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Are Successful Entrepreneurs Born or Made?


There has always been a debate whether successful entrepreneurs are born or made. It’s the classic nature versus nurture debate. Some argue that successful entrepreneurs were born with certain personality and aptitude traits that made them the success that they are. Others reject this and contend that entrepreneurial greatness can be shaped through education both at home and in society — schools, media, etc. As always, I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle.


Yes, many of the great entrepreneurs — Jobs, Gates, Buffet, Bezos, Branson, etc., — possessed certain qualities when they were born but they needed to apply these traits the right way. They’ve had opportunities and choices that allowed them to carve the path to greatness. Steve Jobs said:


I’m a very big believer in equal opportunity as opposed to equal outcome. Equal opportunity to me, more than anything, means a great education. Maybe even more important than a great family life. We could make sure that every young child in this country got a great education. We fall far short of that.


In my experience, the education I received from my mother and the schools I went to, specifically the University of the Philippines, all contributed to the strengthening of the entrepreneurial spirit that is still alive until now. Yes, successful entrepreneurs are born but the qualities they possess need nurturing. It’s unrealistic to believe that one is born with certain qualities and become successful on his/her own. So what are those qualities? How do we look for these qualities so we can nurture them in our young?


There are people who are naturally always curious and often ask the “whys” and “hows” of most of the things in life. Sometimes we get irritated by their “kakulitan,” sometimes we shrug them off as being “bibo.” We need to nurture these qualities because they are some of the qualities that make a great entrepreneur. These are the people who learn fast and are not satisfied until they get to the bottom line of many issues and develop new solutions.


Entrepreneurs love problems to solve and when confronted with ideas, they ask questions in order to understand. Even when good ideas are presented to you, you have the ability to make that idea better. The ideas developed by many of the great entrepreneurs we know did not all come from them. Sometimes these ideas came from people around them. But their greatness lies in their ability to take these ideas, make them better, and more importantly, turn them into reality.


This is the reason why I always love talking to those I work with. I have always held my meetings in coffee shops instead of a boardroom. In a boardroom, the situation is structured and people sometimes are afraid to talk. But in a coffee shop setting, people are freer to talk and discuss ideas with you. The key of course is how to make sure that something comes out of your discussion. This is another key characteristic of a successful entrepreneur. Anyone can generate ideas but only a few can have ideas and make them a reality. It takes skills, passion and intelligence to bring to fruition concepts on the drawing board.


It is very important for teachers and parents to nurture these qualities in the young. Education — both formal and informal — is a double-edged knife. It can nourish everything that is good in the student or it can crush their spirit of inquisitiveness. We have all experienced this — teachers who dissuade rather than encourage students to ask questions. Later on in this series, I will discuss the importance of these “nurturing agents” — family, schools, media, and government.



Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar