Business

Young: Understanding the entrepreneur psyche

If this entrepreneurially-minded columnist were to choose a patron saint, I’d nominate the economist Joseph A. Schumpeter.

He was, history has told us, one of the most astute business thinkers who ever lived, often called the Father of Entrepreneurship.

In his classic book of 1911, The Theory Of Economic Development, Schumpeter broke with traditional thinking about business, enthroning the  entrepreneur as the source of all economic progress.

One of the hallmarks of his 1911 book is that he ventured into territory where no economist had traveled before— the psychology of entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs, he insisted, are not propelled solely by a wish to grow rich or by any “motivation of the hedonistic kind.” Instead, they feel the “will to conquer; the impulse to fight; to prove oneself superior to others; to succeed for the sake, not of the fruits of success, but success…itself.  There is the unmistakable joy of creating, of getting things done and simply exercising one’s energy and ingenuity to find solutions, not problems.”

Today, for the first time in our history a majority of the world’s people are living in countries with capitalist economies.

As a result, the entrepreneurial business environment is changing at a faster pace than any other time in history as well.

The process of globalization and the development of the Internet have transformed our world, creating new opportunities for entrepreneurs everywhere.

The choice today is whether a person will be on the giving or receiving end of creative destruction as Schumpeter liked to put it. Will you be the creator and developer of a new opportunity for the world to embrace or one whose venture is overtaken and destroyed by someone else, outworking you at home or abroad?

That’s always up to you. Increasingly, as entrepreneurs create more and more exciting new ventures for us to enjoy, they are also attracting vigorous scrutiny..

But there is a growing body of research from those who are continually trying to learn why entrepreneurs seem to have an intense flame burning inside.

To understand the entrepreneur, you first have to understand the psychology of a juvenile,  said Abraham Zaleznik, a Harvard professor. His remark is not to be taken facetiously as the hallmark of the entrepreneur is a drive for autonomy, for a freedom from restraints that speaks to an inner rebelliousness and a fearlessness in the face of risk.

But since there are countless paths to entrepreneurial bliss, there is no secret formula. It’s like trying to prescribe the secrets to a happy life. A typical entrepreneur is absolutely sure he or she cannot fail.

Because they believe so much in themselves, an  entrepreneur calculates their odds differently than outsiders might.

They seem to have a particular style of gathering required information, casting a wider net than do their less-enterprising peers. According to a recent research study, the entrepreneur naturally cultivates contacts, gathers inside sources, reads widely and listens well. Their curiosity is immense.

There are many other routes to an assertive independence.  For example, George Lucas, the moviemaker behind the Star Wars epics and founder of Lucasfilm, remembers producing backyard carnivals, which, he says, “were far more elaborate and profitable versions of a Kool-Aid stand.”

Some personality theorists cite such enterprise as an instance of forming one’s own identity by emulating successful adults.

Others also see such early initiative as a strong sense of competence, the belief that one can accomplish whatever one sets out to do.

Interestingly, Lucas says his refusal to give up his autonomy to Hollywood was a straightforward artistic decision. He wished to control his art form which led to his independence.

He is quoted as saying that Star Wars was something nobody understood—a movie with robots for the two leading characters? Hollywood producers thought he was nuts, but history now says he knew better.

So here is my message this week: It’s not enough for the budding entrepreneur to be a brilliant creator of perceived opportunities. They must also be a savvy politician, a charismatic speaker, an inspiring coach, a bit of a technical expert of sorts and  an efficient manager/administrator.

Not just anyone can take on that task; there is a unique set of psychological skills that the research tells us the entrepreneur must possess. Ultimately, my friends, that picture displays a person who combines merciless drive with talents so great that one is merely tempted to “cheer them on.”

Hence, the entrepreneurial pysche may prompt a sort of “splitting” if you will, the form of a mental split in how the entrepreneur sees the world, full of blocks and frustrations, and the other being an ideal of freedom.

Entrepreneurs are compelled to seek their freedom by building their own entrepreneurial journey and destination rather than being trapped in someone else’s.

In Canada, these people need to play a larger mythic role in our  culture, one that echoes the romance once projected onto the men and women of our once new Canadian frontier…and, for me, that’s just fine.

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