Entrepreneurship: Nature vs. Nurture? A Religious Debate

Posted on Feb 27, 2010 | 155 comments


People - Twin Premies Sleeping

Nature vs. Nurture.  You’ve all heard the question before.  Let’s talk about kids for a moment.  I grew up believing that human behavior was 20% nature, 80% nurture.  Now that I have two boys (4 and 7) I’m convinced it’s the other way around.  There’s no question that both factors are involved. There have been many studies done on the topic including looking at twins raised in separate families.  There have been studies of adopted children to their natural parents versus the parents that raised them.  I have also seen studies on “birth order.”

As a father, I have strong beliefs on this topic.  I have first-hand observational data.  But I’m not naive enough to think that I am factually right.  I think it is an unknowable topic for which we each have our own observations and points-of-view.  Some data like those in the studies I mentioned above might help influence our thinking but the answer is, in the end, subjective.

So it is with entrepreneurship.  In my bones I’m convinced that entrepreneurs are more nature than nurture although I know both are involved.  Fred Wilson said as much on his blog also.  I wasn’t going to write about it since he had just covered the topic and echoed my point of view.  I have recently written extensively on what I believe the 12 characteristics of an entrepreneur are.

The comments were littered with nature vs. nurture discussions / debates.  Throughout all the discussion I’ve made it clear that my points-of-view are purely subjective.  I think I’m right but I’m not self righteous enough to pretend that my views are scientific.  That is true of all my blog posts.  I have a strong opinion and I put it out there.  I love the debate and I’m willing to alter my views.  It is what I love the most about debates and one of the things I love most about blogging.

So why am I covering the topic now?  Because Vivek Wadhwa has just written a piece on TechCrunch that “proves” the nurture argument quantitatively.  Notes Wadhwa, “Jason [Calacanis], Fred [Wilson], and Silicon Valley VC’s, I’ve got news for you: you’ve got it all wrong. Entrepreneurs aren’t born, they’re made.”  The data in this article is at best, a stretch.

Wadhwa is entitled to his point of view and he may be right.  I suspect he’s not.   To anyone who believes his data proves anything please do me a favor and go read The Black Swan – my favorite book of the past 5 years.  The author, Nassim Taleb is a self proclaimed “skeptical emperiscist” – that is, he is skeptical of any argument that tries to prove the future or any data argument unless he can test it with real data.

In the book Taleb rails against people who use faulty models to predict risk and have self satisfied, false data arguments to convince people of their points of view.  Data are used so convincingly to convince the untrained eye that conclusions are factual.  I said as much in my post that 73.6% of all data is made up.  OK, not literally made up.  I’m prone to hyperbole to get my point across.  But data are given as evidence to draw false conclusions.

Let me give you an example.  If you take 2,000 of the world’s top performing companies, only 29 (1.5%) are run by women.  They run only 15 of the Fortune 500.  It’s a fact, women aren’t good at running companies.  If they were they’d be running more successful companies.  They must be languishing by running many unsuccessful companies.  Data doesn’t lie.  If women were great at running companies they’d be running more of the successful companies.  In fact, data proves that white, middle-aged men are the best at running companies because they run the most successful ones.  Of course I don’t believe this argument.  But you can take data to say whatever you want to say by using it out of context.

I wish Vivek Wadhwa would have given his arguments of why he believes in nurture, given some data to outline his views and then stated honestly that the answer is still subjective.  In fact, when you have studies done by the Kauffman Foundation to the tune of $50 million coupled with a professor (Mr. Wadhwa) one could even point out the obvious bias that people who teach have in saying the answer is “nurture.”  I don’t think he’s overtly biased but all subjective analyses bring in bias.  See this wikipedia link on this topic – it’s called “confirmation bias

I’m an ex entrepreneur.  My views are formed from those experiences.  I’m biased, too.  I worked closely with hundreds of other entrepreneurs.  I’m now a VC that funds entrepreneurs.  I have lots of empirical evidence from which to draw my conclusions.  But I’m still biased by my experiences and am willing to admit that.

Also, I went and read the actual paper Mr. Wadhwa wrote.  Turns out he collaborated with a friend of mine that I respect, Z Holly.  The paper is surprisingly much more balanced in its assertions than this TechCrunch article.  If you’re interested in the topic and the data it is a worthwhile paper and you should read it.  The paper even goes as far as saying, “our research cannot be generalized to the entire population of entrepreneurs in the United States, it is meant to be illustrative of the backgrounds of entrepreneurs.”

I suspect Mr. Wadhwa used hyperbole in his TechCrunch blog post to get more readers to look at his work.  If that is the case I suspect he achieved his goals.  But I’m opposed to using data to “prove” unprovable facts because I know that readers are often susceptible to this kind of data manipulation.

My views are as follows:

  • Many people want to cling to the “nurture” argument because it’s more pleasant.  We all like to believe we can be taught to be great performers.  We can be taught to be better – no doubt – but no necessarily to be truly exceptional
  • Because I believe in the nature more than nurture debate in humans I’m already biased to believe that you have certain characteristics as a child that make you more pre-disposed to be a successful entrepreneur.  You may be a better communicator, have a higher IQ, be more of a natural leader, be more persuasive, be more analytical, etc. from a young age.
  • Before getting slammed in the comments – I’m not saying it’s only nature.  There is of course much nurture and culture weaved in.  But I believe that nature is stronger.  For example, I believe that the data on the studies of identical twins raised by different parents show that the IQ link is much more strongly correlated with DNA than the parents that raised you.
  • So going into a startup scenario you bring these innate skills or you don’t.  At the margin you can make yourself better at sales, product design, marketing, leadership, capital raising, etc. so it’s not pointless to want to improve.  But some people are going to be more likely to succeed than others.
  • Even if you believe in the nurture over nature in raising humans I believe that you are mostly a formed character by the time you start your company.  Your attributes (whether nature or nurture) are formed and hard to change.
  • I mostly subscribe to the 10,000 hours argument that Malcolm Gladwell made in his book Outliers.  People who are naturally talented still differentiate themselves by having put in the effort in the areas that are important for success.  You’re not born into being a world-class software developer.  If you have the innate DNA PLUS you put in the 10,000 hours then you are more likely to be at the top of your game
  • When I look at the attributes that I feel are most important in a startup CEO: tenacity, street smarts, the mental flexibility to pivot, resiliency, leadership / inspiration, work ethic, attention to detail, competitiveness, decisiveness and integrity – I think these all fall into the 80% nature territory.  Or at least 73.6% nature ;-)  The one other attribute – domain experience  – is by default nurture.
  • You don’t need to be great at all of these attributes to be part of a successful startup team.  But I believe the CEO needs to possess many of these traits.  Of course you don’t have do be great at all 12 skills.  Very few people ever would be.

