“The best classroom is real life”                                                                                       ~ Anonymous

Are entrepreneurs born or can they be taught sitting in a classroom or do they learn by doing? This is a question that has given rise to many opinions and debates the world over. I don’t think there is a straightforward answer to this. More likely than not, the reality lies on a continuum –some learn by themselves in the real world, others learn through a combination of some fundamental, formal education supplemented by actual market experience.

I believe that entrepreneurship is a skill that has to be embedded in the genetic code of a person and that it can be honed through experience in the battlefield of life through experimentation and collaboration, supported by some amount of formal education from successful entrepreneurs who can teach basis their real-life experiences.

Some can, others can’t

Entrepreneurship requires certain skills viz persuasion, negotiation, timing a sales pitch, recognizing opportunities, understanding customer motivations etc which can rarely be taught in a classroom. Some people can do it, others just cannot, no matter how much training or education they have. Entrepreneurship demands native intelligence, gut instinct, and the biggest quality – the ability to take risks – none of which has anything to do with formal classroom teaching.

In real-life, entrepreneurship is risky, uncertain, dodgy, unpredictable, and perilous. Classroom entrepreneurship is safe, sanitized, sterile, with little connect to the actual environment outside. Thus there is no substitute for the real-life experience of trial-and-error, edge-of-the-cliff decision making, negotiating deals, handling HR issues etc. People skills, leadership and management skills can be best learnt only from experience not from text books or lectures.

Entrepreneurs know that there are no right or wrong answers in many of their day-to-day transactions and business dealings. It is only through practice and familiarity with market conditions that they can make a judgement call on these issues.

Skills needed to be successful      

In fact all the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur can only be imbibed in the hard school of life – it is based on one’s sum total of life experiences and the learnings one gleans from it.

Yes, today there are more entrepreneurship education courses and programs than ever before, and demand for them continues to grow. But there are limitations to using traditional educational methods to teach entrepreneurship. These institutions have developed tools for an alternative teaching technique that involves experimental learning and mentorship including market engagement, role-playing, self evaluation methods etc. They use actual data to teach about the dangers and issues in real life markets, so that entrepreneurs are better armed to deal with problems when they enter the market on their own. But whatever they do they can never supplant the lessons learnt in the real world. The learnings are still in the safe confines of the classroom not in the tough real world outside.

As a wise man said, “You have to get your feet wet in the river of life to partake of the fruits of success”.

Cannot be learnt in the classroom

Real-life quotes from people interviewed during the course of a study also had similar views to mine, that entrepreneurs are born, entrepreneurship cannot be learnt in the classroom:

“I think there are natural entrepreneurs and they have certain traits that are inherent and cannot be acquired. I think it is also possible to acquire business skills and become business savvy but this is separate from being an entrepreneur.”

“An entrepreneur is born with an ability to takes risks, make money and think out of the box,” “It cannot be taught – you are born with it – and very few get there.”

“It is clear that entrepreneurs are firmly of the belief that while the basics of business can be taught in the classroom, when it actually comes to taking risks and growing a successful business, these are skills which are natural and cannot be learnt from text books.”

“The vast amount of enterprise courses on offer may produce many so-called business experts but it looks like we’re not going to find the next generation of risk-taking entrepreneurs in the classroom.”