Many years ago, I remember watching a BBC program on the qualities of entrepreneurship. A diverse group of young individuals who did not know each other and had no knowledge of each other’s identity were being put through a series of tests, to identify secret entrepreneurs in their midst. One test stands out in my mind: the participants were asked to aim for and hit a target from a distance of their choice. Needless to say, the greater the distance from which one tried to accomplish the task, the more the rewards and indeed, the risks. Interestingly, the entrepreneurs in the group were the ones who chose to try from seemingly impossible distances. This appetite for risk is well recognized as being a quintessential entrepreneurial quality. But pray, what else characterizes the entrepreneurial mind? This is the subject of our exploration.
Howard Gardner has described “the five minds” that are necessary for leadership. He begins with “the disciplined mind” acquired through years spent in scholarship, a craft or a profession, which he estimates takes the average person a decade to master. He prescribes that the disciplined mind emerges from consistent work done to develop skill sets and a knowledge base. This concept of “the disciplined mind” necessitates education and/or training, of course. But is education or training an essential pre-requisite for the entrepreneur? Many famous entrepreneurs have had very limited formal education, and in many instances have dropped out of the educational system, only to prosper. Famous examples of people who did not survive the educational system for a variety of reasons include Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and our own Dhirubhai Ambani; all synonyms of successful entrepreneurship. So is education at all necessary for entrepreneurial excellence?
John Warrilow in a recent article identifies some reasons why an MBA may be bad for entrepreneurship.
1. Causal rather than Effectual Reasoning:
Entrepreneurs use effectual reasoning (they assess what resources they have and ask themselves what can be created) while conventional CEO’s use causal reasoning (they set goals and develop systematic plans to achieve those goals). MBA programs teach causal rather than effectual reasoning.
2. Adaptive rather than Innovative Thinking:
Adaptors are cautious and pragmatic. They take others ideas and try to innovate them, incrementally. On the other hand innovators overturn other ideas, challenge conventional concepts and are into big-bang thinking. MBA programs teach adaptive thinking rather than innovation, which is an entrepreneurial quality.
The advantages of the disciplined mind notwithstanding, one must address the question therefore, whether formal education is necessary for entrepreneurship, or whether indeed it is an impediment for success. John Warrilow points out that an MBA is bad for entrepreneurs also because “your classmates will not be entrepreneurs” and “you will waste 40% of your risk free years in a classroom”. It is a truism that the higher one climbs on the academic ladder, the more one usually has by way of formal employment opportunities, and the greater are the risks when one chooses to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in favor of well paid employment. Thus, too many years spent in education maybe a disincentive for risk, that important entrepreneurial quality. On the other hand it has to be acknowledged that formal education such as an MBA does bestow on one credibility, a critical element for entrepreneurial progress, at least in the early years. A doctor turned entrepreneur recently remarked to me, rather ruefully, that it took an ivy league MBA for people to be convinced about the seriousness of his entrepreneurial intent and ability.
Howard Gardner goes on to describe “the synthesizing mind” as learning to integrate disparate sources of information, identifying the links between them. Synthesis he says is identifying the jobs that need to be done and the people available to do those jobs. Synthesis is the identification of priorities and the way forward, balancing past visions with future aspirations. Synthesis enables one to examine new ideas in the light of one’s knowledge base. In this concept one needs the discipline of education combined with the ability to integrate disparate sources of information, an ability that usually comes with work experience.
Gardner then describes “the creating mind”, more a function of the leader than of the manager. Entrepreneurs are leaders and are generally bestowed with a strong sense of creativity, the ability to innovate and think out of the box. In general, the leadership of organizations require the development of compelling narrative, which then gets embodied in the leaders life. Good leaders (and entrepreneurs) are therefore expected to live by the principle “my life is my work; my work is my life” and to bring about changes to the lives of those