You may recall an article last month entitled Entrepreneurs: Born, Made, or Destroyed?, where I present the case that we are all born with entrepreneurial spirit and that society gradually beats it out of us. However, unless you looked back weeks later, you would have missed this gem of a comment added by Derek Moeller. I thought it deserved its own post, so his response below:
Entrepreneurship is about change, and change requires lots of failure mixed with the occasional win. For most people, failure is terrifying because they’re worried about what other people will think – whether they be family, customers, investors, employees, or friends.
Kids aren’t burdened with this, because our minds don’t start out with a strong sense of empathy to understand what others think about what we’re doing. So they set up shop and shamelessly try to sell people things. Why not?
But then our minds continue to develop, and suddenly we feel the consequences – perceived or real – of what other people think about what we’re doing. This sense of empathy has lots of good consequences that are necessary to have a functional society, but it also limits our sense of entrepreneurship, because it introduces fear as a consequence for bold social interactions. Cultural factors such as the ones you describe – likelihood of criticism, stigmatization of failure – take this further.
So this new capability we develop has to be controlled, and it can only be controlled the way any fear can be controlled: by repeated exposure to the cause of the fear, in this case rejection.
In my own experience, it wasn’t fun for me to call up customer prospects to whom I was an unknown, because most of the time I’d get summarily rejected. Some I called forty times over a year before I got a return call. If I did that in a “normal” social setting – calling any friend or, say, a prospective date forty times without a return phone call – it would be a one-way road to freakdom and a restraining order. But business is different, and I’d get that return call, probably just to get me to stop calling, and sometimes I could get them interested in what we did. And that would turn into a meeting, which turned into a proposal, which turned into a sizable contract, which we then did our best to turn into a happy client.
That initial phase of entrepreneurship is probably the most grueling and hard, because it involves the most failure. But by doing it anyways – no matter how uncomfortable it feels – the fear gradually recedes.
So yes, I suppose we are all born with a sense of entrepreneurialism. But in a sense we biologically grow out of it, and becoming a successful entrepreneur requires us to match all those adult analytical skills with an ability to recapture the period of time where we could sell lemonade to whomever because we just didn’t know better to care whether someone thought it was silly.