Here are some assumptions in Wadhwa’s article where I believe the truthiness comes across with data assertions:

  • “My team surveyed 549 successful entrepreneurs” – that’s a good start.  I like surveys.  I prefer some data to no data.  He’s already pointed out in his work that this isn’t statistically significant but “illustrative.”  I’m OK with statements like, “here’s what the CEO’s and CTO’s told us and that supports our view of the world” but I’m NOT OK with the inference that “I surveyed 549 executives and therefore this is scientific.”  It is not.  He doesn’t use the words scientific but I believe it is implied.  James Gillmore in the comments section offers these words to Fred Wilson, “I’d say this highly statistical evidence doesn’t counter your original stance.”  James’s overall point isn’t wrong.  I just take issue with the words “highly statistical.”  It is not highly statistical and yet it has the aura of highly statistical.  So anybody who doesn’t know better assumes that these data are “conclusive.”  They are not.
  • “We found that the majority didn’t have entrepreneurial parents.  We found that 52% of the successful entrepreneurs were the first in their immediate families to start a business” What is implied is that if it were nurture then your parents would be great entrepreneurs. Just like the way that all sports stars and all rock stars have famous parents, right?  This argument is flawed.  First, your parents may have had the DNA characteristics to be a successful entrepreneur but life’s circumstances might not have led them to those careers.  Or maybe your parents had the right DNA but the 10,000 hours weren’t there.  PC’s weren’t there.  The Internet wasn’t there.  So they chose other careers.  Or maybe your parents didn’t have the DNA but you did.  Kind of like a guy who can hit a 98 mile-per-hour fastball might have had a dad who couldn’t.  Or … maybe entrepreneurship is nurture and not nature.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But this argument, wrapped in “data” is false evidence and is flawed.  What your parents did does not feature in the argument about whether entrepreneurs are born or made.
  • “They didn’t even have entrepreneurial aspirations while going to school.” Oh, gotcha.  If you didn’t have entrepreneurial aspirations when you went to school then the attributes of a successful entrepreneur must not be innate, right?  They must be learned.  Otherwise you would have had a life-long obsession with building the next Facebook.  The truth couldn’t be further from this.  I’m not claiming I’m a great entrepreneur.  But I’ll tell you that I did start my first company in high school.  I sold t-shirts for the basketball cheering section (called the River Rats) and I sold letters to go on the back so you could call yourself by your nickname.  All the profits were in the letters.  I cleared hundreds.  In college I threw keg parties and again cleared hundres of dollars.  But my aspiration in college was “to get a good job.”  In 1990 that’s what I was trained to want to do – impress my parents and their friends.  I don’t think that everybody with the skills to be an entrepreneur knows that they wanted to do it when they went to school.  This data assertion is bogus.  It is wrapped in the authority of a “conclusive” data study with the pronouncement that Jason, Fred and Silicon Valley VCs are “wrong.”  What you thought you wanted to do in school has no bearing on whether you were made or born to be an entrepreneur.
  • “VC and former entrepreneur Brad Feld also blogged about how many of his frat buddies at MIT had become successful entrepreneurs. Were all of these people born to be entrepreneurs as well? I don’t think so.” Um, are you seriously drawing this link?  Please read up on selection bias.  People who go to MIT are at top of our country in intelligence.  They are more technical than people who go to other universities.  Brad Feld and his cohorts graduated in the late 80’s and worked through the 90’s when many more technology companies were built that favored super-bright, technical people.  Brad himself seems to have had entrepreneurial tendencies and certainly technical tendencies and therefore was more likely to surround himself with like minded people.  Therefore it is very conceivable that this group of people were more likely to be of the right DNA to be entrepreneurs AND were born at the right time ala Outliers.  I don’t know that the truth is – I have an assertion.  Wadhwa presents his arguments and his data as more conclusive.  It’s like saying, “data shows that people who go to the Stanford MBA program are more likely to be successful entrepreneurs than those who go to Harvard,” (I don’t know if this is true – I’m making up the situation) and using this data to say that these students were taught better by Stanford.  It’s very conceivable that they chose to go to Stanford precisely because they are more entrepreneurial by nature and they wanted to be closer to Silicon Valley!

OK, I don’t even know Vivek Wadhwa.  I’m guessing he’s a smart person.  I’m guessing he produces great work.  I have no desire to pick a fight with him. He’s got a louder megaphone than I do as a TechCrunch contributor.  But Vivek, please don’t present data on the topic of nature vs. nurture and assert that you have statistically proven the “truth.”  And if you do … please at least provide more compelling data, graphs and conclusions.  Otherwise, please state your opinion as exactly that.

  • honam

    I used to be a nature guy but have come more over the the nurture camp. I've seen plenty of people who are not as “talented” do very well because they applied the effort (the 10,000 hours that Mark mentions) and became really great at something – music, programming, art, entrepreneurship, etc. Over the years, I've seen many “plodders” (what Jim Collins refers to as Hedgehogs vs Foxes) do quite well and overtake quick starters, the “naturals.” I wrote a blog post called Foxes and Hedgehogs in Silicon Valley a few years ago which covers this topic.

    As a parents, my wife and I agreed that we would do our children a great disservice to make them believe that nature were more important than nurture. There is plenty of research to show that people who believe that they can improve by working harder tend to do better in life. People who believe that nature is more important tend to work not quite as hard and give up more easily if they don't think that they are naturally talented at something. Even if we personally believed in nature over nurture, we decided that we should make every effort to make our children believe in their power to control their own destinies and not blame nature for their failings.

    That said, even though I personally like and believe in Vivek's point of view, Mark made great points about the flaws in Vivek's argument. I certainly would have hoped for more compelling “data” after $50mm in research!

    One major flaw in Vivek's argument that I'm surprised was not pointed out is that he reaches the wrong conclusion based on his own data. To say that 52% of successful entrepreneurs did not come from an entrepreneurial family leads to the exact opposite conclusion Vivek drew. Think about it this way, what percentage of people are entrepreneurs? 10%? If a very small minority of people are entrepreneurs but almost half of successful entrepreneurs come from entrepreneurial families, doesn't that support nature vs nurture?

    Another commenter pointing out the flaw in logic referred to Oscar winners. If 48% of all Oscar winners come from families that had Oscars, it would lead to the conclusion that coming from a Oscar winning family has a HUGE impact on the probability of winning an Oscar. You would not make the argument that 52% of Oscar winners come from families that have never won an Oscar as “evidence” and “data” to support the point that it doesn't really matter that you were born into a family of Oscar winners! (This point is probably more clear because I assume that people know how rare it is to win an Oscar!).

