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Interesting article from the Economist “Mind over matter”.
MANAGEMENT gurus have chewed over the topic endlessly: is a flair for entrepreneurship something that you are born with, or something that can be taught? In a break with those gurus’ traditions, a group of economists and researchers from the World Bank, the National University of Singapore and Leuphana University in Germany decided that rather than simply cook up a pet theory of their own, they would conduct a controlled experiment.
Moreover, instead of choosing subjects from the boardrooms of powerful corporations or among the latest crop of young entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, Francisco Campos and his fellow researchers chose to monitor 1,500 people running small businesses in Togo in West Africa. These are not the sorts of business owners who give TED talks or negotiate billion-dollar mergers. The typical firm had three employees and profits of 94,512 CFA francs ($173) a month. Only about a third kept books, and less than one in 20 had a written budget.
Studying lots of small businesses instead of a few big ones allowed the academics to conduct a randomised controlled trial. Usually associated with medical research, these are considered one of the most convincing types of evidence. Participants (in this case firms) are assigned, at random, either to receive “treatment” (in this case, two different sorts of training) or to the control arm, which receives nothing. Recruit enough participants for good and bad luck to even out across the sample, and you can tell, with high confidence, which method—if any—is superior.
As they report in Science, the researchers split the businesses into three groups of 500. One group served as the control. Another received a conventional business training in subjects such as accounting and financial management, marketing and human resources. They were also given tips on how to formalise a business. The syllabus came from a course called Business Edge, developed by the International Finance Corporation.