There's a school of thoughtin the world of entrepreneurship. I don't think it's a point of view typically held by educators, but I've certainly heard it espoused by many entrepreneurs. The thought is, "You can't teach someone to be an entrepreneur.”
There's a reason many entrepreneurs feel this way. I think it's because we know successful entrepreneurs have "it” in their soul. I'm convinced educators in entrepreneurship will only be successful if they can make small business education a soulful experience for themselves and their students.
The sentiment; "You can't teach it” is related to the familiar question, "Are they born or made?” We all know that something takes over in the mind, body, and spirit of entrepreneurs, and connecting with that "something” is what entrepreneurship is all about. It takes a special kind of person to bond with and stir the soul of an aspiring entrepreneur.
I first noticed this as a college freshman as the 1970s came to a close. I registered at my community college for the one small business course offered. As we approached the first day of classes I was thrilled. I had always wanted to build a successful business.
Throughout my teenage years I worked for a successful entrepreneur and relentlessly devoured books about starting and running a successful business. I wanted to know more about how I could make this a career choice and lifestyle. But once the course began, I immediately noticed differences in the way entrepreneurship was taught in school versus on the street.
Following Malik's Example
I worked for a young entrepreneur named Malik, who founded a restaurant business. He was not college educated but was equally street smart and well-read. He was a self-made man who had escaped the mean streets of a rough section of Buffalo, NY, and built a small restaurant group with four locations through his enormous drive and charisma.
I would watch how he handled people and situations. Occasionally we would talk one-on-one, and he would give me a quick course in entrepreneurship. He'd show me how to lower the natural sales resistance of a customer, how to inspire the staff to work harder, and how to quickly make the cash register ring when we needed to by charming everyone in sight. He'd talk about the power of serving a well put together meal–how it should look, smell, and be presented. It was a study in improvisation with Malik's well-honed artistry and creativity at its core.
The restaurant I worked at was in Harlem, just a few blocks from the world-famous Apollo Theater, where legendary soul performers like James Brown and Aretha Franklin routinely took the stage, but what I saw Malik do every day was just as soulful as the masterful acts that appeared at the Apollo each night.
It was a different story, however, at my community college small business class.
In class we immediately launched into a theoretical discussion of what a business is: legal structures, and what should go into a business plan. Next we discussed break even points and accounting methods. Although this was quite practical and somewhat necessary it bored me to tears. Each day I felt more and more removed from what I knew a business was really about. What I really wanted to do was visit a real business, meet more Maliks, and see real-life entrepreneurs solve the dozens of problems that crop up each day.
The focus of my college class was far too administrative; documents, spreadsheets, structures, licenses, certifications…yawn!
My fellow students didn't know the difference. Many were exploring entrepreneurship in-depth for the first time and silently became convinced during the course that running a business wasn't for them. Little did they know how exciting the world of entrepreneurship could be. They didn't have a Malik in their life.
I ultimately "nailed” the course, scoring an excellent grade but my performance in the class meant nothing to me. That's because neither the professor nor the class were connected to the soul of entrepreneurship.
The reason many entrepreneurs feel you can't teach entrepreneurship is because they know a great company doesn't come about without soul. Successful entrepreneurs and companies are not the result of merely studying "practical” matters. Anyone can master that. Great entrepreneurs are always seeking to make themselves, their staff, and their customers feel special by creating extraordinary products, experiences, and results. It's a "moving” experience.
Can you teach entrepreneurship? Sure you can. But to do so, you must have soul.
André Taylor is an entrepreneur, consultant, and author of the book You Can Still Win! He's chief executive of Taylor Insight, a New York-based leadership development firm, serving entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies. He's a regular contributor to ABC News Money Matters, and a community college graduate. More at www.andretaylor.com