  • honam

    S0rry I accidentally hit post while editing the comment. I made a few more edits after the first post.

  • http://www.facesforce.com rokhayakebe

    No one was born to be a great entrepreneur. Yet some people were born ready to be great entrepreneurs. There is a dichotomy. Some people are born with many attributes needed to be successful entrepreneurs. If they cultivate these qualities, they can almost effortlessly have great successes. In this way some people were also born with physical attributes that makes it 20 times easier for them to be great athletes.

    So are you born entrepreneur? NO. But could you have been born with an unfair advantage? YES.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I respect that point of view. I don't want to belabor this, but my biggest beef isn't with the nature vs. nurture debate – it's with saying “I have conclusive data that proves my point is correct.” That is what I believe Mr. Wadhwa did.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Thank you. Perfectly said. More expertly argued than I did. Hmmm. Are you a trained lawyer? ;-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Great story and echoes many successful entrepreneurs. Re: UK vs. US – I have a lot of thoughts on that. I started my first company in the UK and lived there 11 years. But I grew up in the US (to one immigrant parent). I'll save it for a different post, but the high level theme will be, “why the UK psyche is against entrepreneurial success while the US psyche routes them on.”

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    For sure! But then don't forget the old adage, “the harder I work the luckier I become!” ;-)

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Totally. Like religion, I'm not obsessed by which side of the debate somebody is on. It's an unknowable topic and I respect others' beliefs. My beef is with people who conclusively assert arguments with data that don't lead to conclusive results. It's a different argument.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Perfectly said. Thank you.

  • http://twitter.com/billmcneely Bill McNeely

    The nature vs nurture debate is very interesting but what about if you HAD to be entreprenuarial to feed your family?

    I meet some amazingly street smart Afghans who have maximized what little assets (usually things, not money) who live a very comfortable life.

    I think a study should be done only in Third World Countries. You might gain a clearer picture of what it takes to be succesful entrepreneur without all the technological bias in the western world.

  • http://twitter.com/entrep_thinking Norris Krueger

    Let me ask an easy question: Do entrepreneurs have an above-average propensity to take risks? As it turns out… Uh, no. On average, they do not differ from the rest of us.

    That study was 30 years ago, at a time where entrepreneurship research assumed, quite naturally, that there was something called the “entrepreneurial personality.” We got over it. So should everyone. (But it is more complicated than merely “nature” vs. “nurture”. And, taking a scientific approach has already paid dividends –I suspect very few of you are current with existing science on this –and approaching the complexities will continue to bear fruit of practical value to entrepreneurs, educators, even VCs. Mark , Vivek– up for a study?)

    How about we add in some cutting edge social science? Mark Suster & Fred Wilson’s gut reaction that “nature” is critical is understandable. Entrepreneurship experts fell for that same gut reaction decades ago & it took forever to get past it. (It made us a joke in scholarly circles, a hole we’re still digging out of.) Mark – you asked for data – well, decades of work found essentially zero data that supported a distinctive “entrepreneurial personality” & what little we found offered no practical value (eg, Kelly Shaver’s great article nailed it way back in 1991). But…

    Who doesn’t want to think of Entrepreneurs as Special, even Magical People?
    They do such wondrous things that often seem far beyond what mere mortals can do. Look at Mark’s own list of 12 “traits” that he looks for in entrepreneurs. A person with those characteristics should be able to move mountains. (As an entrepreneur myself, I’d sure love to think I was one of them but… LOL)

    What are we really measuring? Of course, that’s the first fly in the ointment – we are often describing what any great performer might reflect. So are we not identifying great humans? (Not a bad basis for choosing people to help but…)

    Dynamic processes & predicting vs explaining:
    And do we care more about entrepreneurial people or about the decision to pursue an opportunity (intention) and to implement that decision (action). Thus t second ‘fly’ is that if we care about people starting businesses (effectively) we are dealing with dynamic processes where people and situations evolve, often quickly & discontinuously. That means being able to explain brilliantly need not allow us to predict anything. Right now we explain great entrepreneurs much, much better than we can predict them. (And isn’t *predicting* more valuable to VCs?)

    DNA or Human Capital?
    The third is if my parents were entrepreneurial, how do we know if my entrepreneurial mojo is from shared DNA or from a transfer of human capital?? Lots of MDs have doctor kids… and we know that it’s a matter of human capital far more than genetic capital (look up Lentz & Laband who studied doctors and… entrepreneurs.)

    Fourth, is simply parsimony –we can explain –and predict!- better with cognitive models such as simple models of entrepreneurial intentions. Human intentions are basically grounded on perceptions that the behavior is (a) desirable and is (b) feasible, all we need then is a trigger (bit.ly/a39PzE)

    My own research area focuses on how entrepreneurs think, applying cognitive & cognitive developmental psychology to how we learn to see opportunities. This has taken me into a deep dive into neuroscience, looking for biological underpinnings of entrepreneurial behavior. Are entrepreneurs wired differently? Again, that evidence is sorely lacking. Let me suggest a look at two interesting volumes published by Springer that bring together the best minds on this topic, Zoltan Acs & Dave Audretsch’s “International Handbook of Entrepreneurship Research” (bit.ly/cE2qp5 for sample chapter**) and Alan Carsrud & Malin Brannback’s new “Understanding the Entrepreneurial Mind” (bit.ly/a39PzE is from that **)

    If you buy Howard Stevenson’s great classic definition of entrepreneurship as “pursuing opportunity without regard to resources controlled”… that is saying (in Stevenson’ own words) that *heart* of entrepreneurship is seeing & acting on opportunities. We don’t find opportunities, we construct them. We can be more alert (Israel Kirzner’s clever term) to certain cues/signals but there is still a set of cognitive processes involved. And like most human phenomena, those processes vary across both persons & situations (see Rick Bagozzi’s recent work). Models that only look at person-level characteristics are worse at explaining and far worse at predicting.

    Is there evidence to support “nature”-Sure.
    I am stunned that nobody has cited the growing field of behavioral genetics. Did you know that there is a significant heritability coefficient for job satisfaction? Genetic influences are much more widespread than most realize (& it’s not terribly PC, of course) Scott Shane argues that self-employment really does have a heritability coefficient that is clearly non-zero. However, in most studies we find that even where nature is significant, nurture trumps nature (and the interaction of nature & nurture often them both).

    Neuroentrepreneurship?
    However, the deeper I look at neuroscience shows how remarkably malleable our biological systems are. Life experiences can and do mold our wiring. What we do see is that entrepreneurs engage in cognitive processes that are available to all of us, choosing mindfully or not to do so. An example: Barbara Sahakian’s lab at Cambridge found that successful (serial) entrepreneurs and a matched set of top managers were equally great at ‘cold’ cognition (emotion-independent) however, on emotion-dependent “hot” cognition, the entrepreneurs were consistently superior (bit.ly/a2fAWR). Abilities at ‘hot’ cognition are clearly learned but there’s also the choice to engage in it.

