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Saturday, 31 March 2012

Can entrepreneurship be taught? A critical reflection upon Prof. Mullin's article "Can we teach entrepreneurship?"

Prof. Mullins’ article on the potential teaching of entrepreneurship denotes a constructive and systemic way of approaching the challenging notion of entrepreneurship. It is claimed that entrepreneurship is not just elaborating a business plan. Throughout the article the writer interacts with several key points concerning the mechanisms that could deliver a proactive toolkit for future entrepreneurs and suggests the use of a six – step model called entrepreneurial life cycle that would equip but not necessarily make a person become an entrepreneur.

Following the logical perceptions and the way that the elements of the entrepreneurial life cycle are being developed and analyzed, different ideas and approaches call for explanation and points of clarification.

The first point of discussion is the fact that the writer gives a clear picture of thehow and what but misses to express the whyi.e. the starting point of the actual need for teaching potential entrepreneurs and what would be the added value of the model. What gap does it fill? Does it develop an attitude of entrepreneurship? Does it encourage entrepreneurial spirit? “Those who know their why are the ones who lead. They are the ones who inspire” [Sinek 2009, pp 38 -40]. The importance of entrepreneurship especially within young people lacking experience and the fact that entrepreneurial activities are the backbone of world’s economy illustrate the initial quest of bringing entrepreneurship as a curriculum into schools, business academies, universities etc. Furthermore, though the is model presented and very well explained, it is clear that the focus is mostly on the technical aspects and the financial part, excluding the need for an entrepreneurial culture, the recognition of the potentiality for learning how to think entrepreneurial and most importantly the requirement and promotion of responsible entrepreneurship [Liikanen 2003, pp 5-6]

The second point of discussion is the use of the word teaching. Teaching is a process oriented way characterized by predictability. Entrepreneurship is not predictable at all. Entrepreneurship is highly related to innovation. Promoting and establishing entrepreneurial activities cannot be done by means of teachingbut by means of training and even better coaching both being a method oriented approach. It is true that the creation of an entrepreneurial mindset and culture cannot be transferred or inspired but the quality of tools; curriculum and resources can be learnt and equally developed through an ongoing learning by doing method. This approach appeals more into a society and a contemporary framework of the 21st century and would foster the entrepreneurial drive more effectively. The fact that learning from mistakes or even allowing people to make mistakes does constitute an experiential way of understanding the heterogeneous factors required to being an active, innovative, passionate and creative entrepreneur [Finkelstein & Sanford 2000]. This learning process can contribute to encouraging entrepreneurship; by fostering an entrepreneurial mindset in young people a vital tool to help entrepreneurs meet the challenges of a knowledge-based economy and society.

An important parameter that the model fails to recognize is the fact that not all entrepreneurs are the same, and are thus unlikely to respond to educational and training initiatives in the same way. It is not clear whether the model has the flexibility to adjust to different types or any classification of entrepreneurs (would-be or aspiring, lifestyle, growth oriented, and hero entrepreneurs) that would have different expectations and needs [OECD 2004 pp. 19-20].

Surprisingly, there seems to be little connection between the leading approaches to entrepreneurship education and economists’understanding of the entrepreneurial function [Klein & Bullock 2006, p. 10]. Further elaboration illustrates that there is a gap between the main theories and definitions of entrepreneurship and the teaching modeled approach presented in the article i.e. it is clear that the model tries to get particles pieces and bring together all the major theories of entrepreneurship but this accumulationlacks of target orientation.

Decoding the main theories/definitions of entrepreneurship and schools of thought would lead to the formation of a four –pillar platform [Klein & Bullock 2006, pp 11 -13] initial starting point for asking different questions that need different educational approaches and understanding.

· Managing existing resources
· Acquiring new resources
· Identifying existing opportunities and creating new ones
· Bearing uncertainty, exercising alertness, fostering technological or organizational innovation  and adjusting to change
The model tries to cover step by step all the above mentioned pillars under a managerial prism but seems to be lacking a broader view of entrepreneurship as a creative activity i.e. not only finding opportunities but creating new ones [Sarasvathy 2008]. The nature of entrepreneurial personality mindset is an innate ability and cannot be learnt.

A key point and an essential challenge that is it not elaborated in the article is the who; and by that it is explained as the one that would be more appropriate into transferring and facilitating the use of knowledge to potential entrepreneurs. Different approaches and mixtures of both business oriented professionals and members of the academia consist the perfect combination of theoretical and practical learning and development throughout continuous interaction.

