The underlying metaphor of so much of our thinking, though we rarely think of it as a metaphor, is our much celebrated idea of ‘the individual’ and, in business especially, ‘the self-made man or woman.’ But even a genius has to be sufficiently steeped in the culture that makes his or her invention possible. We will never understand the world of business, or for that matter any other human world, unless we begin with human interrelations and how people fit into cultures, organizations, and institutions.
One business hero of particular interest, especially in light of current corporate uncertainty, is the entrepreneur. The entrepreneur, according to the familiar John Wayne imagery (John Wayne was a legendary American cowboy hero of numerous epic Western films), is the lone frontiersman who single-handedly sets up an industry or perhaps establishes a whole new world. The myth is part and parcel of a much older American myth, the myth of individualism, the myth of the solitary hero. The entrepreneur simply brings John Wayne up-to-date and puts him firmly at the centre of the business world.
Loosely put, the world of business is made possible through an established set of practices, in which implicit rules, tacit knowledge, and collective values, needs, and understandings are the principal structure. It is not the individual motives and attributes or individual personalities that make the world of business. It may be true that behind every successful business is some entrepreneur, that is, one of those relatively rare individuals who is both creative and business-minded, who is willing to take considerable risks and work single-mindedly to turn a dream into a marketable reality. But corporations, once formed, do not operate on the same risk-prone, creative principles that motivated the originator of the business, and the corporate world could not possibly function if, as we so often hear, everyone were to aspire to be an entrepreneur.
Who is an entrepreneur and what is entrepreneurship? We probably think that the answer is obvious, but like the buzz-words and other fads being doled out in the quest for ‘intellectualisation of the domain of management,’ expressions like strategy, business-model and entrepreneurship are all pliant. Managers describe entrepreneurship with such terms as innovative, flexible, dynamic, risk taking, creative, and growth oriented. The popular press, on the other hand, often defines the term as starting and operating new ventures. For some, it refers to venture capital-backed start-ups and their kin; for others, to any small business. For some, corporate-entrepreneurship is a rallying cry while others consider it as an oxymoron. Some people think of entrepreneurship as a specific stage in an organization’s life cycle (i.e., start-up), a specific role for an individual (i.e., founder), or a constellation of personality attributes (e.g., predisposition for risk taking; preference for independence). People have different perceptions of an entrepreneur – an Inventor or discoverer or innovator or an upstart in business clamouring and struggling for survival of his start-up and dreaming for growth through scaling-up and scoping-up to a successful and stable enterprise or simply selling off the start-up at a premium.
The continuing corporate obsession with the almost mythological character called the entrepreneur is both unrealistic and, if taken seriously, counterproductive. Most people are not entrepreneurial. Cheapening the word by taking any initiative or innovation as entrepreneurship only fogs our understanding about what this phenomenon really is. Entrepreneurship is itself a social practice, and it consists, in part, of appreciating marginal or neglected aspects of more general social practices.
The history of the word “entrepreneurship” is fascinating. Without getting into those details and controversies, whether entrepreneurship is an inborn personality-trait or a learned behaviour, let us focus on the definition formulated by Professor Howard Stevenson, the Godfather of entrepreneurship studies. For Stevenson, entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled. Entrepreneurship is thus a distinctive approach to managing.
To simplify this understanding, it is useful to view managerial behaviour in terms of extremes. At one extreme is what might be called the promoter type of manager, who feels confident of his or her ability to seize opportunity. This manager expects surprises and expects not only to adjust to change but also to capitalise on it and make things happen. At the other extreme is the trustee type, who feels threatened by change and the unknown and whose inclination is to rely on the status quo. To the trustee type, predictability fosters effective management of existing resources while unpredictability endangers them. Most people, of course, fall somewhere between the extremes. But it’s safe to say that as managers move closer to the promoter end of the scale they become more entrepreneurial, and as they move toward the trustee end of the scale they become less so (or, perhaps, more administrative).
