A few decades ago, early in my tenure as a professor at Harvard Business School, I coined this definition of entrepreneurship: The pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you control. Since then, along with colleagues at HBS, students, and my co-author of this piece, thought leader Eric Sinoway, I’ve continued to reflect a lot about what it means to be an entrepreneur, to think entrepreneurially — and to what end.
One thing that’s increasingly become clear: Most people misunderstand entrepreneurship — and Entrepreneurial Thinking — in fundamental ways.
Most people assume Entrepreneurial Thinking is just for business. It’s not. By the above definition, we’re all the entrepreneurs of our lives and careers — seeking the resources we need to pursue opportunities matching our passions and strengths with the needs of the world.
Harvard’s Howard Stevenson “coined the best definition of an entrepreneur ever.” — Inc. Magazine
Also, people assume that entrepreneurs are solo-operators with copious resources who seek narrow, personal gain. All three facets of that assumption are, generally, wrong: entrepreneurship is a team sport; success requires figuring out how to bring others’ resources to the table (whether those resources are knowledge, skill, creativity, money, time, or materials); and if entrepreneurs don’t create shared value and collective benefit, they fail.
Entrepreneurial Thinking itself is a valuable resource available to all. It offers a kind of intellectual power that can be used effectively by people in all walks of life and by organizations of all sizes and stripes. Entrepreneurial Thinking can help us all — as individuals and organizations — pursue dreams and goals, solve problems, and confront challenges.
For that reason, it’s important that people around the world learn to apply the principles and skills of entrepreneurs in practical, day-to-day ways. And those of us who know how to employ Entrepreneurial Thinking should work to spread that knowledge around.
Why? Because Entrepreneurial Thinking is a powerful way to deal with change, challenge, and opportunity. And waves of change and challenge are coming at us.
Global society will experience fundamental social, economic, and environmental changes through the 2020s and 2030s. Major change-drivers — from pandemic and climate change to AI and automation — will redefine what “work” and “career” and “success” mean for most of us. They will seriously affect the quality of life for people around the world.
Change will be a constant in our lives; and uncertainty will be a persistent, unwelcome companion.
But we can deal with change — and its attendant challenges — effectively if we do so entrepreneurially, together.
We can deal with change effectively if we do so entrepreneurially, together.
Because we believe Entrepreneurial Thinking is a collaborative and cooperative process. It brings together diverse perspectives, experiences, knowledge, and expertise. It is rooted in the sharing of intellectual resources and the integration and testing of new ideas and views. And it’s about creating shared value by learning to make use of resources that others are willing to bring to the table for collective benefit.
So, this essay is intended as a catalyst for discussion: Kicking off what we hope will become a wide-ranging, broadly accessible conversation about how to leverage Entrepreneurial Thinking to address change and pursue the opportunities that change creates. It’s the first of a series of thought pieces that we and other academics and practitioners will publish on this multifaceted subject.
We invite you to join the discussion.