Entrepreneurs only learn from other entrepreneurs

What’s your reaction when you read such a statement? Nodding your head, agreeing or disagreeing? Or, like me, are you puzzled by the need for such a statement? 

In the last year, I’ve been working with my colleagues to grow a learning network of scale up entrepreneurs. In speaking with some entrepreneurs and investors, a few of them have argued that we should focus the interactions and exchanges to be only amongst entrepreneurs. The reasoning behind this opinion is that people who become entrepreneurs are somewhat cut from the same cloth. Therefore, learning becomes easier with a more homogenous group because you can find each other more quickly due to similar language and experiences. And this can mean that you find the answers that you need faster and more efficiently (someone else has already been there and done that). 

However, this same reasoning can be said of any other profession. Artists only learn from other artists. Engineers from other engineers. And I could keep going. There are several ways this line of thinking can be very problematic:

  • It disqualifies the knowledge and wisdom of others. They may have expertise in another field/industry and yes it’s not the same as having expert knowledge in your own field, but that does not mean that you cannot learn something from them. 
  • It make you unable to see beyond your own biases. Building up expertise means that you reinforce certain biases and orthodoxies. Someone who is not an expert can ask naive questions that can lead you to challenge your own assumptions. And this is a key part of what learning is all about.
  • It shows a lack of curiosity which is needed for learning. Curiosity allows for exploration and enables faster learning because you’re probably going to have more questions.

The statement also runs contrary to experiences I’ve had with my colleagues in bringing groups of entrepreneurs together to gain insights on how to solve their challenges. What we’ve found works is to:

  • Have some similarities in the group, but don’t define it too narrowly. The groups of entrepreneurs I’ve brought together come from different industries and backgrounds; some are founders and others aren’t.
  • Have a common framework to discuss challenges they’re each facing. This speeds up learning, because you create a common language which makes it easier for the group to engage each other.
  • Bring in others with different experiences, profiles and background and prepare them and the group to get the most out of the interaction. When I’ve asked others to join the group, it’s always been well prepared by helping them to understand who the group is, what challenges they face and how their experiences can connect. And vice versa, getting the group to be better at asking open questions to understand the knowledge in a such a way that it becomes applicable learning. 

Learning from others who have similar experiences or have been there, done that, is of course useful. It’s hardly the only way to learn. Having the curiosity to learn from people with radically different profiles, paths or experiences than your own, can help you nurture your beginner’s mind and expand your capability to see beyond your own biases.

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