    Neuroplasticity.
    Returning to my first question about risk-taking propensity, we do know that people with more dopamine receptors in their brains tend to take more risks, prefer novelty, etc. (eg, Zald’s work at Vandy). However, we also know that people who take more risks… grow more dopamine receptors Neuroplasticity is very real. So why don’t we look at how we *grow* great entrepreneurial thinking?

    “Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”
    Epictetus was right. Life experiences also change how we structure knowledge. Think about how novices evolve into experts- they typically gain more knowledge content but they are even more likely to have very different knowledge structures (sometimes even simpler than novices’).

    “Growing Up Entrepreneurial”
    thus might thus be better thought of as going through critical developmental experiences that mold how we think in ways that support, reinforce & grow the entrepreneurial mindset (bit.ly/9VyUJm). Everyone of Mark’s great list of 12 key characteristics can arise from the right kinds of developmental experiences. [Mark & Vivek, if you’ve read this far- again, would you be interested in a serious research project? It’s very fundable!] In fact, the cognitive developmental model is a far simpler explanation than torturing the data to find a “nature” explanation.

    Anyway, isn’t the real question: “Do we want to explain great entrepreneurs or predict them?”
    Or put another, better way” “Don’t we want to know how we grow into great entrepreneurs?”

    Anyone interested in pursuing this, give me a holler – at worst, I can probably connect you with a great scholar in your own backyard. Thanks for indulging me here!

    Entrepreneur Up!
    Norris Krueger, Recovering Entrepreneur, PhD
    @entrep_thinking ; norris.krueger@@gmail.com

    ** the only chapters I had handy were my own, but they address issues relevant here. But I urge anyone interested to look at both of these volum
    es. Sorry to be self-referencing –I have wonderful colleagues globally who could argue this better with their own great work.

  • http://twitter.com/mikeschinkel Mike Schinkel

    Hi Mark, here's my take on the issue:

    http://mikeschinkel.com/blog/are-entrepreneurs-

  • davidkpark

    You have a little University of Chicago economists way of dissecting an argument. This is a compliment. I'll have a blog post later about how you can setup a research design to begin to disentangle the nature vs nurture argument for entrepreneurs. However, let me quibble about your Taleb and Gladwell conclusions.

    Taleb's main critique with predictive statistical models (even if the data can be trusted) is that it's based on the normal distribution and the problem is that the black swans are in essence the outliers. Therefore, models assuming y ~ Normal(0,1) will never be able to predict black swans.

    Talking about Outliers. The nice thing about Gladwell's regurgitation of social scientists is that he highlights the importance of hard work (ie 10000 hrs) but more importantly the role that institutions play (ie hockey players and their birthdays). So maybe the more important question is not, are entrepreneurs born or made, but what institutional arrangements can we setup to maximize the success of entrepreneurs.

  • http://www.astramatch.com/blog pemo

    Interesting conversation about nature or nurture. It reminds me of a brilliant post by Steve Blank http://entrepreneur.venturebeat.com/2009/09/23/… which really impressed me and which tended to veer towards the lack of nurture & chaotic dysfunctional family environment that can spawn entrepreneurial talent. This quote is particularly potent:
    “One possible path might be to raise children in an environment where parents are struggling in their own lives and they create an environment where fighting, abusive or drug/alcohol related behavior is the norm.
    In this household, nothing would be the same from day to day, the parents would constantly bombard their kids with dogmatic parenting (harsh and inflexible discipline) and they would control them by withholding love, praise and attention. Finally we could make sure no child is allowed to express the “wrong” emotion. Children in these families would grow up thinking that this behavior is normal.
    (If this seems unimaginably cruel to you, congratulations, you had a great set of parents. On the other hand, if the description is making you uncomfortable remembering some of how you were raised – welcome to a fairly wide club.)”
    Another point of view & I can relate extremely well to Steve's reflection.
    Thanks for starting this conversation Mark.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thanks, David (I think?).

    re: Taleb – yes, I know that his big data argument is against using the normal “bell” distribution curve plus 2 standard deviations to measure risk probabilities and he goes into an esoteric discussion of fractals. But he spends a lot of time in the book more generally railing against “professionals.” These being people in suits who pretend to know everything and misrepresent data that they don't really understand. This was my Taleb reference.

    re: Outliers – great points. And if you believe his arguments – a great case for not having your kids skip a grade!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, that's the point. It gets a bit lost because I extended to 2,000+ words!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agreed. As they say, “necessity of the mother of all invention.” But even in these countries some people show resourcefulness and others don't. Same thing I understand happens in war zones.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Wow. Thank you for the incredibly informed post. I find many of these studies (the genetic influences / heritability) fascinating. I have read some in the past. Listen, Norris. I don't doubt your studies and I've never said it's all nature and no nurture / environment. The point of my post was to rail against a weak data inference in Vivek's TechCrunch post. When you read the comments section to his post it's clear many people don't see through his data problems. As for any problems people may have with any of my logic – well, at least I've advertised it as subjective to begin with.

  • Roko

    No one was born to be a great entrepreneur. Yet some people were born ready to be great entrepreneurs. There is a dichotomy. Some people are born with many attributes needed to be successful entrepreneurs. If they cultivate these qualities, they can almost effortlessly have great successes. In this way some people were also born with physical attributes that makes it 20 times easier for them to be great athletes.

    So are you born entrepreneur? NO. But could you have been born with an unfair advantage? YES.

  • http://twitter.com/billmcneely Bill McNeely

    The nature vs nurture debate is very interesting but what about if you HAD to be entreprenuarial to feed your family?

    I meet some amazingly street smart Afghans who have maximized what little assets (usually things, not money) who live a very comfortable life.

    I think a study should be done only in Third World Countries. You might gain a clearer picture of what it takes to be succesful entrepreneur without all the technological bias in the western world.

  • alainlapter

    In my opinion, the inherent problem with this argument/study is that while one can not quantify “nature”, one can argue that you can place a value on the amount of “nurture” that an individual attains (e.g. education, experiences, parents' background, etc). Any statistician can place a value on the latter and, thereby, equate which is most beneficial in succeeding.

    This is not the case, however, for the former. You can not place a value on someone's “nature”, with respect to their characteristics and make-up and likelihood of success in one field or another. In my humble opinion, this is where the study is, with all due respect, dubious, or at the very least unreliable to any great degree. Certainly enough to question any inferences, or in this case conclusions, made therefrom.

