Entrepreneurship has never been a “cold” topic, but it certainly has heated up in the past decade, and especially during the Great Recession. With people losing jobs in established firms, many have decided to hang out their own shingle. President Obama continually holds forth on the importance of entrepreneurship and has sought to ease new businesses’ access to federal information in order to foster innovation and job creation. Then there’s all the coverage Steve Jobs’ death received, the ongoing celebrity of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and the fact that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos still regularly makes the cover of Fortune more than a decade after his affable mug first appeared there.
The fact is, we love successful commercial upstarts. Sure, the vast majority of enterprises founded by entrepreneurs won’t achieve the size and scale of Apple or Facebook or Amazon. That’s not the point. These companies are the job creators of the future. And something else: As Jobs’ career showed, you don’t have to start a business to be an entrepreneur—you can reinvent an existing one.
There’s more to entrepreneurship than job creation, important thought that is. Cheryl Kizer, executive director of the Social Innovation Lab at Babson College in Massachusetts, one of the country’s top schools for entrepreneurs, believes that entrepreneurship represents an opportunity where “people can create their future instead of seek out jobs. So in a time where there aren’t a lot of jobs, people are starting to employ their own human energy and their own desire to make things happen.”
According to Kizer, “the numbers point to the fact that even in the best of situations, there will never be enough jobs in the world to employ the youth that are now inhabiting the planet. Given that, you have to look at how you’re going to create as opposed to seeking out what already exists.”
Kizer describes the entrepreneurial mindset as “cognitively ambidextrous.” To be sure, this mindset includes predictive analytics—making decisions based on what we know about the past. “But that’s not sufficient today, given that we have an unpredictable, ambiguous, unknowable world. At Babson, we talk about ‘creaction.’ That is the notion that you will take action, you will look at your means at hand, you will assess what you can afford to lose—called ‘affordable loss.’ You will engage others, and you will learn from that, and you will keep creating that process of act, learn, build.”
Entrepreneurs, at their best, innovate and invent. So how can society—the business community, education, and government—stimulate entrepreneurial endeavors? Doing away with unnecessary regulations can help, of course. Rebecca Reuber, professor of strategic management at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, another business school known for encouraging entrepreneurship in its students, also points to the need to invest in education, particularly science, technology, and engineering. “We need to keep the educational sector vibrant,” Reuber says. She also suggests that established firms tap younger ones as vendors.
In short, if we’re going to grow as an economy and a society, we need more entrepreneurialism. If entrepreneurialism heats up, “You’re likely to see more of the creative destruction cycle accelerate,” notes Ron Wirtz, editor of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve’s Fedgazette, who’s done extensive research on the topic of entrepreneurship in the past few years. “You might actually see a lot more dynamism in the economy. If you’re getting more entrepreneurs, chances are they’re finding more market niches and competing against existing firms—and you might see existing firms with more stress as well.” So, Wirtz adds: “Be careful what you wish for.”
That’s a qualification worth noting. But the bottom line remains: More entrepreneurship is still something worth wishing for.