Disclosing New Worlds

17 09 2009

Literature Review:  A very profound meta-physical perspective on entrepreneurship has been developed by Spinosa, Flores and Dreyfus. In their book “Disclosing New Worlds” (1997), they analyse through what human forces our world develops and entrepreneurship is conceptualized as creating “disclosive spaces” and new practices leading to “new ways of life” and thereby allowing us to make sense of our lives.

They are focusing on the transformative force, the change-making agency of the entrepreneur. But they are less interested in analyzing the concrete rational practices but in understanding the force, the mindset, that drives the entrepreneur.

Their approach becomes more clear when we see how they set it in contrast with other approaches to entrepreneurship research for which they chose eminent representatives. First they review Peter Druckers understanding and teachings on entrepreneurship. They assess that he follows a traditional Cartesian model: Practice rests on theory. Hence an entrepreneur has to learn how to find and interpret the symptoms, so he can, just like a medical doctor, use his knowledge in order to implement the adequate practice. This is a very down-to-earth approach where entrepreneurship is understood to be a practice just like building a house. There are techniques one has to learn, e.g. to identify opportunities there are several methods Drucker describes, such as “seeing change and reacting to it”. With this method, fields of opportunity such as the growing market for elderly, or the consequences of rapidly increasing number of women in the work force, can be identified. Subsequently entrepreneurs can come up with businesses such as travel agencies for seniour citizens and designer brands for women business cloths. Spinosa, Flores and Dreyfus do not think this comes close to understanding the essence of the transformative creative change caused by entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs don’t necessarily find or identify needs, but are intuitively convinced almost obsessed with the belief in a practice that changes the way of life. One example that they bring forward is music styles. How could anybody foresee the success of the Beatles, or any new music style for that matter, when nobody had ever heard that kind of music.

Next they review the approach of Karl Vesper, who does not attempt to develop a theory of entrepreneurship, but favors the approach of delivering a multitude of cases describing and analyzing the experience of entrepreneurs in order to transmit the entrepreneurial spirit and approach to his readers. Here Spinosa, Flores and Dreyfus acknowledge the fact that Vesper identifies a mystery encompassing special circumstances and luck as components of successful entrepreneurship. Many entrepreneurs have a sort of a moment of epiphany when they encounter an opportunity worth their venture. In Spinosas assessment Vesper falls short in analyzing this aspect.

The third wide-spread approach to academic work on entrepreneurship is exemplified by George Gilder. His work describes three elemental virtues of an entrepreneur: giving, humility, and commitment. The first can be paraphrased and is illustrated in an “what you reap is what you sow” approach as described in Senges’ (2007) forth attractor for an entrepreneurial mindset (see below). Gilder’s second virtue – humility – is meant to describe how an entrepreneur is not a high flying megalomaniac who is up in the visionary clouds, but someone who is ready to do the hard work in trenches. Lastly an entrepreneur is 100% committed to his venture’s vision and has an intuitive believe in it. It is Gilder’s take on entrepreneurship Spinosa et al. favour the most.

The problem with all these approaches is that they are work post-hoc. They look at the practices and effects of successful entrepreneurs and then they deduce commonalities. For Spinosa et al. it is much more important to understand the philosophy, or the mindset behind the entrepreneur. It is the “making of history”, the push for a new way of life entrepreneurs are dedicated to, that interests them. They go on to describe how it is not knowledge, but a sensitivity for or to anomalies they find to be the distinct attribute of an entrepreneurial mindset. Entrepreneurs have a skill to reflect upon the world and develop an innovative perspective. And it is this innovative perspective that the entrepreneur pursues with dedication, aiming at the re-configuration of the way of life of his target constituency.

In conclusion they find that the composite entrepreneur they conceptualize has the following important skills: “(1) the entrepreneur innovates by holding on to some anomaly; (2) he brings the anomaly to bear on his task, (3) he is not clear about the relation of the anomaly to the rest of what he does, and once he has a sense of a world in which the anomaly is central, such as the world of work, he embodies, produces, and markets his new understanding; (4) to do this, he preserves and tests his new understanding – for instance, by leading workshops or other kinds of discussions – to see how it fits with the wider experience than his own; (5) […] he must take his new conception and embody it in a way that preserves its sensibleness and the strangeness of the change it produces, seeing to it that he is reconfiguring the way things happen in a particular domain; (6) finally, he focuses on all dimensions of entrepreneurial activity into a styled coordination with each other and brings them into tune with his embodied conception, so that the critical distinction involved in appreciating the product becomes manifest in the company’s way of life.” (Spinosa, et al. 1997, p. 50)

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