Entrepreneurship is for everyone

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I stand corrected. That’s one of the luxuries I have as a university professor. In my profession, we view it as virtuous to be wrong and to admit it.

I admit that I was wrong.

I do so not to garner any accolades, but rather to give myself the opportunity to advocate for a new perspective on entrepreneurship.

In past writings I have advocated that entrepreneurship is not for everyone. This perspective was persuasively put forward in a book titled “The Illusions of Entrepreneurship” by scholar Scott Shane.

The main thesis of that book was that we often waste public money by encouraging everyone to be an entrepreneur, even those who have bad ideas and little chance for success. I have personally witnessed painful failed efforts at becoming an entrepreneur among my students, friends and colleagues. As a result, I decided long ago to be exceedingly careful about encouraging others into the entrepreneurial lifestyle.

I now believe, and advocate, that not only can everyone be an entrepreneur, everyone should be.

New studies about what entrepreneurship is have changed my view. This new perspective conceives entrepreneurship not as an academic discipline or singular “thing” that some people have and some people don’t. Rather, it conceives entrepreneurship as a social force — a force with the potential to transform society.

To gain a deeper appreciation of what is meant by “social force” it is helpful to draw an analogy.

During the Renaissance, a movement known as the “scientific method” revolutionized human inquiry and led to a massive surge in technological innovation. The advent of the scientific method as a way to investigate and understand the natural world unleashed creativity and innovation and raised the baseline of wealth. Today, every schoolchild learns the scientific method. Of course, only a few of us become experts and go on to careers in science. But we all learn the method, and we all apply it more or less expertly in our day to day attempts to make sense of the world.

Scholars today are contemplating that perhaps entrepreneurship is a social force and that something like the “entrepreneurial method” should be taught to every schoolchild.

Although details of the “entrepreneurial method” haven’t been worked out completely, we can imagine some of its components.

For example, it’s possible that all schoolchildren can be taught to evaluate their talents compared with their peers’. This skill enables one to develop a deeper understanding of one’s unique talents, and which of those may be leveraged later in life for financial gain.

In the world of entrepreneurship it is imperative to differentiate, stand out and deliver unique value in order to create a sustainable enterprise. Notice how different this hard-headed, realistic approach to talent evaluation is compared with our “modern” predilection to heap praise on all children equally, give everyone the same awards, and painstakingly refuse to distinguish talent from a lack of talent.

It may seem callous to think that schoolchildren would begin to make distinctions like this, but it is done every day in the objective world of markets and customers.

To make this point clearer, imagine if we allowed schoolchildren to believe false theories about the natural world. Any school that did so should be shut down for educational malpractice. Our trust in the efficacy of the scientific method precludes us from allowing children to be taught patently ludicrous belief systems. Why should we not be as discerning about the belief systems they develop about their role in the economic world?

Another component of the entrepreneurial method might be value creation.

Harvard scholar Howard Gardner has written extensively about the need to prepare students to create value. Nothing happens in business until a sale is made, as any practicing entrepreneur will tell you. And no sale is made until value is delivered. The sooner one is aware of the need to create value the sooner one can begin to navigate effectively through our market based economy.

And so, I stand corrected. Entrepreneurship is for everyone.

Of course, most of us should not quit our day jobs, but we certainly can find ways to leverage our unique talents to create value for others beyond the workplace.

Imagine how much latent talent is lying dormant because of a lack of awareness of the entrepreneurial method. Imagine if this talent were unleashed and focused on value creation.

Entrepreneurship is a social force, and the more practitioners there are, the more powerful the force becomes.

Duening is director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Business and Administration at UCCS. He can be reached at tduening@uccs.edu.