Debunking Limiting Myths – Entrepreneurs Are Born, Not Made

Last year I encountered a real-life scenario of how this myth plays itself out and with diabolical consequences. A lady posted an advert on a social forum seeking employment for her friend who has a Masters degree in a technical field. The Masters holder had held a few junior positions and contract work but nothing permanent. A few people suggested that with that kind of profile this seeker could, instead of pounding the pavement looking for elusive employment, investigate using his knowledge and experience, to establish an advisory agency of sorts. I joined the brainstorming midway and much later this lady responded with, “Sorry guys, not all of us can be entrepreneurs, I was just asking for job leads”.

I followed up with a question challenging this notion and she had no interest in engaging me further. If we did not have a job for her friend, we might as well just zip it. So, this myth serves to limit those young, insecure, still-trying-to-find-their-feet minds with a very low perception of their entrepreneurial potential as we can see from this social forum lady. The upshot is, this unemployed Masters graduate is going to be stuck, with well-meaning friends who have bought into this myth, in THIS job economy, waiting for a job that may never come. I find that distressing and just too tragic for words. People have started businesses with far less knowledge and experience; what they have in abundance however is tons of self-belief, an open mind and a resilient attitude which are some of the key elements in the entrepreneurial mindset.

 

The only formative entrepreneurship experience I remember having is when my Mother bought each of us 3 Ndumo siblings a wholesale size packet of sweets to sell at our school and in our township. I ate most of the merchandise over a couple of days and shared some with my playmates. I had nothing to show for my non-endeavours when it came to accounting time: no sweets and no money, only a few very happy playmates with sticky fingers. My Mother was not impressed, “this was meant to help you raise pocket money guys, forget pocket money then”. Off I went to play skipping rope with said little comrades and the incident was forgotten.

Fast forward to adulthood and I was an ivory tower academic for 10 years after Law School. Some of my colleagues ran law practices but the thought never occurred to me. Law was not my first choice (http://higherselfcoaching.org/my-story) and I was not interested in legal practice, my internship cured me. Instead, I rather enjoyed the legal theories and judgements from the courts, in particular the reasoning prowess displayed by the judges and interacting with my beloved students. Yes, 3 years into my academic career I did start consulting for external organizations of all types on labour market issues, but it was never with an entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurship just did not occur to me, not because I was not a “born entrepreneur” but because of the particular set of beliefs that I held which did not even conceive of entrepreneurship as a possibility. So how does someone like that then become an entrepreneur in one of the most entrepreneurial cities in the world? What changed?

I am the one best placed to tell you what changed: my mindset i.e. attitudes, beliefs and perceptions. Furthermore, my world of possibilities has vastly expanded, so has my social circle through the attendance of business seminars and expos and regularly reading business magazines. Coincidentally, I used to read the business section of the Sunday Times during my student days at varsity, but it never occurred to me that I could join these intrepid entrepreneurs one day. Many ingredients go into the pot of cooking an entrepreneur, to say they are born and leave it there robs us of the opportunity to ask ourselves one simple question: what does it take to groom an entrepreneur? What do we, as a society, need to do to grow our own entrepreneurial timber because I think that we can agree that a lot remains to be done to boost entrepreneurial acumen especially in historically disadvantaged segments of the population. Various research papers authored by the Small Enterprise Development Agency, the DTI and the Department of Small Business Development have consistently found that the main barrier to entry and longevity in growing entrepreneurial timber is an entrepreneurial mindset and skills.

So, mine is a straightforward contention: mindsets can be shifted, and skills taught, period.

Another interesting question to explore would be: what kind of entrepreneurs do we need to groom for this Exponential Age that is upon us? What kind of infrastructure do we need to develop for increased regional and continental integration and expanded economic markets? What kind of mindset shifts will drive these efforts? And these are not exclusive debates to be had by a few but by all of us #NoOneLeftBehind!

The world is alive with possibilities, let’s help and not limit ourselves, each other, our youth and children. Keep well!