Entrepreneurs: Born or Made? Laura Wilson-Edwardes Senior Lecturer, Entrepreneurship Portsmouth Business School firstname.lastname@example.org Hot Topic Presentation Feb 2007
The Word “Entrepreneur” The problem with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur. George W Bush, 2002 The problem with the word entrepreneur is that it is an old French term that has a patchy and misunderstood etymology in English Laura Wilson-Edwardes, 2003
Entrepreneurial Meanings • My research posits that we attach latent meanings to the word entrepreneur that have no basis in reality • Risk-taking in particular has been shown time after time not to have an association with successful entrepreneurship • Instead, good entrepreneurs are adept at managing and mediating the risks involved • Likewise, gambling, showmanship, or being a champion or leader in society are not pre-requisites for entrepreneurial success, but our media tend to combine these traits into a so-called “entrepreneurial personality”.
Entrepreneurs, Our Heroes? • There is a universal tale of the lowly born or displaced hero, often endowed with special talents, who embarks on a moral quest, encountering mentors and fighting foes, to return with a prize or an elixir to empower us all • From Virgil, via the Arthurian legends and the quest for the holy grail, to Tolkein’s trilogy and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, this is a powerful format that has strong “psychological truth” • Many of us argue that entrepreneurs in modern society are increasingly cast within this hero myth paradigm
Entrepreneurial hero examples • Richard Branson serially develops moral quests – the kids should hear the music, the grown ups should travel in airlines more comfortably– and recently, appears to be offering the elixir of life itself via the storage of stem cells. He famously fought the giant BA (although Freddie Laker had been there before). • Anita Roddick was the child of a single mum. Her original moral quest was to put face cream into small pots, which she turned into a moral quest to ban cosmetic testing on animals. Along the way, she teamed up with a chemist mentor and fought the multinational beauty “giants”. She is now on a new moral quest to publicize the dangers of Hepatitis C.
An entrepreneurial “gene”? • Recent research at Imperial has now suggested the existence of an entrepreneurial gene • The research was based on “twin studies” which have been heavily critiqued…Millions of us in the UK carry the so-called alcoholic gene, but it is circumstances (stress, depression, crisis, poverty, violent childhood experiences, curtailed education, culture, take your pick!) that drive or switch on alcoholism. It’s likely to be no different for entrepreneurship. • This type of research, attributing subsequent behaviours to genetics, is extremely dangerous for individuals and for society… • Could you end up being tested by your bank manager before they will let you have a business loan? Does Business Link have any rights to examine your DNA?
So what’s the problem? • What’s wrong with having heroes with big personalities who may indeed have some genetic disposition (aka special powers)? • If policy makers, business link advisors, mentors, educators and indeed students fall for this false narrative, there are real dangers that we only seek to support and continue to support those whose stories can be easily recast in this familiar and comforting way • Students and others in society may screen themselves out of business ownership if they cannot easily identify themselves with this mythical, endowed hero • And could this gendered myth be the reason too perhaps for our lack of female entrepreneurial heroes?
And what’s the verdict? • Can we “make” entrepreneurs through education and not stories? • At PBS, we can and do teach: • Creativity • Opportunity recognition • Innovation management • Business start up, development and growth issues • Intrapreneurship • Small business management, and many more issues directly relevant to enterprise and entrepreneurship • While we can teach with passion and commitment, we cannot teach or inculcate the necessary drive, ambition or desire. • In contrast to the American Dream, the UK dream appears to be owning a 3-Bed Semi or appearing on reality TV. And that is an issue for our whole society.
Further Reading • From a Jungian psychology perspective, this 20th Century seminal work on heroes by Joseph Campbell, (1949), The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is available as a commemorative edition, 2004, from Bollingen Books • A more accessible text is Robert Segal (ed), (2000), Hero Myths: A Reader, Blackwell • For some comments on the derivations, media and interpretations of entrepreneurs see Galloway, L. and Wilson, L. (2003) 'The Use and Abuse of the Entrepreneur', Heriot Watt University, Working Paper Series, ISSN 1741-9255. Available at: www.sml.hw.ac.uk/discussion/DP2003-M03.htm • Read the BBC news story about the entrepreneurial gene: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/5049288.stm