Yesterday I helped to publicise an entrepreneurship event. My post attracted an interesting comment from Hinly, one of my readers:
"Entrepreneurship has been defined as the recognition and pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources you currently control, with confidence that you can succeed, with the flexibility to change course as necessary, and with the will to rebound from setbacks.I wouldn't put it quite so strongly - but I understand Hinly's basic point. He belongs to the school of thought that entrepreneurship is essentially unteachable; it is perhaps more akin to a bunch of inherent personality traits; that is, you either have it or you don't.
Note "without regard to resources under control" and "change course as necessary"; doesn't sound exactly as a well laid out business plan, does it? The reality is that entrepreneurship, like creativity, cannot be taught; we can only read about success stories, and we cannot account for the failures.
Like Sim's Creative, an entrepreneurial effort is born out of deperation, a do or die commitment. When EDB turned down his application for financial assistance, Sim went to the USA, knowing it was his last grasp at a straw. His story will not be repeated, as the risk/opportunity windows opens only once in a lifetime.
These organizers of "entrepreneurship" courses, trade fairs and seminars are simply con artists peddling another variant of snake oil. The real teachers are those guys who accost you in the streets offer you a free massage with an odd shaped gizmo and end up another OSIM."
Hinly's point has been made in another Singapore context - the teaching of creativity in the Singapore education system. The basic argument is the same - that creativity is not teachable; it is another example of a "you-either-have-it-or-you-don't" commodity.
Personally, I have lots of respect for human potential. I believe that given the right environment and opportunities, most human beings can learn lots of different things. If given the right environment and opportunities, they still don't learn, then very often the real reasons will not be that they inherently couldn't, but that they didn't want to, or they didn't believe that they could.
I'm quite inclined to believe that entrepreneurship or, for that matter, creativity, can be taught.
I don't discount the "natural talent" aspects of the matter. I'm quite sure that some persons are naturally a lot more entrepreneurial than others. Similarly, some people are naturally a lot more creative than others.
But to my mind, it just doesn't follow that other people cannot learn to be more creative or more entrepreneurial than they otherwise would be. Nor does it follow that a naturally entrepreneurial or naturally creative person cannot be taught to be even more entrepreneurial or even more creative.
As an analogy, a few people are very musical even as little kids, but most people are not. Nevertheless most people, given the appropriate environment and opportunities, can be taught to play a musical instrument quite competently (I didn't say "brilliantly"). Conversely, a highly musical child who never gets a chance to learn to play the piano or the violin will, of course, never know how to play the piano or the violin.
Sometimes I think that the belief that certain things are not teachable stems from a fear of vague concepts. No one seems to doubt that it is possible to teach a person to solve quadratic equations; or to use a computer; or to write a history essay. A quadratic equation, a computer and a history essay are ultimately quite tangible things. If you have solved it, used it or written it, the results are observable and undeniable.
But many people doubt that it is possible to teach a person to be more "entrepreneurial" or more "creative". After all, how can you tell that a person has become more "entrepreneurial" after he has taken a university module on the subject? How do you tell that a person has become more "creative" after taking a course on creativity?
I would only point out that the fact that some things are difficult/impossible to measure or quantify doesn't mean that those things don't exist or didn't happen. (Hmmm, come to think of it, I previously made the same point about God, spirituality and other related things). Schools strive to teach things like "moral values" and "good character" as well, but of course, how moral a student becomes or how much good character he has, after finishing school, doesn't appear to be easily measurable either.
Going back to Hinly's point - perhaps a more sophisticated version of his argument would be that entrepreneurship cannot be learned in a school environment. That view, I suspect, would be shared by many Singaporeans who have gone through the Singapore education system, which has a powerful reputation for rote learning, an overly rigid curriculum, an over-emphasis on book learning etc.
Still, that would be more a reflection on the weaknesses of the Singapore education system, than on the question of whether entrepreneurship or creativity is inherently teachable. In other words, I think that both can be taught - but whether Singapore's educational institutions can successfully teach either of them is a separate issue.