There has been a flurry of debate about this topic over the past few months. Vivek Wadwha’s post on TechCrunch resurrected this age old debate last month.
Since Vivek’s post, I have taken a considerable amount of time to reflect on what Vivek said before posting my own point of view. Mark Suster also recently wrote an insightful response, which is in contrast to Vivek’s, which inspired me to think much harder about this topic.
With the backdrop of the two posts above, here’s my point of view: I firmly believe entrepreneurship is 20% nature and 80% nurture.
It’s certainly agreeable that we are born with certain physical characteristics based on genetics – eyes, nose, arms, legs, etc. But the argument I struggle with in regard to if 80% of our inclination to become entrepreneurs comes from nature is: what about the theory of the tabula rasa – the blank slate? In addition, how do you explain the inner critic which resides in all of us?
I believe genetics simply provides us the blank slate, our minds are just barely hardwired when we’re born – free and open to interpretation of all which the world surrounds us with. Over time our mind starts to fill in or write on that blank slate based on the stimuli we acquire through experiences, both good and bad. As the frequency of experiences in our lives increases, there is a parallel influx of stimuli being presented to and processed by our brain. Thus, the more stimuli we are exposed to and react upon, the more “writing” that is placed on our slate.
This writing becomes the map which directs our brain muscle and formation, with an end goal of developing a baseline we can use for structuring our thoughts/reactions/interpretations toward an ever growing amount of stimuli. Said another way, these stimuli are presented to us through each experience we have in our daily lives and can be actions as simple as playing a sport, eating a certain food, reading a book or driving a car. Eventually, as time passes, our reactions to stimuli build upon one another, like a pyramid, forming a solid map for how our brain should hardwire itself. Eventually we end up with a solid conceptual framework which we leverage to interpret stimuli throughout the rest of our life.
An analogy: weightlifters drink protein shakes after every gym session because protein is the underlying nutrient to replenish the tears that the muscle has experienced from the stress of lifting weights. During our developmental years the muscle in our brain seeks direction on how to interpret the world – a baseline per se. Think of the writing being placed on the slate as a replenishing nutrient which our mind necessitates and seeks to absorb whenever possible. Over time, as those nutrients (stimuli) increase in frequency, our mind becomes stronger and stronger toward a certain interpretation of the world.
This leads to my point: once past your developmental years, which are a culmination of hundreds of thousands of experiences and stimuli, only then do you have a structure and framework for interpreting the world. Once you’re capable of interpreting the world, you are then able to form scalable mental thought patterns and a purpose for why you do what you do.
Said another way: nature simply provides the slate to write upon. Nurture throughout our developmental years is what actually writes on that slate, forms our personality and viewpoints of the world, and ultimately whether we’re going to be the next billionaire entrepreneur, award winning violinist or multinational expatriate.