We Can Teach People to Recognize Opportunity
We can train people how to get control of resources like money or to recruit and build teams, or to structure sensible strategies.
William Sahlman is an entrepreneur and professor. His research focuses on the investment and financing decisions made in entrepreneurial ventures at all stages in their development.
Sahlman has written numerous articles on topics including entrepreneurial management, venture capital and private equity, deal structuring, and the role of entrepreneurship in the global economy. He has published over 150 case studies on entrepreneurial ventures around the world.
Sahlman is Senior Associate Dean for External Relations at Harvard University. He was co-chair of the Entrepreneurial Management, Senior Associate Dean, Director of Publishing Activities, and chairman of the board for Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
Going back 30, 40 years, people thought about entrepreneurship and were trying to figure out what was different about these folks and the activities they were engaged in and they had a number of theories. One theory said it was a personality trait. In fact, some research said you had to have a domineering mother to be an entrepreneur. Now, I often in audiences ask how many people had a domineering mother and some portion of the audience always says yes.
It turns out that entrepreneurs have all sorts of different personality traits. Some of them are actually quite conservative, some of them are more gregarious than others. I think of entrepreneurship more as something that involves pursuit of opportunity rather than protection or optimizing the resources that you already control. And when you think of it as a way of managing rather than a personality trait, then what you really begin to focus on is how do people find opportunity?
Often, for example, you can have someone who worked in a large company for a period of time, discovered some business challenge out there. Perhaps he or she goes to the corporate leaders and says, “We ought to do this.” They turn the project down, probably two or three times, and then they’re so consumed by the project that they leave and gather the resources that they need in order to exploit it.
So, I don’t think of entrepreneurship as a personality trait. I do think it’s something where we can train people to recognize opportunity. We can train them how to get control of resources like money or to recruit and build teams, or to structure sensible strategies. And, in fact, that’s why the phenomenon is so important and why I think it has become so prominent in business schools around the country.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
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