Skip to main content

Are Entrepreneurs Born or Built?

It depends on what you mean by entrepreneur.

Like tattoos, the word entrepreneur has lost its shock value through sheer overuse. I no longer recoil when the babysitter has an angry-looking reptile crawling out of his collar or calls himself a “child-care entrepreneur.” So‑called entrepreneurs are everywhere today, from the local dry cleaner to the freelance designer to the kids selling lemonade on the corner — who, thanks to Square, now take credit cards.

It wasn’t always this way. A century ago, the word entrepreneur described a special type of person: a risk taker who reshaped an industry through innovation. Joseph Schumpeter, the economist who popularized its use, described entrepreneurs as revolutionaries and “wilds spirits.” They were outcasts living on the edge of civilization, doing things that hadn’t been done. But today all businesspeople are considered entrepreneurs, which is like calling all tourists explorers.

So how do we distinguish the businessperson from the entrepreneur? Copying. Businesspeople copy what works, while entrepreneurs must create something new.

There is no judgement here. I have the deepest respect for copying. Copying is almost always the best way to solve a problem, provided that a solution exists. As I write these words, a quick glance at the room reveals that everything in sight is a copy. The desk, chair, empty pizza box and every molecule in my body are all a result of successful copying. This afternoon I’m getting into an aircraft and hope the Boeing company has not just decided to try something new and see if it works (again). If you want to solve a problem that nature or humanity has already solved, you are crazy not to copy what works. Copying is great.

Likewise, businesspeople are wonderful. We need businesspeople. Businesspeople succeed way more often than entrepreneurs. Businesspeople are worthy of awards, bank loans and 90-day payment terms. If you want to be successful in the eyes of the world, be a businessperson. But if you want to change that world, you might have to become an entrepreneur.

And so, the answer to your question is simply: YES.

We are all born with the basic survival skills necessary to become entrepreneurs. We fail to use these skills because most of our problems have already been solved by others, so we need only learn how to copy the solutions. If you choose to solve a new problem, then you will have to become an entrepreneur. The solution demands it.

But here is the good news, all the entrepreneurs I profile in my book The Innovation Stack had basically no formal qualifications to create the world-dominating enterprises they did. It makes sense if you think about it. Entrepreneurs do things that have never been done, and there is no way to be “qualified” to do something new. So if you choose to be and entrepreneur by the classic definition, you are already as qualified as you can be.

Originally shared on Quora.