Some believe that a person is simply born an entrepreneur, that entrepreneurship can’t be taught in the classroom or through seminars and conferences. Others believe that you can mold and shape someone into becoming an entrepreneur over time. I tend to align with the former group. Yes, you can certainly teach someone the necessary skills that an entrepreneur needs to possess. However, people that are entrepreneurs are just hardwired differently than everyone else. They are willing to throw caution to the wind when necessary but also can take measured risks. They find solutions to problems that were previously thought unsolvable. This inherent hardwiring is certainly not a guarantee for success; just as not being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you will fail. It is merely a dichotomy in the way people think about the world and the problems that are in it. But if we take this as a given, that some people think like entrepreneurs and others don’t, how do we define those that do? Does an entrepreneur have to start his / her own company? Does an entrepreneur have to create something entirely new? What really is the (non-Oxford English Dictionary) definition of an entrepreneur?
In a post yesterday, on the Harvard Business Review blog, Grant McCracken asks the question, “Who and what is an entrepreneur?” He poses this question after hearing Marc Ventresca, a professor from Oxford’s Said Business School, say that entrepreneurs create endeavors by ”marshaling, mobilizing, and connecting different worlds.” In essence, Ventresca believes that nothing that is invented or started is new – it is merely a derivative of something or combination of things that came before it. McCracken, on the other hand, subscribes to the “heroic” definition of an entrepreneur, such that a person creates something altogether new and goes outside the “capsule of culture.” While he acknowledges that some entrepreneurs “repurpose what exists,” that type of definition doesn’t aptly describe those entrepreneurs who suffer the “penalty of taking the lead.” At the end of the day, though, defining an entrepreneur is a virtually impossible and, frankly, fruitless task. An entrepreneur (and by extension, entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit) is not tangible. Sure, a person can be an entrepreneur, but the effort, the hardwiring, the belief system, etc. that goes into a person doing something entrepreneurial can’t be put in a box. For me, trying to define an entrepreneur is a little like what Justice Potter Stewart encountered when trying to define pornography: I know it when I see it.