Getting tools and techniques is not the future of entrepreneurship training
Entrepreneurship has never been more popular, yet somehow there seems to be more confusion than ever on what it takes to make a good entrepreneur. Here, in the city of Montreal alone, the talk of incubators, next generation universities, innovation-driven curriculum, and government grants and funding, is at an all time high. There’s a race to be the leading organization that helps entrepreneurs, or the leading school that produces entrepreneurs, or the leading government that funds entrepreneurs… But who are these people?
The dictionary definition of this person is actually quite boring.
A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so.
Essentially this could be the owner of a single coffee shop on the corner, Mark Zuckerberg, and everyone in between. The only common factor between these two people seems to be nothing more than the fact that they put in some money to start a company, but the size of their ambition is markedly different. In fact, an average person on the street would probably never categorize the two of them in the same bucket. These days we refer to the coffee shop as a “lifestyle business” as opposed to a “startup”. You can search for the two terms yourself to see the difference from many perspectives, but here are the Wikipedia definitions:
A lifestyle business is a business set up and run by its founders primarily with the aim of sustaining a particular level of income and no more; or to provide a foundation from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle.
A startup company (startup or start-up) is an entrepreneurial venture which is typically a newly emerged, fast-growing business that aims to meet a marketplace need by developing a viable business model around an innovative product, service, process or a platform.
When referring to the hype around entrepreneurs, you can be certain that none of it is directed toward the lifestyle business. Everyone wants to help the person whose aim is to go big or go home — a startup. The entrepreneurs everyone wants to raise are associated with words like “creative”, “critical thinking”, “innovative”, “resilient”, or any other single-worded title for the latest self-help book, but how on earth do you raise people like this?
Right now, our simple answer is “let’s put them in a giant, wall-less room with whiteboards, maybe some plants, definitely a beer-tap, and certainly a ping pong table.” You got your whiteboards for brainstorming, your plants because some Japanese author said nature helps with focus, the beer-tap because we’re fun, and the ping pong table because we’re really fun.
As with the industrial schooling of yesteryear, our modern day understanding of what it takes to make an entrepreneur has been bastardized beyond recognition. We throw business model canvases at people and a few YouTube videos, then get upset that they don’t know how to make a business plan. We give them a TED Talk about grit and resilience, and then get upset when they aren’t able to cope with the insane workload and pressure of building a business. We tell them about empathy maps, and get surprised that they don’t know the first thing about empathizing with another human. We show them how to write on post-its and put them on walls, in what is now called “design thinking”, and are shocked when it turns out they aren’t creative.
The truth is that there is an incredible lack in genuineness and authenticity in what we’re promising our future entrepreneurs.
There is no shortcut to creativity. That’s why most famous creatives only got an inkling of recognition much later in their lives after making over 1,000 creative projects.
There is no shortcut to resilience. That’s why most resilient people have typically gone to hell and back before being recognized as such.
There is no shortcut to empathy, strategic thinking, critical thinking, fast production, and excellence.
Unfortunately, today we are in a world where there is more information than ever, but there is also more judgement than ever. The liberation of ideas onto the internet brought with it the ability for Joe Nobody to assume expertise because he read a really interesting Twitter thread by a Nancy Whatshername that made a million dollars because she bought bitcoin at the right time. This Joe Nobody will then speak at conferences, and push people to do what he did to achieve success. He will write a book called the “1-Hour Work Month” and sell it for $15 a pop to half a billion people, half a million of which will then change their twitter bios to Entrepreneur and only working #1houramonth.
Of course, we don’t address the fact that the people reading that type of material are probably distressed, depressed, and disillusioned by an alternative path. We market to them to come to this incubator, or that workshop, and tell them we can make their dream a reality — just fill out this business model canvas, and watch Steve Blank.
The other consequence with the liberation of information onto the internet, is the lack of space for anyone to carve out their own path. “I’m going to be rich! I read Walter Isaacson’s latest book on Elon Musk, and in that book Musk says that every morning, he starts his day by looking into the mirror and saying what he’s grateful for.” These snake oil life hacks that have been pedaled around in articles titled “Jeff Bezos does these three things every day” or “The top 5 traits that all billionaires have” are contributing to an ever-growing sense of “I’m not good enough” so constant that it’s inhibiting the average person’s ability to grow on their own.
If we are to truly raise the entrepreneur of tomorrow, what kinds of values are we expecting this person to have? How will we help them drown out all the noise so that they can achieve their own greatness? This has nothing to do with what ability they have to raise money. It has nothing to do with their ability to apply information onto whatever bloody canvas just got made. The entrepreneur of the future needs to develop a mix of skills that are both ancient, and never seen before.
There are dozens of lists that detail things like the “21st century skillset” and “Competencies for 21st century innovators”. Most of these lists detail things like “curious”, “artistic”, “collaborative”, “innovative”, “entrepreneurial”, but never begin to discuss how it is that someone should go about becoming artistic.
Is there a Creative Thinking Canvas that we can stick some post-its onto? How many creativity books tell you to spend your Sunday at a jazz bar, truly listening for the notes and watching the musicians faces? How many of them mention the fact that time is incredibly important to develop creativity? Or that creativity is not something that you can just magically turn on or off? How many of them admit that they don’t know the first thing about helping others be creative, but rather admit that they are simply sharing their own stories?
Increasingly, it is becoming apparent that entrepreneurs need to learn the ability to filter content out more than they need to learn about how to get content. They need to learn how to escape a world that is hell-bent on generating a constant fear of missing out, a dreaded fear of inferiority. They need to understand that the forces at play in the dissemination of information is less random but more chaotic than ever. They need to discover how to obtain the right information that will help them develop their own understanding of the world. They need to understand that the reason why the tactics that worked for Amazon were very specific to that context and that they may never be able to be repeated again. Most importantly, they need to learn that they constantly need to learn.