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A new concept of entrepreneurship

By Niceto Poblador
First Posted 14:12:00 11/20/2008

Filed Under: Economy and Business and Finance

ENTREPRENEURSHIP HAS long been regarded as an essential ingredient of economic development, especially in emerging markets. I fully agree. This observation is especially true in today?s innovation-driven ?new economy.?

But I have some misgivings about certain commonly held views regarding entrepreneurship and by extension, entrepreneurship development.

My question is: What form should entrepreneurship take in today?s increasingly complex, fast-paced and highly interconnected knowledge world?

Entrepreneurs are traditionally assumed to possess certain distinguishing personal attributes. In his speech at the Annual MAP International CEO Conference held in Makati on Oct. 7, 2008, Fred Uytengsu, president and CEO of Alaska Milk, and Filipino Entrepreneur of the Year in 2006, listed five characteristics of entrepreneurial individuals: Vision, innovativeness, perseverance, passion, and focus.

Another frequently mentioned common characteristic of entrepreneurs is their willingness to take reasonable risks. In his introduction to ?Extraordinary Stories for Aspiring Leaders,? a volume published by the Management Association of the Philippines in 2007, Vic Magdaraog adds two other traits that set entrepreneurial individuals apart from others: unwavering integrity and big egos.

Laudable traits

While all of these are laudable traits in any individual, they do have their downside. Being passionate about a vision and pursuing a goal with single-minded determination might for instance divert a would-be entrepreneur?s attention from what?s going on outside their immediate fields of vision. This drawback is particularly serious in a world characterized by relentless and unpredictable change, where even the most creative and innovative ideas have very short life spans and alternative opportunities come and go with alarming frequency. Also, if not handled ?correctly,? big egos can backfire by turning off potentially innovative and productive individuals in the same work setting.

Moreover, while these are truly admirable traits, seldom, if at all, are they found in a single individual. To combine the required complementary traits together into a single production unit, it is necessary to bring several individuals together. This leads us to another question: Is entrepreneurship an individual initiative or a group effort?

The prevailing view seems to apply the term ?entrepreneurial? to individuals rather than to groups of individuals that comprise a team or an organization.

This is where I part ways with conventional wisdom.

The key point I want to stress is that in today?s knowledge-driven world, individual entrepreneurial skills have ceased to be the important determinants of business success that they used to be under more placid circumstances. In today?s world, organizational characteristics have assumed far greater importance.

In the knowledge economy, value is the outcome of the collaborative effort of networked individuals. Rarely is it the result of the initiative of a single person. To use a metaphor from Formula One racing, Lewis Hamilton?s feat on the track is less the result of his proven driving skills than they are of the collective effort of technical geniuses at McLaren and the skillful task execution at the pit stops.

Iconic leader

Arguably the most iconic innovator of all times is Steve Jobs, with whom we associate such innovative products as Apple II, the iPod, the iPhone, The Incredibles, and many more geeky products. The truth of the matter is that, for all the glitzy events marked by speeches and photo ops at one product launch after the other, Steve Jobs did not pull off these feats single-handedly. He was part of a team of highly creative individuals working together in an organizational environment conducive to knowledge sharing. By the same token, it was neither Larry Page nor Sergey Brin but the Google organization that gave us the world?s most widely used search engine, Google Earth, Google Map and many more cool web applications.

It is common knowledge that the success rate of entrepreneurial endeavors in the Philippines is very low. One possible reason, to quote DOST?s Fortunato Dela Pea, is that ?only 15 percent of our entrepreneurs use innovative technology. We are too good at copying and adapting. We still have to do a lot to develop a culture of innovation.?

Culture, of course, is an organizational attribute, not an individual trait. To my mind, such a culture is the main factor behind the success of such knowledge organizations as Genentech, P&G, Google, and PLDT. These organizations amply demonstrate that in the knowledge-driven world, value is created through continuous learning, adaptation and innovation.

Even when successful, the innovation process does not end with one great product or process. Entrepreneurship is a continuing process. It requires organization culture and process that can sustain continuous innovation.

Coming up with a bright idea, a piece of creative work, or a practical gizmo is one thing. Developing a feasible ?value proposition? and successfully bringing this to market is quite another. These steps require yet another set of skills and capabilities. All the more is networking necessary.

The current buzz word is ?collaborative entrepreneurship? (CE), a term which I think captures my major point, that entrepreneurship today involves not one but a large number of networked individuals and organizations willing to share their complementary resources. CEs are communities of networked individuals who share an open culture, and through whose interaction with one another (often in social networks) enable them to continue to come up with innovative and creative ideas.


These developments have important implications on entrepreneurship development which I think should now lay greater emphasis on enhancing organizational competencies and the required support systems, rather than on developing the usual individual skills, values and attitudes.

The author is an active academic and a knowledge management consultant. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph. For previous articles, please visit map.org.ph

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