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autodidact

Why Entrepreneurs Should Develop Autodidactic Traits

By Rodas Mengesha

September 30, 2020

What is Autodidacticism?

Autodidacticism is the self-driven curiosity to learn or study. It isn't just about learning. It is also about acquiring skills applicable in a practical environment. 

Autodidacts want to satisfy their curiosity and are simply resourceful learners. Not only do they pursue their interests, but they are also able to learn complex information all by themselves, even when the information is mostly inaccessible to them. They are independent, adaptable, willing to learn something new, and understand their learning pace. 

My Self-Teaching of Programming

Of course, I wouldn't exactly label myself as an absolute autodidact. I wasn't even familiar with the term autodidact until a year or so ago. However, the community that I am from and the lack of interest in the topic (technology) that I am very interested in led me towards developing certain autodidactic traits. 

Once I was convinced I could learn HTML and CSS off the internet, I spent hours bookmarking and downloading dozens of pdf files that were anywhere near related to that subject. Obviously, that wasn't the best approach, though through trial and error, I eventually narrowed down the list of books and further developed my self-teaching style.

A highlight during that time would be when I did mini projects and shared them with my family. They would then competitively challenge me to modify certain features to prove my work. Fast forward five years later, I had successfully learned and worked with more than four programming languages. 

Autodidactism and Entrepreneurship

Autodidacts possess some of the most applicable entrepreneurship traits. The passion to learn and self-develop are vital traits of entrepreneurship. Due to their eager desire, autodidacts seek out information, ask questions, and are usually “do-it-yourself” advocates eager to teach themselves something new. Their passion for education extends as they are open to the views of others even in the situation where it might oppose theirs.

Another important trait is self-motivation. Regardless of a series of setbacks, autodidacts continue to dedicate themselves to the fulfillment of their goals. Entrepreneurs usually seek out a unique path to provide a solution to a frustration yet to be addressed. Take some of the most successful entrepreneurs: Michael Dell, Elon Musk, or Bill Gates. They each were self-taught to find the solution to challenges! 

As for me, my most comparatively successful entrepreneurship ‘startup’ would be when I was fixing TV Satellite Dishes in my neighborhood. Within a few weeks, my contact information spread beyond my neighborhood area in Ethiopia. There was an occasion or two when I wasn't sure exactly what the customer’s issue was. I would then go back home and after a session of browsing online, I usually managed to come up with a possible solution. That worked out pretty well on my behalf. Looking back, I’m pretty sure the key to my rapid recognition was my cheap price and I fixed the malfunction without additional hassle. Therefore, customers were unlikely to face the same or related issue anytime soon. 

Why Develop Autodidactic Traits?

In conclusion, I would say that autodidacticism is an entrepreneur's secret weapon. 

But still, why should you - as an individual - consider putting an effort towards developing autodidactic traits? 

By developing autodidactic traits you become a proactive learner and develop problem-solving skills. Alongside that, you learn to manage your time, define and assess your goals, and take certain actions to become a better version of yourself. 

When it comes to self-teaching, it is challenging and frustrating at times but, during the learning process, you discover new abilities and traits within yourself. You never know what comes out of trying something new. By taking the initiative to learn something new, you might discover new abilities that might've remained dormant or undiscovered otherwise. 

If I had never joined the Ethiopian Robotics Training Session during the summer after sixth grade, I might have never discovered my passion for technology. I initially simply found robots interesting and thought it would be cool to build one myself. One thing led to another as I made it to the National Team and then continued to learn more on my own alongside mentoring newly interested students by hosting sessions. Before all that, I remember wanting to become a doctor or maybe a businesswoman (your typical middle school career goal).

How to Get Started

If you are truly interested in learning more about something, you can surely find a way to be resourceful. The fact that you might be too young or that you are not learning about that in school will no longer be the barrier stopping you. The accessibility of information and the resources to support that has improved immensely. Learn to seek out educational opportunities and utilize them.

To put it simply, autodidacticism is the process of self-learning a subject without a teacher or routinized guidance. When you first attempt to self-learn, it is easy for you to start procrastinating and eventually stop. Especially at times when you are frustrated by your progress. If you manage to keep going regardless, you will learn to go around the frustration of self-learning. 

That is why maintaining consistency is a crucial aspect in the process of self-teaching. A helpful approach would be to plan and create a timeline or schedule to help you keep on track. Additionally, get accustomed to frequent reading, consider having a “key takeaway” notebook for every book or chapter you read, and continue to build upon your self-discipline.

Everyone has different approaches when self-learning. Occasionally, I would lose my motivation as well. The most effective method I discovered was that I would leave a project unfinished and the next day I would find myself excited to finalize the project. When that project ended, I would find myself eager to build an alternate or a different version of it and that helped me get back into the loop. I would also challenge myself to learn something advanced to further modify my project. You don't need to know what works for you right now. You will definitely figure it out along the way.

Of course, keep in mind that autodidacticism is a curiosity-driven process. And as cliche as it sounds, find what genuinely interests you and gets you excited first! That way, handling procrastination, maintaining consistency, and staying disciplined won't be that much of a challenge.

Very often I would hear people in my community say, “I am very curious about this topic but they don't teach that in my high school and there aren't any good affordable classes in this area.” Okay…. but what happened to buying books, the local library, inquiring individuals with similar interests, and most importantly, the internet. Technology has advanced so much that you could learn anything virtually. The resource available online is so abundant that you could even access free online libraries and actual research papers.

Honestly, most of the things I know, I learned on the internet. The internet connection in my area wasn't the best. Thus, I leaned more towards offline resources that I would download beforehand. Instead of settling for the excuse that you are in a community with insufficient resources, disregard that and take advantage of the world of knowledge at your fingertips.

Reap the Benefits!

In the long haul, not only will you develop the above autodidactic traits, but you are also going to be more flexible to learn whatever and whenever you want to. This flexibility extends to transferring skillsets from one domain to another, further tuning skillset to the new challenge at hand, and the passion to always learn something new. Alongside that, you will also develop creativity and ease in acquiring new skills. This will unarguably give you a leg up in the highly volatile job market.

The most important gain from developing autodidactic traits is the understanding that knowledge is a continuous process! And through that, you not only develop professionally but also individually. As an entrepreneur, your business idea will only get you so far. It is the ability and desire to learn - even in failure - that will lead you to successful entrepreneurship. 

Of course, I have yet to learn, develop, and accomplish. Autodidactic traits have helped me better perform that expected in my community’s environment. I plan to keep exploring the various fields I am currently interested in and alongside that, openly try new things, and continue to be a better version of myself. 

Finally, it's not as complicated as you perceive it to be. Start with what you are already interested in and eventually explore new topics or subjects. There truly is no better time than now!

And honestly, if I could do all that, what makes you think you don't have it in you to do the same? Not even the failure rate of new startups discouraged you from pursuing entrepreneurship - think about it!