    As someone who has reviewed surveys numerous times, be it in the context of trademark infringement actions, I would be very interested to review the manner in which the survey was conducted. How would someone inquire as to whether success was based on a respondent's nature? How does one quantify these characteristics? Who were the respondents? How were the questions framed and who conducted the survey? Please don't get me wrong. I am not calling into question the survey's validity, per se, but merely intrigued of how one would quantify characteristics that are as elusive as “nature”. Savants are born, not created, even if the right guidance and education can help them hone their skills.

    As an aside, I wholeheartedly agree with my brother's aforementioned comments. We grew up in the same household, had access to the same types of education and opportunities, and I can honestly tell you that I would not succeed in his line of work, no matter how much nurturing was provided to me. His abilities and acumen were forged well before he hit the UPenn campus.

  • http://twitter.com/entrep_thinking Norris Krueger

    Let me ask an easy question: Do entrepreneurs have an above-average propensity to take risks? As it turns out… Uh, no. On average, they do not differ from the rest of us.

    That study was 30 years ago, at a time where entrepreneurship research assumed, quite naturally, that there was something called the “entrepreneurial personality.” We got over it. So should everyone. (But it is more complicated than merely “nature” vs. “nurture”. And, taking a scientific approach has already paid dividends –I suspect very few of you are current with existing science on this –and approaching the complexities will continue to bear fruit of practical value to entrepreneurs, educators, even VCs. Mark , Vivek– up for a study?)

    How about we add in some cutting edge social science? Mark Suster & Fred Wilson’s gut reaction that “nature” is critical is understandable. Entrepreneurship experts fell for that same gut reaction decades ago & it took forever to get past it. (It made us a joke in scholarly circles, a hole we’re still digging out of.) Mark – you asked for data – well, decades of work found essentially zero data that supported a distinctive “entrepreneurial personality” & what little we found offered no practical value (eg, Kelly Shaver’s great article nailed it way back in 1991). But…

    Who doesn’t want to think of Entrepreneurs as Special, even Magical People?
    They do such wondrous things that often seem far beyond what mere mortals can do. Look at Mark’s own list of 12 “traits” that he looks for in entrepreneurs. A person with those characteristics should be able to move mountains. (As an entrepreneur myself, I’d sure love to think I was one of them but… LOL)

    What are we really measuring? Of course, that’s the first fly in the ointment – we are often describing what any great performer might reflect. So are we not identifying great humans? (Not a bad basis for choosing people to help but…)

    Dynamic processes & predicting vs explaining:
    And do we care more about entrepreneurial people or about the decision to pursue an opportunity (intention) and to implement that decision (action). Thus t second ‘fly’ is that if we care about people starting businesses (effectively) we are dealing with dynamic processes where people and situations evolve, often quickly & discontinuously. That means being able to explain brilliantly need not allow us to predict anything. Right now we explain great entrepreneurs much, much better than we can predict them. (And isn’t *predicting* more valuable to VCs?)

    DNA or Human Capital?
    The third is if my parents were entrepreneurial, how do we know if my entrepreneurial mojo is from shared DNA or from a transfer of human capital?? Lots of MDs have doctor kids… and we know that it’s a matter of human capital far more than genetic capital (look up Lentz & Laband who studied doctors and… entrepreneurs.)

    Fourth, is simply parsimony –we can explain –and predict!- better with cognitive models such as simple models of entrepreneurial intentions. Human intentions are basically grounded on perceptions that the behavior is (a) desirable and is (b) feasible, all we need then is a trigger (bit.ly/a39PzE)

    My own research area focuses on how entrepreneurs think, applying cognitive & cognitive developmental psychology to how we learn to see opportunities. This has taken me into a deep dive into neuroscience, looking for biological underpinnings of entrepreneurial behavior. Are entrepreneurs wired differently? Again, that evidence is sorely lacking. Let me suggest a look at two interesting volumes published by Springer that bring together the best minds on this topic, Zoltan Acs & Dave Audretsch’s “International Handbook of Entrepreneurship Research” (bit.ly/cE2qp5 for sample chapter**) and Alan Carsrud & Malin Brannback’s new “Understanding the Entrepreneurial Mind” (bit.ly/a39PzE is from that **)

    If you buy Howard Stevenson’s great classic definition of entrepreneurship as “pursuing opportunity without regard to resources controlled”… that is saying (in Stevenson’ own words) that *heart* of entrepreneurship is seeing & acting on opportunities. We don’t find opportunities, we construct them. We can be more alert (Israel Kirzner’s clever term) to certain cues/signals but there is still a set of cognitive processes involved. And like most human phenomena, those processes vary across both persons & situations (see Rick Bagozzi’s recent work). Models that only look at person-level characteristics are worse at explaining and far worse at predicting.

    Is there evidence to support “nature”-Sure.
    I am stunned that nobody has cited the growing field of behavioral genetics. Did you know that there is a significant heritability coefficient for job satisfaction? Genetic influences are much more widespread than most realize (& it’s not terribly PC, of course) Scott Shane argues that self-employment really does have a heritability coefficient that is clearly non-zero. However, in most studies we find that even where nature is significant, nurture trumps nature (and the interaction of nature & nurture often them both).

    Neuroentrepreneurship?
    However, the deeper I look at neuroscience shows how remarkably malleable our biological systems are. Life experiences can and do mold our wiring. What we do see is that entrepreneurs engage in cognitive processes that are available to all of us, choosing mindfully or not to do so. An example: Barbara Sahakian’s lab at Cambridge found that successful (serial) entrepreneurs and a matched set of top managers were equally great at ‘cold’ cognition (emotion-independent) however, on emotion-dependent “hot” cognition, the entrepreneurs were consistently superior (bit.ly/a2fAWR). Abilities at ‘hot’ cognition are clearly learned but there’s also the choice to engage in it.

    Neuroplasticity.
    Returning to my first question about risk-taking propensity, we do know that people with more dopamine receptors in their brains tend to take more risks, prefer novelty, etc. (eg, Zald’s work at Vandy). However, we also know that people who take more risks… grow more dopamine receptors Neuroplasticity is very real. So why don’t we look at how we *grow* great entrepreneurial thinking?

    “Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with what happens to you.”
    Epictetus was right. Life experiences also change how we structure knowledge. Think about how novices evolve into experts- they typically gain more knowledge content but they are even more likely to have very different knowledge structures (sometimes even simpler than novices’).

    “Growing Up Entrepreneurial”
    thus might thus be better thought of as going through critical developmental experiences that mold how we think in ways that support, reinforce & grow the entrepreneurial mindset (bit.ly/9VyUJm). Everyone of Mark’s great list of 12 key characteristics can arise from the right kinds of developmental experiences. [Mark & Vivek, if you’ve read this far- again, would you be interested in a serious research project? It’s very fundable!] In fact, the cognitive developmental model is a far simpler explanation than torturing the data to find a “nature” explanation.

