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LOST VOICES: LOCATING THE ENTREPRENEURIAL MINDSET WITHIN SOUTH AFRICA. A paper presented to the Entrepreneurship Development Conference 2008 “Youth Entrepreneurship for 2010 and Beyond: Unlocking, Unleashing, Empowering” Cape Town International Convention Centre 1 to 4 July 2008

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lost voices locating the entrepreneurial mindset within south africa
  • A paper presented to the Entrepreneurship Development Conference 2008
  • “Youth Entrepreneurship for 2010 and Beyond: Unlocking, Unleashing, Empowering”
  • Cape Town International Convention Centre
  • 1 to 4 July 2008

David Priilaid

School of Management Studies

University of Cape Town, South Africa

1 introduction


This paper fleshes out some of the central ideas taught on the Postgraduate Diploma in Enterprise Management at UCT.

Situated within the School of Management Studies, the key 4th year level course is called Entrepreneurial Strategies (BUS4078F).

Inter-alia, the lectures delivered are aimed at understanding the global imperative for entrepreneurship, and what generally inhibits the development of this class of enterprise.

My thesis challenges orthodox thinking that suggests entrepreneurship is mostly about spreadsheets and cash flow projections.

On the contrary I believe entrepreneurs are, in the best sense, change-agents, artists, creators, and visionaries.

These key aspects are presented here, though there are others.

Put together you have what constitutes being an entrepreneur. The technical details and planning requisite of the act of entrepreneurship follows thereafter, but not before

structure of paper


Section 2 briefly outlines a South African context.

Section 3 describes 4 aspects of the proposed entrepreneurial mindset.

Section 4 concludes the paper presentation.

2 a south african context


In The World is Flat (2005) Freidman presents an argument outlining the global imperative for entrepreneurship.

In stark contrast to this urgent imperative, the last Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report (2006) stated that South Africa has one of the lowest rates of entrepreneurship world wide.

Acting as an indicator known as the Total Early-stage Entrepreneurial Activity or TEA, the global average rate (per 100) adults engaged in business start-ups is 9.43% For countries like South Africa that are deemed “developing” this average increases to 14.8%

By way of comparison, South Africa’s rate is a mere5.29%. WHY??

The GEM (2006) largely attributes this to a weak entrepreneurial mindset.

Cited in GEM, factors underpinning this mindset include:

an education system that does not encourage entrepreneurship as a career – it is seen as something you do when you cannot find a job or do not have a profession,

South Africa’s harsh attitude toward failure,

the non-existence of an entrepreneurial “paradigm” (business & state seen as job providers), and

a general lack of managerial competence and entrepreneurial flair amongst start-up initiators.

2 south african context cont 2


It is true that these factors are all valid - but only to some extent.

The issues run deeper, are fundamentallyexistential in nature, and speak of understanding what is takes to do what you truly love and what you truly want to be; how, in the pursuit of happiness we are sometimes required to guts out the hard times, to face down the pain of adversity and possibly failure and then to start again.

These psychological issues are all crucial constituents of this mindset-construct and yet are scarcely touched upon in the prevailing literature, which, appears to hold that the discipline is about technique, about spreadsheets, cash-flows, business plans and action charts.

A broad review of most of the currently available text-books seems to corroborate this view and in most cases the chapters roll out in a seemingly predictive and mechanical order.

2 south african context cont3


Little relevant material available in local bookshops and libraries.

Therefore those seeking to discover more and teach this mindset are doomed to miss the mark.

If inquiry placed within realm of artistic endeavour, opening the interpretational lens to see entrepreneurshipas a creative endeavourdriven by visionaries and change-agents, then, perhaps, the possibilities of understanding this restless mindset can occur.

This paper presents a brief over-view of what I believe constitutes this broader creative mindset.

When applied to business, it is this creative mindset which provokes potential and unleashes a genuine authentic pursuit for self-expression and, along the way, wealth generation.

3 the creative mindset


Space constraints enable the presentation of only four of these components:

rediscovering the inner child,


the power of the outsider, and

the artistic imagination.

Some others, not covered here include:

perspective, passion, emotional resilience, vision, and implementing in still water.

3a rediscovering the inner child


  • LOST VOICES: ages 23 then backwards: 6, 12, 17: no one can sing!
  • The inner child sings: “This kind of (uninhibited) thinking prevails until about the age of ten (yet) through the pain and confusion of adolescence, the magical thinking of the child suffers some rough wear”. Hollis (1993, 21),
  • And so over time, of course, this inner child is silenced, shamed, ridiculed and chasedaway.
  • Why, as adults, so many of us lackself-belief, lack a view that says that we are ok – that our voices are great and we actually love singing!
  • This is a topic of which no one speaks – and certainly is not found within conventional textbooks on entrepreneurship.
  • And yet it is fundamentalto understanding why so many of us are mute.
  • The silent voice is the source of much emotional pain, and begs some form of redress and ultimate “re-integration” if we are to capture the true entrepreneurial spirit.
3a cont rediscovering the inner child


Now, as I told you before, there were other nights in which he had dreamed of the sea. But those were long ago and nearly forgotten.

Even still, the ocean that filled his dreams this night was so beautiful and clear, so vast and deep, it was as if he were seeing it for the very first time.

The sunlight glittered on its surface, and as he dived, the waters all around him shone like an emerald.

If he swam quite deep, it turned to jade, cool and dark and mysterious. But he was never frightened, not at all.

For I must tell you that in all his dreams of the sea, he had never before found himself in the company of other sea-lions. This night there were many, round about him, diving and turning, spinning and twirling. They were playing. Oh how he hated to be woken from that wonderful dream.

