Can you teach and learn entrepreneurship?

I always felt bizarre within this emerging “industry” of entrepreneurship. After all, I consider myself a practitioner without much success up until now (up until now). Practitioners do not believe much in business academics and academics think they can explain, at least partially, the phenomenon. Actually, in my point of view, anyone can explain, at least partially, a social phenomenon, even if you use the most rigorous method available. I particularly like taxi drivers’ partial explanations of social phenomena, for example. So, I tend to give more credit to practitioners because at least they tried the things they say. I have met a lot of business people during the last 15 years and there is a justified controversy in the possibility of teaching and/or learning anything about entrepreneurship.

Academics, of course, must justify their salaries by swearing that it is possible to teach such a thing, or at least sparking the entrepreneurial spirit in people, whatever that means. I partially agree with them (here it comes this damn “partially” again). This very same dilemma is found on professors or speakers that teach people on how to make money in the stock exchange, for example. After all, if they know how to do that, why don’t they make money on the stock exchange instead of teaching?!?

Well, the answer is not that easy, like most of the things in life but is not encouraging as well. Last year, I went to an academic meeting about entrepreneurship and a very funny discussion came along. What do professors of entrepreneurship should answer if students question their ability to teach something they never did? That is a very pertinent question because 90% of the professors of entrepreneurship in the world never had a business in their lives (I already had 3, yeees! but I they were not innovative businesses and I barely made money with them, noooo!). Well, some may have worked as consultants for companies but I do not consider that a work, that is just a noble self-employed experience (anyone can give advice don’t you think?). Some professors had that answer on the tip of their tongues. According to them, the best golf player in the world may not be the best golf professor in the world. On the contrary, he may end up being a regular professor while another person, who studied and compared the movements of the best golf players ever but was never a good player himself can be a great professor. Good answer! Recently, I heard a much funnier version of this story told by a late Brazilian sports commentator who was also a great writer, Armando Nogueira. In fact, that is why I remembered this story in the US. According to him, “the sports commentator is like an eunuch in the harem: he knows everything about the sport but do not know how to play it”. Ahahahahah, that is a great and very Brazilian definition of this kind of situation!

I have to agree with these guys, their arguments are good, but still not enough I think, because it is frightening knowing that as an entrepreneur you can lose everything, injure people, degrade nature, etc, due to bad decisions you make. And this kind of things are very difficult to explain (although not impossible).

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