Entrepreneurship: easy to ‘teach’ not easy to ‘learn’

What do you think about the concept of teaching entrepreneurship? Most people tend to fall into one of two categories. Some say “you’re born with ‘it'” and that “you cannot teach ‘it'” – ‘it’ being this kind of entrepreneurial X-factor.  But there are also plenty of people who oppose this view and believe that entrepreneurship can be ‘taught’. In fact, I increasingly come across individuals and schemes that claim to be able to ‘teach’ entrepreneurship. This concept utterly intrigues me. Why? Because we begin to touch on some fundamental issues in our society and how people learn things.

Before we go any further, let me put my standpoint out there. From my ‘nature or nurture post:

I am highly sceptical that anyone is ‘born’ a businessperson; it is our experiences that shape who we are. Of course, some of us may be born with some characteristics which may lend themselves to being an entrepreneur if nurtured correctly.


So, I am implying that people do, somehow, ‘learn’ how to be an entrepreneur. And this is the absolute crux of this discussion: ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ are not perfectly in sync. In a basic sense; you can ‘teach’ anyone anything. Whether they ‘learn’ what you’re teaching them is another matter. This is something that too may people overlook, especially when it regards ‘teaching’ creativity, innovation and an attitude.

It is easy to teach people how profits work, how to calculate return on investment and weigh-up risk – they’ll be on their way to making a fine accountant. In fact, it is easy to ‘teach’ someone how to start a business, that is, to tell them how to do it. But will these people learn how to be creative, learn how to innovate and learn how to manage people? Will they learn an attitude to risk? This is less certain.


Teaching entrepreneurship - Clever Tykes

The Internship – Kind of an analogy for ‘teaching old dogs new tricks’. Has limited relevance to this post.


Teaching entrepreneurship


Remember, in the UK, we are conditioned to pass exams. We are institutionally taught that getting to university and getting a graduate job is the goal of our education, even the goal of our whole life. Telling someone how to be an entrepreneur after they’ve been through this system is all well and good, but how easily are they really going to ‘learn’ to be an entrepreneur?


Here’s the thing:

Humans are creatures of habit. We are not going to change an attitude and mindset that has been formed over 20-odd years lightly. If we’re talking about convincing people that they want to start a business then we’re doing more than teaching; we’re inspiring. But once inspired, these people need to adopt countless qualities most entrepreneurs (as we know them) have truly ingrained within them. We explain in the Clever Tykes story exactly why this is so important.

Surely, trying to ‘teach’ someone how to start a successful business would be far more effective before they’ve set their sights on doing anything but. Surely learning the core skills and attitudes associated with entrepreneurialism would be easiest when people are learning all about the world as young, impressionable, creative children.


Picasso quote

“Every child is an artist, the problem is to remain an artist as he grows up.”

– Pablo Picasso


And as Sir Ken Robinson puts it; children are ‘taught out of creativity’. This creativity is exactly what we need; not just in entrepreneurs but in everyone who grows up and seeks a fulfilling career – there are plenty of benefits of being enterprising in all walks of life. So why are we waiting until kids are out of university to try and ‘reteach’ it to them because we’ve realised we don’t produce enough businesses to employ everyone and we need to increase economic growth?

Creative thinking and the right mindset are fundamental in making entrepreneurship accessible – these are incredibly difficult to learn from scratch.


So this is the important bit:

If we’re really going to change the attitudes and skills of a generation or, at least, large enough swathes of it to make a real impact, we need to start young and we need to find a way of making learning effective. What we realised is that if children with entrepreneurial parents find it easier to start businesses, they must learn it pretty effectively from these role models.

So what about all the other kids; the ones without businesspeople parents? Well, that’s why we created the Clever Tykes books – to introducing to them the stories and experiences they need. This is how we will bring down the barriers so many people face when deciding to start up on their own later in life. This is how we will help children learn entrepreneurship.