    Anyway, isn’t the real question: “Do we want to explain great entrepreneurs or predict them?”
    Or put another, better way” “Don’t we want to know how we grow into great entrepreneurs?”

    Anyone interested in pursuing this, give me a holler – at worst, I can probably connect you with a great scholar in your own backyard. Thanks for indulging me here!

    Entrepreneur Up!
    Norris Krueger, Recovering Entrepreneur, PhD
    @entrep_thinking ; norris.krueger@@gmail.com

    ** the only chapters I had handy were my own, but they address issues relevant here. But I urge anyone interested to look at both of these volumes. Sorry to be self-referencing –I have wonderful colleagues globally who could argue this better with their own great work.

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  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    thanks, David (I think?).

    re: Taleb – yes, I know that his big data argument is against using the normal “bell” distribution curve plus 2 standard deviations to measure risk probabilities and he goes into an esoteric discussion of fractals. But he spends a lot of time in the book more generally railing against “professionals.” These being people in suits who pretend to know everything and misrepresent data that they don't really understand. This was my Taleb reference.

    re: Outliers – great points. And if you believe his arguments – a great case for not having your kids skip a grade!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yes, that's the point. It gets a bit lost because I extended to 2,000+ words!

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agreed. As they say, “necessity of the mother of all invention.” But even in these countries some people show resourcefulness and others don't. Same thing I understand happens in war zones.

  • davidkpark

    I forgot when it started (I think in the 1980s) but there was a shift among higher income parents to have their child be the oldest in the class, ie delay kindergarten. They recognized that's there's many benefits that gets compounded over time if their child is the oldest in the class, ie more socially, academically, and physically developed than their peers. There's an NYC rumor that children with May or older birth dates have a more difficult time getting accepted into the top tier schools for this very reason. As a first cut analysis, someone should see if there's any correlation between SAT scores and what month they started K.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Wow. Thank you for the incredibly informed post. I find many of these studies (the genetic influences / heritability) fascinating. I have read some in the past. Listen, Norris. I don't doubt your studies and I've never said it's all nature and no nurture / environment. The point of my post was to rail against a weak data inference in Vivek's TechCrunch post. When you read the comments section to his post it's clear many people don't see through his data problems. As for any problems people may have with any of my logic – well, at least I've advertised it as subjective to begin with.

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  • http://twitter.com/entrep_thinking Norris Krueger

    Thanks for the compliment — it's kinda my passion, LOL! I do know you're looking solely at the data's weaknesses but you evoked a wider range of comments. Hmmmm. Wasn't this an interesting Rorschach test for commenters' own gut reactions?

    I'm probably more forgiving of highly preliminary data; it's not how I'd do it & it would be unlikely to pass muster for a journal. Vivek is a great champion for entrepreneurs, not just entrepreneurship** but not yet immersed in (corrupted by? LOL) the entrepreneurship scholarly community. (Hence my offer to Vivek & you to do more studies!)

    But you've both done a service by putting this ancient (but obviously still lively) debate out there. The deep desire to see entrepreneurs as special people still burns in our guts (even mine, I fear).

    When you have two competing hypotheses with strong evidence and passionate belief for both… one clever (if difficult) exercise is for the two sides to design a study that attempts to resolve the debate. Now wouldn't THAT be fun for you & Vivek? Let me know if I can help!

    And, again, thanks — Entrepreneur Up!

  • honam

    Mark, I just posted this comment on Vivek's comment stream:

    Thought I’d share a great Peter Drucker quote which I’ve used in presentations to potential entrepreneurs at conferences:

    “People who seek certainty are unlikely to make a good entrepreneurs. But such people are unlikely to do well in a host of other activities as well – in politics, or in command positions in military service, or as the captain of an ocean liner. In all such pursuits, decisions have to be made, and the essence of any decision is uncertainty.

    But everyone who can face up to decision making can learn to be an entrepreneur and to behave entrepreneurially. Entrepreneurship is behavior rather than personality trait.” – Peter Drucker

    That said, I think confusion is caused by the fact that there are a small number of people in this world who are quite special – people who have touched our lives and made a difference in the world. As a VC, I look to work with such people. But such people are also our exceptional teachers, scientists, musicians, artists, and other leaders in their fields. Such people have more in common with the best entrepreneurs than the average entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur is NOT a personality trait or some special DNA that only entrepreneurs have.

    Here is a blog post I wrote about what special qualities great teachers share with great entrepreneurs. There is more commonality there than between a great entrepreneur and the average entrepreneur:

    http://www.blog.altosventures.com/vc/2010/01/wh

  • http://www.appwhirl.com Richard Jordan

    Yes you're right… they do seem to beat the entrepreneurial out of you in the UK. Lots of cultural barriers.If you have talent you're routed through to “city” jobs or the big 4/5/whateveritisnowadays consulting firms.

    Risk is very risky as failure is punished harshly. There is a very poor start-up funding infrastructure (with apologies to those working to fix that). Working long hours instead of going to the pub every night is sneered at – because everyone's supposed to be too cool to be seen putting in too much effort for anything.

    It's got worse in the last 20-30 years as well funnily enough. Whereas the 80s had a celebration of the entrepreneur, the anti-Thatcher generation that graduated in the 90s rejected that too. So now we have parts of the country where 50%+ of the jobs are government sector, or make-work jobs to fiddle the unemployment statistics, and sadly there's little incentive for the private sector to pay decent wages. This keeps people trapped in a mindset where they cannot even think about doing a startup. Shame really, as we have a great education system and history of innovation in the UK.

    The US has almost the opposite situation. The place is geared up for entrepreneurialism and there's an acceptance of people trying new things. What does worry me a lot is the state of the education system – the basics, the critical thinking skills. I think there's another advantage of the US that Americans underestimate. Americans are just great team players. You can build a team of people who will work hard for you and put in their all to the best of their abilities, without even thinking about it. That's just what you do right? It makes it easier to pull through tough times and have a win.

  • alainlapter

    In my opinion, the inherent problem with this argument/study is that while one can not quantify “nature”, one can argue that you can place a value on the amount of “nurture” that an individual attains (e.g. education, experiences, parents' background, etc). Any statistician can place a value on the latter and, thereby, equate which is most beneficial in succeeding.

    This is not the case, however, for the former. You can not place a value on someone's “nature”, with respect to their characteristics and make-up and likelihood of success in one field or another. In my humble opinion, this is where the study is, with all due respect, dubious, or at the very least unreliable to any great degree. Certainly enough to question any inferences, or in this case conclusions, made therefrom.

