A conversation about entrepreneurship between Dr. Marika Taishoff, IUM MBA Program Director, and Markus Schuller, Founder & Managing Partner of Panthera Solutions, a multiple award-winning behavioral design company based in the Principality of Monaco.
Why some of the most outstanding entrepreneurs are creative thinkers?
Marika Taishoff (MT)
While there may be different definitions of creativity and of the “creative thinker”, the one common thread is that creative thinkers “see” things differently and are, in particular, able to see patterns and connections where others don’t.
This ability—as well as an inner conviction that they are on the “right track”—allows them to create something new, unexpected, and valuable.
These traits are shared by many entrepreneurs. The ability to spot an opportunity that others don’t necessarily see and to have the conviction, and the risk profile, of course, that it is worth pursuing. Indeed, some entrepreneurs have told me, without boasting, that they even see opportunities where others see difficulties or challenges.
Entrepreneurs are born or made?
Markus Schuller (MS)
We are born with some natural talents. Even for those, excellence is borne not of any particular innate ability but of deliberate practice.
Entrepreneurs are made. It takes time and dedication to develop the skills, network, and knowledge base needed to make a difference as an entrepreneur.
This is expressed by the average age of founders. Most people picture successful founders as young folks. That is wrong: The median age in the US for launching a 1-in-1000 fastest growing company is 45 years, and the average age of founders is 42. Worldwide, older founders beat younger ones. And, team founders beat single entrepreneurs.
Regardless of age, specific skills are necessary across industries to master the development stages from bootstrapping challenges to scale. Taking no shortcuts is part of being innovative. Why? Startups with less money often out-invent big companies since they have to devise cheap approaches that break out of the usual paths.
Does the MBA develop a creative mindset? In which way?
MT: A well-structured MBA program should, of course, help develop a creative mindset. This is especially important in today’s business environment, where innovation and creativity are fundamental to corporate and professional success.
Encouraging such a mindset can be facilitated by including courses that address a creative approach to problem-solving and opportunity spotting. Such courses could be those such as Innovation Management, Design Thinking, Strategy, and, of course, Entrepreneurship. Also, “traditional” MBA courses, such as Accounting or Corporate Financial Management, should be designed and taught to encourage creative thinking.
But to fully benefit from having an MBA, students should focus on the courses offered and on the experience that can be had while doing the MBA. Numerous studies have shown, for instance, that creative thinking is encouraged when one leaves one’s comfort zone. And doing an MBA, especially in a foreign environment, with participants, faculty, and speakers from different parts of the world and backgrounds will take you out of your comfort zone and into a new world of challenging opportunities and unexpected horizons.
How could an MBA degree help to become an entrepreneur?
MT: While we have all heard stories of college dropouts who had gone on to create successful businesses, the fact that most new businesses go bust is less often told. So, while one cannot make the strict correlation between having an MBA and becoming a successful entrepreneur, one can certainly say that having an MBA will give you the toolkit, the mindset, and the network to not only successfully pitch a business plan, but also to successfully grow the business.
MS: An MBA clarifies which skills, networks, and knowledge base is needed to increase a start-up’s likelihood of survival.
One might think that with all the self-learning platforms, top 10 lists, and best-of-social media posts at a fingertip, reading about the best turns one into the next Steve Jobs. As a consequence, most owners scale themselves, not businesses.
Scientific evidence is clear. The dangers of only superficially learning the lessons from ultra-successful entrepreneurs tend to make us learn the wrong things. When lessons aren’t specific, or the market is changing, people tend to copy visible aspects of successful folks (eg requiring memos before meetings, as Amazon does), but those are not the reason for success. Even if you are getting accurate stories of why someone succeeded, we actually have trouble learning from successes. It is hard to apply the lessons from other people’s stories to our own situations.
Context matters. Timing matters. Details matter. An MBA can therefore act as a lens for entrepreneurial minds, practicing how to apply skills optimally, network and know-how aligned with the specific context one is exposed to.
Updated 8 September 2022