Developing a business mindset: equal parts trade and art?

Por: MA. Clara Franco Yáñez
Master en Asuntos Internacionales, por el Instituto de Posgrados en Estudios Internacionales y del Desarrollo en Ginebra, Suiza

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In all sorts of times and places, people have wondered if there is a “secret formula” or recipe for developing a really successful business. Our current impression would be that it can surely be learned, otherwise there wouldn’t be any business majors and business degrees and business courses and schools – like the one where I studied my bachelor’s in International Business. There’s no doubt that one can learn much about the theory of what having a business is like or what it entails. But that special “something” that the businesses that have become global successes possess – we all wonder sometimes, can it be learned?...

This is perhaps a weird thing to be asking; especially as someone who studied a major in international business. But that’s exactly the point: I found out that it wasn’t really “my thing”, and since then I haven't  had a career related to business in any way. Running my own business just doesn’t happen to be something I see myself doing in life – at least for now. Yet I am very close to some people who just seem to be gifted at making money; either because they’re wonderful salespeople, or because they came up with their own innovative product/idea and are also turning out to be gifted at monetizing it. Some of them studied business, others didn’t. Studying business may help, but we all know that it’s no prerequisite – people even with no solid educational background to speak of have set up amazing businesses; we’ve all heard their world-famous inspiring stories. One could pose the question as to whether it is correlation or causation; that maybe the kind of people who just “have it in themselves” to study business are the same kind of people who already have a “natural” talent for it (for lack of a better term). We can all agree that having a successful business cannot be reduced to just theory – there’s some art to it as well; some creativity involved; and knowing how to relate to people and connect with them also matters enormously… even some moments when good luck is involved to give the diligent entrepreneur a little push forward.

Historically there have even been stereotypes about entire ethnic groups being “good salespeople” or “great traders” or “good at making money”. But stereotypes are just that, even if they may contain a grain of truth by generalizing tendencies. It’s clear that context also matters, a lot. One can be “born a business genius” if there’s even such a thing; but if the context is one of war and extreme poverty in a nation torn by disaster after disaster, chances are that no great business idea will find fertile ground there. I would also say that government policy has to be conducive to business, although the specifics of what exactly that means are a topic for a much longer debate on another occasion. There’s no doubt that one needs a special type of resourceful and positive mindset in order to succeed in business, but social context matters too. A mix of personal resourcefulness, mentality and attitudes, has to find fertile soil in an adequate context.

We can also clarify that what I’m referring to as “creating a business” implies several types of completely different activities; and very often people who we might refer to as “someone who is running a business” may only be doing one of them. One thing is what we call management, another one is sales, and a third very different thing would be innovation in the sense that the new business or product is unlike anything else that exists already. People can be specific geniuses in one, rarely two, but hardly ever the three of those activities; not to mention the fact that no single person can perform all three roles in a large company. It is also of course not the same thing to learn and practice sales than it is to truly innovate in business: creating some new product, service, production scheme or sales model, etc. As someone who in fact did learn and practice sales for some time, I can attest that it definitely can be learned – but also, that not everyone is suited for it. Working in sales made me much better at public relations; but it didn’t make me a business owner, let alone an innovator. Still, sometimes I get that nagging question out of curiosity, again: if I ever set up my own business, what would it look like?  Could I ever come up with something creative?... There’s so much more to business than just having a degree vaguely saying that’s what I “know about”!