Teaching a body of knowledge that focuses on the practical problems and presuming that the vast majority of potential entrepreneurs are opportunity-driven and achievement-oriented, smart and hardworking, then what is given to them are some tools and techniques to improve their odds of success [Stevenson 2002, p. 3]. This is true but monolithic. The inherent charisma, the vision and motivation are extremely difficult to be facilitated and transferred.

Another important element that the model fails to cover is the preparation of potential entrepreneurs from an educational psychology perspective. Mapping the individual characteristics of a person wishing to become entrepreneur collaborates with the learning in action model that emphasizes into different learning outcomes and experiences [Bloom 1956, p. 150]. Neisser defined cognition as the process that allows sensory inputs to be transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, retrieved and used [Neisser 1967]. The cognitive character and psychological mirror of an entrepreneur cater for valuable data that are necessary in the learning approach to be followed in the business curricula, i.e. providing both skills and increased confidence [Krueger 2007]. Stepping out the comfort zone and trying to see things from a different angle is not a question only of how but a question of cognitive approach, want, internal incentive and insight.

Elaborating a little further into the cognitive character of entrepreneurship it is inevitable to realize another very important element that fits into the nature of the entrepreneurial life cycle, but it is not there,and that is reflection. Taking time to think of what happened, allowing knowledge and experience to settle down by means of understanding and evaluating every step taken, leads to reflective and deep learning i.e. grasping and synthesizing information for valuable and long term –meaning [Schön 1983]

The lack of why is denoted in the role of education and training into building an entrepreneurial society. And here is an additional element that the model fails to perceive; culture. Culture is an important determinant of career preferences and helps shape attitudes to risk-taking and reward. Significant differences in entrepreneurial attitudes can exist among countries and these cultural characteristics have an impact on entrepreneurial activity [OECD 2004 p. 23]. Cultivating an entrepreneurial culture and fostering entrepreneurship values and spirit for building an entrepreneurial society is the key role of lifelong entrepreneurial learning.

It is true that the tools for transforming an idea into a business plan can definitely be delivered to anyone interested in becoming an entrepreneur but the specific innovation and added value that the entrepreneur creates cannot be transferred under any model or educational approach [Koppl 2003]. The purpose of any educational and training model should be to achieve the highest likelihood of entrepreneurial activity.

Entrepreneurship is about innovation, inspiration, taking risks, being creative and crafting leadership skills and profiles. Entrepreneurship is about choosing a life path not a career [Neck & Greene 2011, p. 56]. The combination of tools, charisma, principles and psychological knowledge is definitely the key to success, development and growth. But ultimately entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, a way of understanding [Simon 1996] and appreciating life, a need to go a step further by using a multi-disciplinary approach and of course a challenge that grows esoterically for creating social, sustainable and useful value from limited and uncertain resources.

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European Commission. Directorate - General for Enterprise. Responsible entrepreneurship - A collection of good practice cases among small and medium-sized enterprises across Europe. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2003, pp 5 -6

Finkelstein, S. and Sanford, S. H. 2000. Learning from Corporate Mistakes: the Rise and fall of Iridium. Organizational Dynamics, 29 (2):138-148

Klein G. Peter & Bullock Bruce J. Can entrepreneurship be taught? Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, 16th February 2006, pp. 10 – 13

Koppl R. Introduction to the Volume: In R. Koppl and M. Minniti, eds. Austrian Economics and Entrepreneurial Studies. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2003.

Krueger N. R. What lies beneath? The Experiential Essence of Entrepreneurial Thinking. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 2007, 31 (1) pp. 123 - 138.

Neck M. Heidi, Greene G. Patricia. Entrepreneurship Education: Known Worlds and New Frontiers. Journal of Small Business Management 2011 49 (1), pp. 55-70

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OECD.2ndOECD Conference of Ministers Responsible for Small and Medium – Sized Enterprises (SMEs). Promoting Entrepreneurship and Innovative SMEs in a Global Economy: towards a more responsible and Inclusive Globalization. Istanbul, Turkey 3-5 June 2004, pp. 19-20

Sarasvathy S.D. Effectuation: Elements of Entrepreneurial Expertise. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2008.

Schön D. The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books. 1983.

Simon H.A. The Sciences of the Artificial. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 1996.

Sinek Simon.Start with Why. How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin USA, 2009, pp. 38 – 40

Stevenson H.H, R. Hamermesh, P.W. Marshall and M.J. Roberts: Entrepreneurship: It can be Taught. HBS New Business (Winter 2002)

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