Judging by the daily pronouncements of international economic foundations, governments and think tanks everywhere, the world is looking to entrepreneurs to cure all our ills – and especially to get us out of the rut of a recession. Implicit to this rallying cry is the assumption that we know what an entrepreneur is, and that we understand the essence of what makes a good one.
If you take to the internet in search of enlightenment on this point, you will be inundated with millions of confusingly contradictory references. Here are three randomly selected examples:
A: Entrepreneurs are ambitious, confident, passionate, see the bigger picture, people persons, risk-takers, unafraid of failure, opportunity-spotters, financial thinkers, action- oriented.
B: Entrepreneurs defy characterisation; money means little to them, they’re fanatic about their mission, they have modest beginnings. Not iconic leaders, they are impatient and unconventional but don’t take risks for the sake of taking risks.
C: The sole differentiator between those who run their own businesses and those who do not is access to start up capital.
Interesting maybe, but far from consensual. ‘Entrepreneur’ is clearly a portmanteau word; broad and suggestive rather than in any way definitive. Its implied dynamism and energy, combined with a chameleon-like capacity to accommodate any viewpoint, make it ideal as a rallying cry and it seems to have been widely hijacked for such purposes. What the rallying cry is really saying is “we need more business success urgently – lots more”, and you can’t really argue with that.
The one thing that everyone agrees on is that entrepreneurialism is all about ‘enterprise’ and that, of course, may take a myriad of forms. Anyone inspired to get actively involved at the sharp end of this crusade is going to need more than vague generalisations. In order to operationalise, to actually do something, you need certainty rather than theories, and captivating slogans.
One common assumption about entrepreneurs is that they are risk-loving lone wolves operating without any of the securities of corporate life. It seems paradoxical, therefore, that big corporates and the public sector are actively urged towards greater entrepreneurial activity.
This contradiction highlights an essential first distinction to be made in moving from rallying cry to operational reality. There is clearly an important difference between enterprise within an established organisation, with its structures, culture and pension scheme, and enterprise associated with a start up situation with no safety nets or parachutes. An individual who succeeds in one may indeed be a disaster in the other.
In 1978, Gifford and Elizabeth Pinchot coined the term ‘intrapreneur’ to describe the former and this differentiation is important in clarifying the challenges involved in each and the talents likely to be important to success. Risk taking, decision making, dealing with people, internal politics and managing change all have very different meanings and implications in these two situations.
The second requirement is to focus on what ‘successful enterprise’ means within a particular industry or situation, what the challenges are and what talents and competencies might be required to deal with them. Different personality characteristics may be an asset, a limitation or a liability in one situation but play out very differently in another, and success will depend on getting the priorities right.
Using this ‘tailored’ approach, PCL recently worked on a national government project with the objective of identifying individuals with enterprise-related profiles. The agreed project blueprint differentiated between entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, prioritising different competencies and personality characteristics for each.
The PROFILE: MATCH personality questionnaire was then configured to focus on eight specific competencies and associated personality traits for two distinctly different types of entrepreneurial leadership:
An intrapreneur – where there is capability for driving enterprise initiatives within an organisation.
An entrepreneur – where strengths are best served working for themselves.
The results are being used to steer project participants to appropriate training and higher education. The eventual outcomes in terms of entrepreneurial success will not be known for some time, but we are very confident that they will enter that training with greater self- awareness and a clearer grasp of their talents and personal challenges.
Originally published in March 2013. To view the original article, please click here.