The tears running down his face were the first wet thing he had felt I three weeks. But he did not pause even to wipe them away; he did not pause, in fact, for anything at all. He set his face to the east, and began to walk as best as a sea lion can.

“Where are you going?” asked the tortoise.

“I am going to find the sea”.

(The Journey of Desire, John Eldridge, 2000, 162).

3b proactivity


There is little doubt that proactivity is one of the crucial elements that make up the entrepreneurial mindset. Covey (1993) places this as the first of his seven habits of highly effective people.

Proactivity precedes action itself. It is a foreshadowing of action, a posture of intent, the signature of those who step out and seek out opportunities rather than those who react instinctively to incoming traffic.

“I can make a difference here” – versus – “There’s nothing I can do”

Special family get-together = nightmare.

Between the emotion and the response falls the shadow.

T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1970, 92)

The shadow: genetic, emotional, social.

(1) Genetic: our DNA which carries the typical flight-or-fight response as opposed to the being able to make a clear and different decision other than lashing out or fleeing,

(2) Emotional: our psychic inheritance which is usually the product of domestic pathologies rooted in our formative years (divorce, alcoholism, absent fathers, etc) and

(3) Social: the damage inflicted by society in general. In South Africa one need look no further than the damage wrought by the apartheid ideology.

3c the power of the outsider


USA ethnic outsiders: (Kerr, 2006) are key drivers in the formation of US-based innovation.

Make up roughly 10% of the US working population, they constitute roughly 25% of those people working within field of technology and 50% of all PhDs conferred.

Similar patterns with respect to US-based Nobel prize-winners, cited authors and patent registrations.

Some way explained by the progressive policy-climate but the fact that these talented people are outsiders is a story in itself.

The gay community is a case in point. Vilified and stigmatized: again, the weight of their contribution far outweighs their demographic representation. (See arts especially) Luminaries here include: Michelangelo, Oscar Wilde, Yves Saint Laurent, Nick Drake, Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Patrick White, David Hockney and Howard Hodgkin.

Other outsiders include Howard Carter (the archaeologist), Charles Dickens and Cormac McCarthy (novelists), and Madonna and Neil Young (recording-artists).

Why is the outsider so importantas the agent-of-change, the agent-of-insight?

Why is the world so vested in normality, in the status-quo that seeks convergence & compliance?

3d the artistic imagination


Key ideas common to both artist and entrepreneur is the discipline of observation.

Van Gogh painted his sunflowers.

Monet and his haystacks

Cezanne, (outcast of note) painted endless same-scenes of apples and mountains.

German poet Rilke wrote The Jaguar after a week’s scrutiny in the Paris Zoo.

Real insightmust begrounded in the artistic discipline.

The link to entrepreneurship is not a long jump-off from there.

Popular Music in the Early 1950’ties:

Black musicians of the South like Robert Johnson, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino blues-based musical roots of their forbears - were authentic - dabbled with technique

Progressive DJs & early independent recording studios took music across the race-divide to the repressed mainstream of white-teenage America.

Innovation followed innovation; styles were borrowed, recombined and repackaged.

White artists like Elvis Presley and Jerry-Lee Lewis became new mediums.

Followed within a decade by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and others.

Within 15 years a new movement was birthed: Rock-and-roll.

Its hall-marks, artistic innovation and self-expression,

Both key currencies within the entrepreneurial lexicon.

3d cont the artistic imagination


“Over the next few weeks I listened to it repeatedly, cut after cut, one song after another, sitting staring at the record player. Whenever I did it felt like a ghost had come into the room, a fearsome apparition. The songs were layered with a startling economy of lines. (Robert) Johnson masked the presence of more than twenty men. I was fixated on every song and wondered how Johnson did it. Song writing was for him some highly sophisticated business. Everything was up for transition and I was standing in the gateway. Soon I’d step in heavy loaded, fully alive and revved up. Not quite yet, though.”

Bob Dylan, 2005, 283-4 & 288.

4 conclusion


Fostering entrepreneurship in South Africa has been underminedby a misplaced fixation on external method rather a balanced approach.

A better option would be to grapple too with an appreciation of the internal psycho-dynamic that drives the will-to-create.

We need to get the sequence right!!!

No amount of capital and business-planning-templates will unlock innovation let alone the ability to sing.

If we want to tackle the problem of economic growth we needalso to focus on normative entrepreneurship.

Put differently, this is merely the artistic drive within each of us that struggles so to be unlocked and freed.

The creative mindset as presented through the lens of these four components is a heuristic that might do this.

  • Boyd, W. (2001) “Howard Hodgkin” in Writers on Artists. Wright, K (Ed), DK Publishes, New York.
  • Covey, S, R. (1993) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster Ltd, London.
  • Dylan, B. (2005), Chronicles, Volume One, Simon & Schuster Ltd, London.
  • Eldredge, J. (2000) The Journey of Desire, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville.
  • Eliot, T.S. (1970) Collected Poems 1909-1962, Faber and Faber, London.
  • Friedman, T. (2005) The World is Flat, Allen Lane, London.
  • Hollis, J. (1993) The Middle Passage: from Misery to Meaning in Midlife. Inner City Books, Toronto.
  • Kerr, W. R. (2006) “Ethnic Scientific Communities and International Technology Diffusion” Harvard Business School Working Paper 06-022.
  • Maas, G. and Herrington, M. (2006) Global Entrepreneurship Monitor – South African Report, The UCT Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
  • Porras, J., Emery, S. and Thompson, M. (2007) Success Built to Last – Creating a Life that Matters, Wharton School Publishing, Glasgow.