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Scott Shane, a pro­lific writer on entre­pre­neur­ship, pos­tu­lates that genetic fac­tors are pow­erful deter­mi­nants of whether someone will develop a suc­cessful busi­ness. His book Born Entre­pre­neurs, Born Leaders sug­gests innate, inher­i­table pre­dis­po­si­tions really matter.

A survey of entre­pre­neurs at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity sup­ports his view: 61 per cent of respon­dents said innate drive was the main reason they started a busi­ness: only 1 per cent said their higher edu­ca­tion was a sig­nif­i­cant factor.

Not everyone buys the idea that a small number of extra­or­di­nary risk-​​takers are the ones who make a dif­fer­ence, how­ever. Mass Flour­ishing , an impor­tant new book by Nobel prizewinner Edmund Phelps, sug­gests indi­vid­uals matter much less than overall cul­ture and social values. The sub­title of his text is “How grass­roots inno­va­tion cre­ated jobs, chal­lenge, and change”. His thesis is that most indus­trial dis­cov­eries were not pio­neered by a few iso­lated vision­aries, such as Henry Ford. Instead, he argues that progress was driven by huge num­bers of cit­i­zens empow­ered to create and sell thou­sands of incre­mental improve­ments, from craftsmen and farmers to traders and fac­tory workers. Together they gen­er­ated an extra­or­di­nary period of pros­perity, starting in the 1820s in Britain and petering out in the 1970s in the US.


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