It occurred to me recently that we’ve completely lost our way with how we train entrepreneurs. We should be training them like Jedi Knights, starting them young, teaching them discipline, patience, and that “the Force” of entrepreneurship is a belief system and a way of life.
Instead, we train them like Sith Lords. We teach them the quick and easy route with a three month crash course, and then we send them out to take over the galaxy by whatever evil means necessary. The result of this is we’ve let loose a bunch of little Darth Vaders, who’ve learned just enough to be dangerous, and who all believe they’re entitled to commanding the Death Star.
Aside from the fact that Sith Lords generally give entrepreneurs a bad name, there is also a practical reason for following the Jedi training methods. Studies have shown that our personalities are largely set by the age of 12. This includes tendencies of learned empowerment or learned helplessness. Once these personality traits are set, they are almost impossible to change. Adult “logic” primarily consists of self justifications of why we can or cannot do something. Clearly if we want to create entrepreneurs who actually embody the characteristics of entrepreneurship, and aren’t just jumping on the bandwagon because startups are hot, then we need to start teaching them in grade school, not college.
Along this same line of thinking, Micah Baldwin recently told me his dream was to create a high school for entrepreneurs. He explained it as “not a high school that teaches entrepreneurship, but a high school for entrepreneurs, the way the school in FAME is a high school specifically for performing artists.” While high school is still a little late for “Jedi training,” I thought it was a wonderful idea and could be a really special place where young entrepreneurs would feel comfortable in an environment designed just for them.
As we talked more about how this school would work, we were presented with an interesting challenge. How do you decide who gets accepted? In a school for performing arts they audition by dancing or playing a musical instrument, but how do you audition an entrepreneur? Do you just look for kids who had a lemonade stand when they were nine? That seems like a pretty low bar and far too easy to game by ambitious parents.
If Micah’s dream school ever becomes a reality, I believe its success will be almost entirely dependent on the student acceptance criteria. But the difficulty in determining who has inherent talents in an area that is hard to measure is an almost impossible task. Even George Lucas couldn’t come up with a good answer and had to make up the ludicrous explanation of midi-chlorian count as a way of determining who would be a good candidate for Jedi training.
Since we can’t measure midi-chlorians, and asking prospective students if they had a lemonade stand is much too easy, I started thinking about psychological traits. Personality isn’t difficult to measure with a well designed test, but we still have to decide what identifying traits we’re looking for.
And based on my admittedly unscientific observations, I believe the defining characteristic of an entrepreneur is their willingness to accept total responsibility. Even in failure, a “real” entrepreneur will give you a reason, not an excuse. For example, consider someone who says, “I failed because I misread the market.” This person is accepting responsibility for misreading the market. Compare that to a statement such as “our product was great but the market wasn’t ready for us,” which lays the blame on some mysterious market condition and not on their failure to anticipate it. If I were a VC, or determining who got accepted to entrepreneur’s school, this is what I would look for above all else.
This type of internal locus of control is fairly easy to identify, but I’m curious what others would look for in a budding entrepreneur. Is there something else more important? Creativity? Resourcefulness? Risk tolerance? Obviously an entrepreneur should possess all of these things, but what is the single core essence that makes an entrepreneur a different kind of person? And if you believe there is such a distinguishing characteristic, how would you find it in a 13-year-old kid? Is there really any good method for identifying future Jedi Knights?
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]