Learning Entrepreneurship

The argument about whether entrepreneurship can be learned never seems to stop. The “nature” advocates say learning entrepreneurship is an oxymoron. The “nurture”advocates say of course you can learn it.. And then there are those somewhere in the middle.

As someone who has spent a considerable amount of time learning, teaching and practicing biomedical and health entrepreneurship in many different settings to many different types of students in many different locations, my observations are:

1. It depends on how you define entrepreneurship. Some say the goal is to create and build a business. My definition is that entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity using scarce resources with the goal of creating user defined value through the deployment of innovation. Using that definition, entrepreneurship is about creating and transferring value. Sometimes it is through a business. At least in healthcare, it can be done many other ways as in process or platform innovation, practicing social entrepreneurship or creating value for your employer as an intrapreneur.

2. Education is different than training. Education is about entrepreneurs and their craft. Training is about how to acquire a specific skill, like how to start and run a business.

3. Education is but one small element of learning entrepreneurship. To be successful and to learn, students need friends, networks and mentors. They also need experience and advisors who can help them when they meet barriers or fail.

4. Technologies have made it easier to learn.  Most are free and make it cheap and fast to create a business or platform.

5. Some entrepreneurial personality traits are hard wired. Behaviors like questioning, experimenting and connecting are core skills of entrepreneurs. But, I think, they represent only a smalll part of whether someone will succeed or not. You can fill gaps in your emotional intelligence. You can develop an entrepreneurial mindset

6. Most entrepreneurs self select. People would rather do what works, feels good and has a higher liklihood of success that struggle, fail or overcome learning barriers. In most instances, that probably is a smart decision. When it comes to doctors, they self select specialties during medical training. Few surgeons change their minds and want to become psychiatrists. Likewise, when it comes to learning, I can’t teach someone how to be a surgeon. I can teach them how to do surgery. Trying to change the stripes on a tiger is a fools errand.

7. Systems, biases and prejudices get in the way of learning. Managers, bureaucrats and apparatchiks create policies and procedures to maintain the status quo. They create barriers to innovation and entrepreneurship that even the most highly motivated and skilled have difficulty overcoming. They take their failure personally and just give up trying.

8. Many potential entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know. Their culture does not place innovation and creativity as a high priority and their education does not provide them with the knowledge, skills and abilities to succeed. They are trained to deliver technical tasks, not deliver value.

9. Entrepreneurship requires some parts internal motivation and some parts external motivation. In addition to having the right stuff, enterpreneurial learning grows when you give students the tools, role models, recognition and incentives to do it right. When it comes to innovation, companies and people who try the most usually succeed the most. It’s a numbers game.

10. Entrepreneurship is not a straight line. Creativity and creating value is often serendipidous, messy, chaotic and unpredictable and it is almost impossible to know who will succeed under which circumstances and who won’t. 

Entrepreneurship can be learned. But, most of the learning takes place outside of the classroom in unpredictable ways and each one is different. There are 8 million stories in the Naked City.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org and a contributor towww.hcplive.com/physicians-money-digest