Teaching Entrepreneurship

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Tiago Ratinho

You’ve heard it, we all have: In the fractious economy of today and tomorrow, it pays to be entrepreneurial.  Be a self-starter. Be creative, inventive — and, as difficult as it can be to think like this, be unafraid to fail. But how do we do it? Aren’t entrepreneurs born, not made?

Really, it’s a state of mind. More than concentrating on the practicalities of starting a business, entrepreneurs start by  building on their  social networks. They become keen observers of the surrounding environment. Independence, tenacity and the desire to innovate are also part of the  entrepreneur’s perspective.

But that’s not all: We must disconnect the entrepreneurial mindset from that of the “earner.” And it’s crucial that we recognize the entrepreneurial potential in ourselves. No matter who you are or where you come from, you are able to generate new ideas, develop innovative perspectives and craft propositions – and sometimes those things lead to other chains of thought that result in plans, presentations and products.

Let’s clear up the confusion about what makes an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are doers – doesn’t matter whether they own a business, work for others in a corporation, or make policy. Entrepreneurial behavior is reflected in an ability to identify opportunities, but, more importantly, the know-how to shape, assess and develop opportunities into feasible business ideas.

Consider Quirky.com, a website dedicated to developing inventions collaboratively. Contrary to the increasingly popular Kickstarter — in which entrepreneurs seek to finance their business through crowdsourcing and crowdfunding — Quirky connects inventors at the very beginning of the entrepreneurial process, where ideas abound and creativity is at its highest level.

Sure, entrepreneurs are working on Kickstarter pages every day, but by that point in their company’s lifespan they have morphed into earners, monetizing their products or services. You want to be inspired by entrepreneurial innovation? Go to Quirky, not Kickstarter.

Some still dwell on the point of whether entrepreneurial behavior is a product of nature or nurtured, same as any other skill. These questions were dealt with in the infancy of academic research on entrepreneurship. Most practitioners now agree that ”entrepreneurship” describes consists of a process, not a product. It’s a subject that can, should and will continue to be taught in most of the world’s universities.

Becoming a successful entrepreneur has more to do with trying than in carrying a genetic predisposition to be entrepreneurial. Creativity is at the heart of this outlook. So is embracing uncertainty about the future. University of California, Davis Psychologist Professor Dean Simonton studies the origins of creativity, and has concluded that “quality is a probabilistic function of quantity.” This emphasizes the low efficiency of any creative process and calls for experimentation — learning by doing and trial and error. As Stanford Creativity Professor Tina Seelig advocates, “creativity is an endless resource, and we can tap into it at any time.”

All of us, as children, were permitted, perhaps even encouraged, by adults to mix up crazy recipes in the kitchen, to role play or imagine life on other planets. But our creative confidence and competence seem to decline as we grow up, and as it does our aversion to risk climbs. We are slotted into roles that reward productivity  in predictable and mechanistic ways. But let’s admit it: It’s boring.

Entrepreneurship is a skill as vital as knowing how to turn a wrench, install a piece of software, or change your baby’s diaper. You can get by without paying attention to it, but life will certainly become more interesting if you listen to the entrepreneur in your heart. Acquire and nurture this skill to inspire yourself, your co-workers, your friends and your family (especially your kids). Entrepreneurs make all of our lives better, in all kinds of ways. We should celebrate that.

Tiago Ratinho, assistant professor of Entrepreneurship and Technology Management in the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business, studies entrepreneurship, new ventures, and business strategy. His email is tratinho@ubalt.edu.

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