If entrepreneurship were a literary genre, what would it be? Supersonic tech titans such as Elon Musk and Larry Ellison would surely suggest sci-fi. For the wounded Winklevoss twins: true crime. Yet, I’m betting a majority of entrepreneurs would self-identify in the spirituality aisle.
The act of entrepreneurship has a popular mystique, propelled in part by the origin stories of the Jobs’ and Gates’ and Zuckerbergs of the world. It’s coated thick with back-of-the-napkin eureka moments and near-divine inspiration, night-time coding in bedrooms and years spent tinkering in suburban garages. It’s mysterious, it’s baffling and for many it’s magic. So it goes without saying: entrepreneurship cannot be taught. Or can it?
During almost three years as the producer of Monocle 24’s business show, I’ve learned from thousands of innovative minds, from café owners to industrialists. Among them there’s been one common thread: entrepreneurship is hard. In fact, it’s exceedingly difficult. It’s filled with all kinds of financial risks and professional and personal challenges. It’s filled with challenges most didn’t even know existed. The odds are heavily against you as an entrepreneur. You will, if statistics are to be trusted, almost certainly fail.
Amid this environment, the winners of such a Darwinian struggle are transformed into superheroes whose rise to the top is powered by equal parts witchcraft and je ne sais quoi. Neither of which, I should add, can be found in a course syllabus.
For a special episode of The Entrepreneurs next month, I’ve sent Monocle’s correspondents to business schools around the world to discover the future of business education. They’ll undoubtedly return with opinions of their own, but here’s mine: you can’t buy your way into being an entrepreneur. You can’t transform a course fee into innovation. You can learn the right tools but applying them is a matter of often brutal trial and error. Yet, the persistence of an entrepreneurial mythology is also counterproductive. The doors to the club will remain locked if the keys – or lock-picking tools – are hidden, or claimed not to even exist.
So, here’s my pick for this literary genre game: magical realism. Cold hard facts peppered with bursts of the insane. Perhaps let’s ditch the management book and pick up Marquez.
Daniel Giacopelli is producer of The Entrepreneurs on Monocle 24.