“Entrepreneurs are born and not bred” goes the saying. There is some truth in this statement, but after many years of working alongside business creators and sharing their individual journeys, Ian White, Director, Qatar Skills Academy, tells us that this is not the whole story and shares with us his expertise on defining entrepreneurs.
One thing that I have noticed is that enterprising people come in all shapes and sizes and from no one particular place. They can burst suddenly onto the scene from relative obscurity, dominating the media and the stock traders’ tittle-tattle. Or, they amass vast empires by working away diligently, carefully avoiding the limelight, more concerned with substance than style; value rather than their vanity. This raises the question of whether someone becomes an entrepreneur through choice and deliberate action, or are they simply fulfilling a destiny for which they have been fully equipped?
Whatever the answer to that question might be the fact remains that our current global society likes entrepreneurs, wants more of them and is prepared to reward them. From post-communist Russia to reforming China; from Silicon Valley in California USA to Silicon Fen in Cambridge UK; and now in Qatar, entrepreneurs are encouraged and celebrated. The issue is therefore, what should be done to create favourable conditions and by whom, to achieve the right outcome.
There is some logic in the argument that the people who are destined to become successful entrepreneurs need no assistance. The fact that these people have conquered, where others have failed proves their capability. However, this quasi- Darwinian attitude of survival of the fittest might be too harsh for economies which are struggling for growth. Ignoring the talents of all but a few may be a waste of potential.
One aspect of entrepreneurship which has become accepted over the last decade is that entrepreneurs are not restricted to the commercial private sector. In what can be seen as a reaction against global business trends, “localisation” is creating thousands of social enterprises developed and run by individuals with social capital, rather than shareholder profit, as the driving motive. Entrepreneurs are exceptionally valuable in NGOs and employed “intrepreneurs” are recognised as key players working for a knowledge-based organisation.
Is it therefore more pertinent to consider who an entrepreneur is, rather than what they do? In fact, until their occupation (or, more typically, multiple occupations) has been determined, referring to these individuals as enterprising people, gives one the freedom to focus on generic competences which define the person.
It also helps us to avoid stereotypical portrayals or believe that all entrepreneurs are clones or aspirants of famous biographers. It is this examination of the “who” rather than the “what” which is the subject of Qatar Skills Academy’s “Understanding Enterprise”, a development programme running from the Bedaya Centre with the support of Qatar Development Bank and Silatech.
An enterprising person demonstrates many different qualities, some even conflicting, which go on to determine a career path. One of the most important and guiding capabilities, is to possess a sufficient level of self-awareness to be able to control the use of one’s abilities and develop them according to the situation. This self-awareness is the protection between confidence and determination or arrogance and delusion.
I refer to risk. Attitude to risk is often identified as one of the defining characteristics of an enterprising person. Entrepreneurs are frequently depicted as high-risk individuals. In reality, as Richard Branson said, they often never risk more than they can afford. Therefore, risk-aware is a more accurate definition.
Developing a strong sense of personal identity is critical to an enterprising person’s make-up. Identity can be formed through any combination of factors, such as family influence, national culture, religion, childhood upbringing and experience of education. If any of these inputs are overtly negative to the concept of enterprising behaviour, they are likely to leave a lasting impression. On the other hand, charismatic role models and a value-driven lifestyle is likely to prove central to the inner compass of an individual and define their outlook to life situations.
The ability to use and control one’s talents (and disguise or hide one’s limitations) is a skill acquired through observation and practice. Exposure to real situations where control of one’s self is at issue, either as an observer or an active participant is essential in the learning process of an enterprising person.
Enjoyment and satisfaction in the conscious ability of this control of one’s self-knowledge is the renewable power that fuels the engine driving the enterprising person. It is partly this love of fluid situations and constantly developing scenarios which characterises the enterprising person as a lifelong learner, although they would not usually think of applying this term to themselves as it is such a natural habit.
An enterprising person’s perspective on a situation, either existing or potential, is hard-wired to their self image. Decision making is framed by this central locus of control, which is why progress is swift, non-followers are dropped and clarity of the end result is maintained. Articulation and description of the end result is a particular quality of most enterprising people.
The dream which they possess becomes less of a figment of imagination, less of a conceptual idea and more of a reality each time it is verbalised, modelled, prototyped and presented. This ability to form a highly detailed vision of the intended outcome is another of the central qualities of the enterprising person. They will have delved deep into their subconscious to root the vision in a matrix of principles and values, as well as opportunities and rewards. The strength of the vision is what will ultimately determine the quality of the outcome.
In addition to the cerebral activity, enterprising people adore action. Achieving the first stage of action is often through the use of a closely knit group of trusted followers or supporters. The ability to discuss and present ideas is another essential skill of the enterprising person. Communication in all forms, in all situations and in all contexts is usually something which an enterprising person relishes and handles personally. In cases where this task is delegated (because the self-awareness check recognises this is a deficiency) the attention to detail and micro management of the messenger is often so over-powering that the flavour is lost. So even when convention may dictate that a person should not be a public face, the credibility they possess as the custodian of the idea should overrule everything.
We must therefore approach the successful breeding of entrepreneurs as a combination of nature and nurture. After all, if everything was a certainty, life would be very boring.
Ian White is a British entrepreneur and specialist in vocational education. His first business after university in the UK was in television production, a venture which earned him the ACE UK Entrepreneur of the Year award. During the mid ‘90s Ian developed businesses in the vocational education and SME development sector whilst also working for the UK Government and the European Commission. He was created a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 2002 for his work on enterprise education. Ian arrived in Doha in 2010 and created Qatar Skills Academy to meet the need for organisations to improve quality and productivity through investment in people.