This question is one that CEOs across the globe ask themselves with increasing frequency. And perhaps something VCs and early stage entrepreneurs also need to ask themselves. Later on, some entrepreneurs begin to admit they could have used some good “early stage advice”.
Why does this continue to be the case?
Looking at their nature, entrepreneurs are often maverick, wilful, impatient, willing to cut corners, leaders rather than followers. Willing to break rules and remake them, upset people and apologise, chase impossible dreams, rather than suffer the inadequacy and bureaucracy often inherent in rules laid down by others. Willing to innovate first and achieve solid consistency second.
In the corporate world run by CEOs, this behaviour is a world away from the 9-5 obedience that many lower level managers seek, often to “make their life easier”, and offering the easy comfort and stability that consistency allows.
But entrepreneurialism is increasingly a behaviour that CEOs know they need, to meet challenges in the world of constant innovation and rapid product life cycles.
In the startup world, this type of dynamic behaviour can work, indeed is necessary to drive progress, but also has high risk probabilities of failure if left in isolation and without support. Why is this?
But first we must ask can “entrepreneurs” subjugate their nature and instincts to be “educated”, and find a balance between maverick belief and steady nurtured growth. And why is this beneficial for all concerned?
Firstly we need to de-construct some terminology. While no one objects to terms such as life long learning, or business growth, “education” is seen to be something we do before we start work. Such rigid distinctions are ones we grow up with, and which too often persist insidiously and counter-productively well into and through adult life.
But actually the learning principals of business growth and education are one and the same. “Education” is also a component one of the eight success factors for entrepreneurs, using a short cut term here, Creativity.
And here we need to examine what we mean by creativity, because creativity can come from different sources.
Let’s take the example of Michelangelo.
Did he come up with revolutionary art forms, and be a multi-skilled sculptor, painter architect and engineer, without taking advice from those who had gone before him, or indeed even his peers of the day? And then taking each discipline the next step?
Whilst the great book “The Agony and the Ecstasy” can only be an assessment of how MicehlAngelo came by his skills, it’s certainly believable, and was extensively researched as to the historic components about the people involved, the places visited, and the developments and progress made.
And there are lessons here for CEOs and entrepreneurs alike. Successive popes and mentors employed MichelAngelo, and found him to be stubborn, wilful, but at the same time brilliant, because he refused to subjugate his principles to theirs. From the entrepreneur perspective, the popes and mentors were often inconstant masters, prone to changing their mind and being awkward. But their benefactoral largesse and resources often helped MichelAngelo grow, learn and develop his skills still further.
This is a clear illustration of what can happen if even the most brilliant of innovators allows themselves access to and influence by the learning available from the “giants that went before”. Of course not everyone is Michelangelo, but by how much would business growth be improved if entrepreneurs adopted his principles regarding his own growth?
For the entrepreneur, there is a clear risk to quality if business lessons from the past are not learned, regardless of how innovative new products might be. This lack of “preparation” is all too visible to those VCs and angels who are experienced in business, and a disincentive for them to get involved if they know they have someone who still needs to acquire “nuanced business skills”.
So how does the above challenge some modern fallacies, that have become accepted in 2013 as “just the way it is” ?
Entrepreneurs are given the idea, sometimes even from VC soundbites, that they must have the drive to build their business themselves. And that is all well and good.
Unless that translates into, “and you shouldn’t ever take advice from others” while building a startup. Or that “a good team can’t build a better product” than the entrepreneur on his or her own.
Of equal horror are some stories about VCs who insist on doing things “their way”. This is also a situation which bodes badly for future success.
Only once they have built their first successful startup do entrepreneurs begin to talk retrospectively about a need in the early stages for “good business advice”. And we really owe it to ourselves to explore this belated wisdom and establish common components that we can all adopt on our own growth paths.
With the full benefit of hindsight, some entrepreneurs even champion the need for support for startups, whilst still acknowledging the challenge of how this can be provided affordably and effectively, promoting growth not hindering it.
Yes, in this limited article, we have only looked at one component of being an entrepreneur.
But these and other factors regularly suggest that, yes, entrepreneurs can be educated, and that they would improve their prospects of success considerably by adopting a life long learning and listening approach to building and growing start up businesses.
Feedback is welcome !!