    As someone who has reviewed surveys numerous times, be it in the context of trademark infringement actions, I would be very interested to review the manner in which the survey was conducted. How would someone inquire as to whether success was based on a respondent's nature? How does one quantify these characteristics? Who were the respondents? How were the questions framed and who conducted the survey? Please don't get me wrong. I am not calling into question the survey's validity, per se, but merely intrigued of how one would quantify characteristics that are as elusive as “nature”. Savants are born, not created, even if the right guidance and education can help them hone their skills.

    As an aside, I wholeheartedly agree with my brother's aforementioned comments. We grew up in the same household, had access to the same types of education and opportunities, and I can honestly tell you that I would not succeed in his line of work, no matter how much nurturing was provided to me. His abilities and acumen were forged well before he hit the UPenn campus.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhatta Robert Hatta

    Prior to the TechCrunch editorial, I had the below questions in response to Fred Wilson's discussion on the “nature vs. nurture” question:

    First, there are a million disparate ways to define what an entrepreneur is. A small family business owner, retail franchisee, independent CPA, mid-cap CEO or product manager at a 5-person technology start-up are all entrepreneurs (as well as the job creators of our economy). However, the profile of a high-growth (VC-backed) technology entrepreneur is very different from the entrepreneur who opens a Quizno’s or owns and operates a family business. So I would want to know how Mr. Wadhwa defines entrepreneur putting much stock in his findings and their application to the sort of entrepreneurs most of us are discussing.

    Second, there is definitely one common trait linked to any sort of entrepreneur: failure. Most of the characteristics we discuss around this topic are tied to someone's aptitude for entrepreneurship generally. In fact, most assessment tools look for characteristics that tell you whether or not you’re cut out to be an entrepreneur, not whether or not you’ll be a good one. And most entrepreneurs fail. So, does Mr. Wadhwa look at all entrepreneurs or just those that have achieved some definition of success (for me, a previous wealth-creating exit)?”

    I haven't yet read the full report, so will probably have the answer to these questions shortly…

    In terms of my opinion, I absolutely agree with Mark. But that isn't the point and I certainly don't believe there is a single formula (learned or innate) on which we can or should all agree. But, since I gotta throw my $0.02 in with everyone else, my belief is that SUCCESSFUL growth company entrepreneurs demonstrate patterns of excellence in all they do throughout their life – whether it's academic achievement; rapid, large corporate environment success; linguistic skills, or; athletic accomplishments. Further, they demonstrate excellence in multiple pursuits, not just one thing. You find someone who is among the best at what they do in 3 or more distinct instances (professional or personal), then they will likely be a strong growth company entrepreneur – regardless of what their parents do, or what they thought about in school. We call this Adaptive Excellence. To be clear, this is a correlated relationship not causal. The point is that the people on this thread care most about spotting the right talent, not how it got there in the first place.

    Great debate and color to a topic about which many people have passionate beliefs.

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  • Ovi_Jacob

    Mark – Great post. Thanks as always.
    I enjoyed your 12 traits series very much, linked to it on the comments section of Fred Wilson's blog following his post.
    Interesting to debate…for my money, (and in your words) jfdi
    - that's a good first step to knowing who's got it and usually this is not learned.

  • http://giangbiscan.com/ Giang Biscan

    I should have clarified my point about my kids example a bit better. What I was trying to say is that the two kids are growing up in an *almost* identical environment, yet showing very strong and different personalities and different affinity to entrepreneurship.

    Yes I believe in the power of nurturing and well aware of the influence of the environment. But I think the environment can bring out what a person already have, or suppress it, but not so much creating it.

    I am not going to pretend to know the answer to this, and I don't believe that we are even close to getting the right answer with any of the research done so far.

    I think in this debate we have missed an important question which is about the definition of an entrepreneur. Tenacious, street smart, resilient, good work ethic, etc. are important traits often found in a good entrepreneur, but they are not the definition of an entrepreneur. You would find similar traits in a very successful “corporate” person as well.

    So is an entrepreneur someone who is successful with his/her own company? Is a singer someone who we see as celebrity on TV? what about those that have beautiful voice but never sing in public?

  • davidkpark

    I forgot when it started (I think in the 1980s) but there was a shift among higher income parents to have their child be the oldest in the class, ie delay kindergarten. They recognized that's there's many benefits that gets compounded over time if their child is the oldest in the class, ie more socially, academically, and physically developed than their peers. There's an NYC rumor that children with May or older birth dates have a more difficult time getting accepted into the top tier schools for this very reason. As a first cut analysis, someone should see if there's any correlation between SAT scores and what month they started K.

  • http://twitter.com/entrep_thinking Norris Krueger

    Thanks for the compliment — it's kinda my passion, LOL! I do know you're looking solely at the data's weaknesses but you evoked a wider range of comments. Hmmmm. Wasn't this an interesting Rorschach test for commenters' own gut reactions?

    I'm probably more forgiving of highly preliminary data; it's not how I'd do it & it would be unlikely to pass muster for a journal. Vivek is a great champion for entrepreneurs, not just entrepreneurship** but not yet immersed in (corrupted by? LOL) the entrepreneurship scholarly community. (Hence my offer to Vivek & you to do more studies!)

    But you've both done a service by putting this ancient (but obviously still lively) debate out there. The deep desire to see entrepreneurs as special people still burns in our guts (even mine, I fear).

    When you have two competing hypotheses with strong evidence and passionate belief for both… one clever (if difficult) exercise is for the two sides to design a study that attempts to resolve the debate. Now wouldn't THAT be fun for you & Vivek? Let me know if I can help!

    And, again, thanks — Entrepreneur Up!

  • honam

    Mark, I just posted this comment on Vivek's comment stream:

    Thought I’d share a great Peter Drucker quote which I’ve used in presentations to potential entrepreneurs at conferences:

    “People who seek certainty are unlikely to make a good entrepreneurs. But such people are unlikely to do well in a host of other activities as well – in politics, or in command positions in military service, or as the captain of an ocean liner. In all such pursuits, decisions have to be made, and the essence of any decision is uncertainty.

    But everyone who can face up to decision making can learn to be an entrepreneur and to behave entrepreneurially. Entrepreneurship is behavior rather than personality trait.” – Peter Drucker

    That said, I think confusion is caused by the fact that there are a small number of people in this world who are quite special – people who have touched our lives and made a difference in the world. As a VC, I look to work with such people. But such people are also our exceptional teachers, scientists, musicians, artists, and other leaders in their fields. Such people have more in common with the best entrepreneurs than the average entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur is NOT a personality trait or some special DNA that only entrepreneurs have.

