Nature Versus Nurture: Wrong Question

The nature versus nurture debate has risen again [Fred Wilson, Mark Suster, Vivek Wadhwa] in regards to entrepreneurship. However, I feel like the question is fundamentally misdirected. The sheer concept of an “argument” between nature versus nurture demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the human behavioral process.

It would be pretty impossible to discredit either side. Speak to anyone who has had more than one child and we can wipe Locke’s tabula rasa concept off the table. From the very first instance of being, humans have a set of tendencies that comes along with them. And of course from the other side of the equation, look at studies about twins separated at birth or even identical twins who aren’t separated at birth. They do not end up as identical people in the long run.

The question is not whether a particular aspect of a person can be attributed to nature or nurture. The question is whether from any given state, what set of inputs would cause a person to develop a particular value for a particular attribute. So, for someone who is born with “the entrepreneurial spirit”, what paths could their life take such that at a certain point in their life, that spirit is or isn’t present. Likewise for someone who isn’t born with such a spirit.

I think there are three important concepts in this discussion: state, inertia, and inputs. The state of any person is just how they are at that moment in time. For a new born baby, this state is relatively simple and heavily skewed toward genetics. For an adult, it is significantly more complicated. Inertia is how ready this state is to change. In general, it’s going to be correlated with how fast the state is actually changing, but the pure concept is how ready the state (or a particular aspect of the state) is to change. And the last part is inputs, which is just the experiences that this person is going to encounter.

In order to determine if someone is going to “learn to be an entrepreneur,” one simply needs to take a look at difference between their present state and the target state (entrepreneur) and how ready they are for this type of change. From this, there is a theoretical set of inputs that would be sufficient to be the action potential to enact this change (or one of the many changes in the sequence that would be required to enact this change) and the respective probability associated to it.

There are a few key observations for why it’s easy to believe that entrepreneurs are born and not created. Firstly, there are many aspects of our lives in which our inertia nearly hits zero at a relatively early age. For example, confidence tends to get set around high school and stay with you regardless of how much you change. Secondly, having the entrepreneurial spirit is a pretty complex and remote state. There are so many people in this world who struggle to keep a stable job, let alone a good job, let alone a job where they are progressing. Having the courage to put yourself on the line to do something world-changing is quite rare. The set of requirements is vast, rare, and serial (they all have to be present for it to work).

However, looking at the process of life, it’s not impossible. If someone is already almost there, it might just take working at a start up to push them over the edge. If someone encounters the right mentor at the right time for the right duration and begins to fundamentally understand all the steps and aspects of being an entrepreneur, it’s possible. I definitely wouldn’t categorize it as likely or easy, though. For someone to actually acquire all the attributes required to be a truly great entrepreneur at the same time and to be able to hold onto those attributes for long enough to actually see the vision to greatness is very, very unlikely–even more so if those attributes are newly acquired.

This is my first time trying to be an entrepreneur and don’t think it was something I was inherently born with. Also, I know that I do not singularly possess all the attributes necessary to change the world. What I am hoping, though, is that I have enough vision to know what attributes I lack and the luck to find the right people to fulfill those attributes and teach them to me.

As a random aside, the code name for the game we’re working on was Nature Versus Nurture and all our files are still named ‘NVN’.

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  1. March 1st, 2010
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