The "nature versus nurture" debate about whether entrepreneurs are born with a certain unavoidable and inevitable bent or whether they can be "built" and successfully trained has raged on for decades. Having taught and built businesses over the last 50 years--and spending half a decade as the head of Chicago's startup incubator-- it's obviously a subject that interests me, too. The opposing arguments are usually framed in terms of determinative genetic tendencies (Lady Gaga was, for sure, "Born This Way", versus the efficacy of academic instruction.
The middle ground--where I stand-- is that you can't make me an entrepreneur. But you can make me a much better and more successful entrepreneur, if I'm so constitutionally inclined, by teaching me the tools of the trade. That includes things such as pattern recognition, successive approximation, and iteration. I can tell you without the slightest hesitation that effective mentoring and practical instruction works wonders and builds better businessmen and businesswomen. Of course, if the mentors haven't been there and done it successfully a few times themselves, then there's not much hope for a great outcome.
In any case, I was thinking recently, on the occasion of my departed mother's birthday (may she rest in peace) that, in all the conversations and throughout all the tomes that have been written on the topic, we've consistently failed to acknowledge and give sufficient credit to the role that our parents and other relatives played in our entrepreneurial development process. In fact, to the extent that mom and dad are mentioned at all, in the vast majority of cases, they're often regarded as negative influences. There's typically an undercurrent of "I did it to prove my folks wrong" or I succeeded "in spite of them" or "they showed me exactly what not to do". As the old joke goes, "Behind every successful entrepreneur stands a surprised mother-in-law".
And, interestingly enough, this behavior seems to be peculiar to, and quite specific to entrepreneurs. I've noticed in hundreds of award ceremonies over the years that, while Broadway actors always thank God and their parents, and Hollywood actors always thank their agents and managers, entrepreneurs never thank much of anyone else except for the mandatory (and often pro forma) "tip of the hat" to their team. I'm honestly not sure why we find it so hard to share our success. The fact is that our families have a lot more to do with setting the stage and forming the foundation for subsequent success than all the genes or training in the world. Let's take a moment to give them their due.
But first a disclaimer. I realize that today there are many alternative or non-traditional households and parenting situations, including many single-parent homes. That was my situation (for all intents and purposes) for more than half my time growing up. My comments are geared toward the conventional two-parent household and stem from my own experience and broader impressions. For readers otherwise situated, please make the appropriate gender, role and contribution adjustments as you see fit.
I'd start with the most basic idea that our moms are our first coaches. Our dads may eventually teach us to pitch, but it's our moms who give us the strength, the tools and the confidence to "pitch" ourselves. To stand tall and to stand up and/or to get back up when things get rough. No one is born afraid, but while our dads alternatively promise and threaten us with challenges that the world and the future hold for us, it's our moms who protect and shelter us from the most debilitating of those early, harsh, and often prematurely proffered realities.
It turns out that we have a whole lifetime ahead of us to worry about those things. In the short run, dreams are a lot more important than fears. Mothers understand even what their kids often don't say. And, years down the line, when we look at a new crop of young prospective start-up all-stars, their respective energy, enthusiasm and passion has a great deal to do with their upbringing. If their moms didn't give it to them early on, it's gonna be very hard for us to pump up their volume long after the fact. Attitude, early on, has a whole lot to do with altitude in the long run.
Mothers are also the primary architects of our people skills. Our dads may be competitive loners and all about measurement and differentiation while our moms are the ones who encourage our diverse talents along with the need for tolerance and teamwork. Fathers are often fiery and fierce while our moms are all about acceptance and forgiveness. Especially for our own faults and failings. While dad may be especially hard to please, you don't have to deserve your mother's love. It's all part of the package. If an entrepreneur's abundant and often irrational confidence is mainly grounded in a single idea, it's that he or she always knows that at least one person has their back forever. And that they can always go home again.
And the last foundational element - true in my case and in so many others where a single parent suffered and stuck it out through so much pain, peril and heartache - is that nothing prepares you more for the ups and downs, the drama and disappointments, and the day-to-day grind of building a business from scratch than the everyday shining example of a mother's grit, stamina and perseverance. And it often takes place in the unrelenting face of undeserved and unwarranted obstacles that life heedlessly throws in her path. It's her strength, her refusal to become cynical or bitter, and her unconditional and unstoppable love for her family that I will always look to and carry with me. Thanks, Mom.