate is during times of success. The best way to adapt to challenges is to take things one step at a time and continually re-evaluate to check you are going in the right direction. You need to be flexible and adaptable to meet future demands” says Professor Dimov.
Reframe your approach to risk
You also need to be brave. There is a well-known saying in the start-up community; ‘fail fast, succeed early’. Taking a leap of faith can enable you to explore if an idea is viable – and even if it fails, you will still have learnt from the process. For the risk adverse, it can help to re-frame any risks in your mind as ‘affordable downsides’.
"A lot of people focus on evaluating the risk in a new business, but because we don’t know how it will develop, this becomes a very difficult, and actually quite counterproductive analytical exercise" says Dimov.
"One way of looking at it is to be clear about the downside, the worst that can happen, and make sure it’s affordable to you. Then you can shift the way you think about risk and the time and money you’re prepared to put into it."
Genius vs lunatic
Don’t be scared to explore ideas and push boundaries. New ideas can often lead to social shifts - if we allow ourselves to explore them.
“Whether a vision of the future is a sign of genius or a lunatic dream can only be ascertained in retrospect” says Professor Dimov.
Jon Rubinstein, former CEO of Palm and head of Apple’s IPod division once said about the upcoming iPhone: “Is there a toaster that also knows how to brew coffee? There is no such combined device, because it would not make anything better than an individual toaster or coffee machine”.
This is a great example of how ideas that once seemed crazy to some, have gone on to become products or services we use every day. Entrepreneurs push boundaries – and must be adept at persuading other people to buy in to their vision of the future if they are to succeed.
Mentoring through tutors and other students can help you to normalise the experience of exploring new and ground-breaking ideas and give you the self-confidence to continue when others have their doubts, as many entrepreneurs have been through the same experience.
Luck vs. skill
Is entrepreneurship a matter of skill, or a matter of luck? The answer is both.
There are things that are beyond your control; being in the right place at the right time or launching your service just as a competitor goes under can help you on your way. However, you can’t rely on luck alone. You also need a diverse range of practical skills to turn your plans into reality.
Knowing the difference between a fantastic business opportunity – and when to quit – is a skill in itself. You also need a strong understanding of how businesses operate, from marketing to finance and everything in between, to be able to turn a business plan into a successful initiative.
“You need a fundamental understanding of business and management to be able to be successful. If you were constructing a building, you couldn’t just pile bricks on top of each other and expect for it to stay standing. You need to understand architecture and construction – it is the same in business.” says Professor Dimov.
At the beginning stages, entrepreneurs often have to be a ‘jack of all trades’ - which is very tough without a solid grounding in business strategy.
How you respond to key business challenges can be the difference between success and failure. Without a strategic and practical understanding of how to tackle common challenges – such as identifying your target market (lack of market research is a key reason for start-up failure) you may struggle to get your business off the ground – even if it has huge potential.
Understanding different leadership styles and when to apply them is also important. A successful entrepreneur works well with others and needs excellent motivational skills to inspire a team to collaborate and move towards a common goal.
You also need to have strong networking and communication skills – after all, you will be the face of your new venture.
Gaining both the skills and the mindset for innovative success is at the heart of the Entrepreneurship Management and Innovation online MSc at the University of Bath.
Whether you are looking to start your own business or innovate within your current role, the MSc can help you drive meaningful change. Led by experienced tutors, you will explore your own business ideas and develop the knowledge and skills you need to turn them into a reality. To find out more, fill in our online form below.