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Can entrepreneurship be taught? Lean startup guru Steve Blank responds

Tuesday, 18 March 2014 | By Rose Powell

The man who made the lean start-up approach a movement, Steve Blank, says asking if entrepreneurship can be taught is the wrong question, the question that matters is who can it be taught to.


The serial entrepreneur and author spoke to the Melbourne startup community via video conference coordinated by the Melbourne University Accelerator Program.


“The short answer is entrepreneurship can only be taught to those who passionately want to learn it, so you can’t make this part of a common business school’s core curriculum,” he says.


Just as you train accountants and chefs in different ways, Blank says the key to successful entrepreneurial education is understanding the nature of the people you’re training.


“By the time you want to be a founder, you’re not an engineer or a marketer. You’ve just changed jobs and you’ve become an artist,” Blank says. “Great founders can envision a company already fully formed. We can teach those kinds of entrepreneurs who passionately volunteer with theory and a ton of practice.”


Similar to artists, what sustains entrepreneurs is passion, at least at first.


“On day one, you have to be a true believer. You have to believe your initial vision is correct, that your passion will make it happen and remove all obstacles,” he says. “You keep going to work because you believe in your company and for 50 years we thought that was all you needed.”


Blank says it took them a while to realise that built into a founder’s ongoing passion is a series of untested hypotheses they can keep testing and iterating.


Given the fact a founder’s guesses exist mostly to identify unknowns, Blank says five year business plans are overrated for startups.


“Five year plans are basically a series of unknowns,” Blank says. “The only people to make you do a plan on a series of unknowns is venture capitalists; and the Soviet Union, and we kind of know how well that turned out for both groups.”


The full video conferencing session can be viewed below.