Are Entrepreneurs Born or Developed?

Wilson Harrell wrote a book called “For Entrepreneurs Only” in which he did an excellent job of describing the world of entrepreneurialism.  I strongly recommend this book for anyone pursuing the opportunities of an entrepreneur.  In understanding the characteristics between a business owner and an entrepreneur, I will reference some of his work.

The dictionary tells us that an entrepreneur is someone “who organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” This is the reason why many business owners believe they are an entrepreneur.  On the surface this definition works but there is quite a difference between the personalities of the two, yet both could easily meet the definition provided by the dictionary.  

For the purposes of this article, I am defining a business owner as someone who starts a business (restaurant, technology, franchise, etc) and grows that business over a long period of time – ten plus years.  Many times it is a real entrepreneur that begins a business and they develop into a business owner.  The business owner remains consistent over a long period of time developing their company.  An entrepreneur can’t do that – just ask their life partners.

Hunters vs Farmers

To really understand the character of an entrepreneur, we need to understand that we began as a culture of hunters and developed into a culture of farmers.  “Hunters” are those people who demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • aware of their total environment
  • can act at a moment’s notice
  • flexible
  • tireless and can maintain long spurts when in pursuit
  • results-oriented and aware of the goal
  • visual-concrete thinker, can see the goal without words to describe it
  • independent
  • bores quickly with mundane tasks – loves something new
  • willing to take risks
  • makes decisions decisively even if it is not socially correct

The “Farmers” demonstrate the opposite characteristics:

  • they know their land very well
  • slow to act
  • very inflexible
  • prefer routine
  • can perform the mundane tasks for hours and hours
  • risk averse
  • understand planting – cultivating – harvest time schedules

As you look at these characteristics one can begin to see the similarity of an entrepreneur to a hunter and a business owner to a farmer.  These are not intended to be rigid guidelines nor are they judgmental as both are needed in order to make the economic engine of our country run smoothly.  Most people actually possess many of the characteristics of both a farmer and hunter.  I believe the “bell curve” of averages is applicable to the characteristics of “hunters” and “farmers.” At one end of the spectrum there are 10% pure hunters, at the other end 10% pure farmers and the rest of the 80% make up a mix of these characteristics.  

One of the most asked questions is: are entrepreneurs born or developed?  This can become a very controversial answer but since I am in the 10% hunter category, controversy has never been an issue for me.

The Case For Born Entrepreneurs

Mr. Harrell makes one of the most compelling comparisons for the birth of entrepreneurs that I have ever read.  I prepare you because it is a little shocking and quite controversial but here goes; read below the characteristics for children diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and then answer this question: are these children “hunters” or “farmers” and are they trying to survive in an environment that is not conducive to their character?

  • distractible
  • short attention span
  • impatient
  • poor planners, disorganized and impulsive (make snap decisions)
  • distorted sense of time, unaware of how long it will take to accomplish a task
  • don’t convert words into concepts adeptly and vice versa
  • difficulty following directions
  • daydream often
  • act without considering consequences
  • lacking social graces

Examine closely the characteristics of a hunter and a child diagnosed with ADD.  Ask any real entrepreneur and they will tell you that had society known of ADD like it does today they would have been diagnosed immediately.  It is this combination of unique characteristics that cause entrepreneurs to constantly keep giving birth to new ideas – businesses.  

One of the most frustrating learning curves for entrepreneurs is discovering that without farmers to lead their businesses, they will fail.  The transition period for an entrepreneurial business to a corporate company structure can be extremely difficult and is an entire book by itself.

Can the skills of an entrepreneur be learned?  I believe that is yes but the real essence of what makes them unique is a born asset that, as socially unacceptable as they may be, without them life would be a bore.  Happy Hunting!

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Jeff Piersall

Jeff Piersall is a proven leader in all endeavors of his life having positively affected thousands of people throughout his career. As founder and CEO of TREP Advisors, Jeff and his team guide business owners through the process of growth capital, business succession and how to use these as tools to project their businesses forward. Jeff is known for his strategic vision and how to manage chaos; he is the classic multi-tasker for the successful obtainment of the goal. He is a tireless worker and known for his 4:00am emails to get things done. He is the ultimate problem-solver by uniquely taking the complex and breaking it down to the simple fundamentals for a plan of action and implementation. He is a sales savant with a diverse background in people and business skills making him the quintessential advisor for succession planning to entrepreneurs. Jeff is also co-author of Dogs Don't Bark at Parked Cars. 

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