    Here is a blog post I wrote about what special qualities great teachers share with great entrepreneurs. There is more commonality there than between a great entrepreneur and the average entrepreneur:

    http://www.blog.altosventures.com/vc/2010/01/wh

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  • http://www.appwhirl.com Richard Jordan

    Yes you're right… they do seem to beat the entrepreneurial out of you in the UK. Lots of cultural barriers.If you have talent you're routed through to “city” jobs or the big 4/5/whateveritisnowadays consulting firms.

    Risk is very risky as failure is punished harshly. There is a very poor start-up funding infrastructure (with apologies to those working to fix that). Working long hours instead of going to the pub every night is sneered at – because everyone's supposed to be too cool to be seen putting in too much effort for anything.

    It's got worse in the last 20-30 years as well funnily enough. Whereas the 80s had a celebration of the entrepreneur, the anti-Thatcher generation that graduated in the 90s rejected that too. So now we have parts of the country where 50%+ of the jobs are government sector, or make-work jobs to fiddle the unemployment statistics, and sadly there's little incentive for the private sector to pay decent wages. This keeps people trapped in a mindset where they cannot even think about doing a startup. Shame really, as we have a great education system and history of innovation in the UK.

    The US has almost the opposite situation. The place is geared up for entrepreneurialism and there's an acceptance of people trying new things. What does worry me a lot is the state of the education system – the basics, the critical thinking skills. I think there's another advantage of the US that Americans underestimate. Americans are just great team players. You can build a team of people who will work hard for you and put in their all to the best of their abilities, without even thinking about it. That's just what you do right? It makes it easier to pull through tough times and have a win.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhatta Robert Hatta

    Prior to the TechCrunch editorial, in response to Fred Wilson's discussion on the “nature vs. nurture” question, I had the below concerns with the “data”:

    First, there are a million disparate ways to define what an entrepreneur is. A small family business owner, retail franchisee, independent CPA, mid-cap CEO or product manager at a 5-person technology start-up are all entrepreneurs (as well as the job creators of our economy). However, the profile of a high-growth (VC-backed) technology entrepreneur is very different from the entrepreneur who opens a Quizno’s or owns and operates a family business. So I would want to know how Mr. Wadhwa defines entrepreneur putting much stock in his findings and their application to the sort of entrepreneurs most of us are discussing.

    Second, there is definitely one common trait linked to any sort of entrepreneur: failure. Most of the characteristics we discuss around this topic are tied to someone's aptitude for entrepreneurship generally. In fact, most assessment tools look for characteristics that tell you whether or not you’re cut out to be an entrepreneur, not whether or not you’ll be a good one. And most entrepreneurs fail. So, does Mr. Wadhwa look at all entrepreneurs or just those that have achieved some definition of success (for me, a previous wealth-creating exit)?”

    I haven't yet read the full report, so will probably have the answer to these questions shortly…

    In terms of my opinion, I absolutely agree with Mark – the characteristics that matter are mostly innate. But that isn't the point and I certainly don't believe there is a single formula (learned or innate) on which we can or should all agree. But, since I gotta throw my $0.02 in with everyone else, my belief is that SUCCESSFUL growth company entrepreneurs demonstrate patterns of excellence in all they do throughout their life – whether it's academic achievement; rapid, large corporate environment success; linguistic skills, or; athletic accomplishments. Further, they demonstrate excellence in multiple pursuits, not just one thing. You find someone who is among the best at what they do in 3 or more distinct instances (professional or personal), then they will likely be a strong growth company entrepreneur – regardless of what their parents do, or what they thought about in school. This drive for excellence, and the talent required to get there are MOSTLY due to nature, in my opinion. We call this Adaptive Excellence. To be clear, the markers for Adaptive Excellence (track record) CORRELATE to future entrepreneurial success. The cause, or behaviors/skills that cause, success will be the basis for ongoing debate on this and other forums. My point is that it would be easier (though, perhaps, boring) if we cared more about spotting the markers for entrepreneurial success in someone's track record/results, instead of their DNA or formative experiences.

    Great debate and color to a topic about which many people have passionate beliefs. Pretty sure that I added nothing to the cause either way…

  • Ovi_Jacob

    Mark – Great post. Thanks as always.
    I enjoyed your 12 traits series very much, linked to it on the comments section of Fred Wilson's blog following his post.
    Interesting to debate…for my money, (and in your words) jfdi
    - that's a good first step to knowing who's got it and usually this is not learned.

  • http://asable.com/ Giang Biscan

    I should have clarified my point about my kids example a bit better. What I was trying to say is that the two kids are growing up in an *almost* identical environment, yet showing very strong and different personalities and different affinity to entrepreneurship.

    Yes I believe in the power of nurturing and well aware of the influence of the environment. But I think the environment can bring out what a person already have, or suppress it, but not so much creating it.

    I am not going to pretend to know the answer to this, and I don't believe that we are even close to getting the right answer with any of the research done so far.

    I think in this debate we have missed an important question which is about the definition of an entrepreneur. Tenacious, street smart, resilient, good work ethic, etc. are important traits often found in a good entrepreneur, but they are not the definition of an entrepreneur. You would find similar traits in a very successful “corporate” person as well.

    So is an entrepreneur someone who is successful with his/her own company? Is a singer someone who we see as celebrity on TV? what about those that have beautiful voice but never sing in public?

  • http://keithbnowak.com/ Keith B. Nowak

    Like you said, this is just like everything else – there needs to first be underling, innate talent (nature). I tend to give nurture a bit more weight though but not because of the teaching/learning element. I think of nurture as also referring to chance or luck. Where you are born, the way your life plays our, things you are exposed to, etc. all have a huge impact on your ability to realize the full potential of innate abilities. With billions of people in the world it is hard for me to imagine there are not many others just as good, if not better, than the best athletes, entrepreneurs, etc. who just didn't get the same chances and therefore were never able to make the most of their innate abilities.

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  • http://keithbnowak.com/ Keith B. Nowak

    Like you said, this is just like everything else – there needs to first be underling, innate talent (nature). I tend to give nurture a bit more weight though but not because of the teaching/learning element. I think of nurture as also referring to chance or luck. Where you are born, the way your life plays our, things you are exposed to, etc. all have a huge impact on your ability to realize the full potential of innate abilities. With billions of people in the world it is hard for me to imagine there are not many others just as good, if not better, than the best athletes, entrepreneurs, etc. who just didn't get the same chances and therefore were never able to make the most of their innate abilities.

  • chrisstatham

    I'm an entrepreneur and entrepreneur trainer. I have very similar characteristics to my brother, though we lead very different lives. I think my single biggest push is my schooling. I went to a school which was academically, sport and financially above me, and so I feel I have something to prove to myself and former classmates. I would say that entrepreneurs are a mixture of nature and nurture. We are a fairly “rare breed”; most people go for the easier life and employment.