Relentless focus with a sense of urgency in pursuit of a break, the opportunity may entail:
- Pioneering a truly innovative product;
- Devising a new business model;
- Creating a better or cheaper version of an existing product; or
- Targeting an existing product to new sets of customers.
These opportunity types are not mutually exclusive. For example, a new venture might employ a new business model for an innovative product. Likewise, the list above is not the collectively exhaustive set of opportunities available to organizations.
Many profit improvement opportunities are not novel, and thus are not entrepreneurial, for example, raising the price of a product or, hiring more field-sales-reps once a firm has a scalable sales strategy.
Before there can be entrepreneurship there must be the potential for entrepreneurship, whether in a community seeking to develop or in a large organization seeking to innovate. Entrepreneurial potential, however, requires potential entrepreneurs. Opportunities are seized by those who are prepared to seize them. Entrepreneurial activity does not occur in a vacuum. Instead, it is deeply embedded in a cultural and social context, often amid a web of human networks that are both social and economic. A group, an organization or a community could be entrepreneurial without necessarily having any discernible entrepreneurs per se. The group, organization, or community need not be already rich in entrepreneurs, but should have the potential for increasing entrepreneurial activity. Such potential exists in economically self-renewing communities and organizations. Regardless of the existing level of entrepreneurial activity, such “seedbeds” establish fertile ground for potential entrepreneurs when and where they perceive a personally viable opportunity.
Any agenda for developing Entrepreneurship and birthing Entrepreneurs rests on the basic understanding of the following very minimum requirements:
- Identifying and establishing policies that increase both their perceived feasibility and their perceived desirability.
Creating social perceptions that entrepreneurial activity is both desirable and feasible.
Entrepreneurs prefer being seen as benefiting their communities, not as exploiting them.
- Providing a “nutrient-rich” environment for potential entrepreneurs.
Credible information, credible role models, along with emotional and psychological support as well as more tangible resources
Opportunities to attempt innovative things at relatively low risk, e.g., trying and failing can be OK.
Training interested people in critical competencies, raising their self-efficacy at key entrepreneurial tasks. We must also make resources both available and visible.
Increasing the diversity of possible opportunities
- For developing Intrapreneurship and Intrapreneurs (Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurs within the Corporate Ventures)
Increasing perceptions of positive outcomes for internal venturing, including intrinsic rewards such as a supportive culture
Providing opportunities for managers to run an independent project or any of the existing entrepreneurial vehicles for channelling innovation and entrepreneurship.
Innovation in most organizations is inherently “illegitimate” as it unavoidably disrupts the status quo. Downsizing typically leads to less innovation. Stability, not innovation alone, makes companies and their people secure and successful.
Educators can help to increase perceptions of feasibility of entrepreneurship and desirability, not just for prospective entrepreneurs but also for community and its institutional leaders.
Globalisation has erased the line between business and International Business. Opportunities, all over the Globe, can now be pursued from anywhere in the world. India is parroting the western practice of introducing Entrepreneurship related courses in business schools, launching skills-universities, promoting Incubation Centres (New Enterprise Development Centres) and financing Entrepreneurship Development Centres (Training). Surely, there can be no single-universal prescription to such large initiatives. There is no visible evidence however, if these efforts have even considered the very basics of segmenting the target beneficiaries or customers for such relentless efforts. To illustrate the point, there are no noticeable signs of entrepreneurship education providers segmenting their market using any of the simple Segmentation bases (there are many more) for targeting their efforts:
- Gender: women
- Age: youth/young age
- Classroom, on-line, interactive
- Medical services
STAGE OF ENTREPRENEUR/BUSINESS LIFECYCLE
- Pre-start-up decision entrepreneurs
- Nascent/intention entrepreneurs
- Start-up entrepreneurs
- Early growth: consolidation
- Growth entrepreneurs
- Corporate entrepreneurs
- Cashed out entrepreneurs
- Serial entrepreneurs
- Activities, interests, attitudes, beliefs, opinions
The intent is honourable. One does not know though, the depth and width of thought going into designing and executing the effort. Developing Entrepreneurship in India requires Entrepreneurs not Administrators.
First Published 07 Aug 21
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