Prof Tobie de Coning, Stellenbosch University and Visiting Professor at Coventry University’s International Centre for Transformational Entrepreneurship, takes the discussion further regarding rethinking the way entrepreneurship is promoted.
I have been working actively in the broad field of Entrepreneurship for most of my academic career, a career that stretches over almost four decades. It has certainly been a most rewarding and challenging experience, but as my full-time career is nearing its end I more often than not find myself reflecting on the very notion of entrepreneurship, and are left with more questions than answers.
Entrepreneurship with its intrinsic and extrinsic values and dimensions is certainly a most worthy concept. In support of this, one does only need to consider the concepts of on-going value innovation, socio economic uplift and societal impact that are all either key elements of or desired outcomes of the entrepreneurial experience. Certainly a most noble concept and perhaps the key to be able to effectively deal with the pandemic socio economic and socio political challenges faced by our planet.
I mean – what is there not to like about entrepreneurship? Arguably it is the very key to all our socio economic and socio political woes.
Reality however, is something totally different – amidst of all this entrepreneurship our planet is in dire straits from both a socio economic and socio political perspective (and do not forget about the ecological crises). Viewed from these global perspectives, is it therefor not perhaps a case of entrepreneurship as a theoretical construct that ‘over promises’ but under delivers? Are we not chasing a ghost when it comes to the notion of entrepreneurship, pursuing unattainable goals on which it is impossible for this concept to deliver on? Is the concept/construct of entrepreneurship so fundamentally flawed that it would be in our best interest to discard it as useless? Should we not perhaps regulate it to the cemetery and put it to rest amongst all the other ‘ flavour of the month concepts’ that over time had been found as lacking?
I mean, think back to the global economic meltdown of a couple of years ago – it certainly occurred amongst all of this ‘entrepreneurship’; consider to the still increasing gap between the rich and poor in most countries, again it is taking place amongst all of this entrepreneurship nonsense; and, to take another example, a continent such as Africa is on the verge of slipping into the abyss, again despite global development agencies’ massive involvement in both money and other terms to promote entrepreneurship, focusing also on the development of both small business as well as of social entrepreneurship.
The evidence is overwhelming, we are wasting our time and resources on this worthless concept/ construct of entrepreneurship that cannot withstand the close scrutiny required by sound academic enquiry; and if one wants to be totally cynical, it can be argued that entrepreneurship is perhaps one of the key contributors to the global challenges that we are currently facing.
Maybe we have fallen into the trap of romanticising the concept of entrepreneurship and also the notion of the ‘noble’ entrepreneurs.
Or, are we making a terrible mistake?
Maybe it is about the manner in which we talk about entrepreneurship or perhaps our flawed insight of this construct that, when entrepreneurial projects are implemented, leave us with such mediocre outcomes.
Although it may sound as a cliché, we cannot discard the reality that we live in an age of paradigm discontinuity; we have come to the realisation that our past successes mean nothing. The socio-economic and socio-political driving forces are working together to allow a new emergent complexus to come to the fore. In this new complexus there is no place for single dimensional concepts and approaches. We are living in the age of systemic complexity where complex challenges can only be addressed by means of a system approach; and, where people, systems and processes out of necessity constantly require a fundamental transformation.
This is also very applicable to entrepreneurship. We require a systemic and on-going transformational approach to entrepreneurship. It is then (and only then) when true entrepreneurship will emerge; and it is only then that society as a whole will be able to reap the fruits of ‘true’ entrepreneurship.
So where do we currently find ourselves at ICTE?
We are currently busy to re-think the fundamental pillars of systemic transformational entrepreneurship – as a complex construct and in terms of both its potential intermediate and final value adding outcomes. We are undergoing a clinical introspection so as to determine what parts of our dearly held and entrenched entrepreneurship paradigms will perhaps have to be discarded and replaced by new emergent paradigms that are, both on a global and local level, aligned with the needs of the emerging complexus that I have referred to earlier on.
A challenging and daunting task? Is it a journey that can be avoided?
It certainly is very challenging and daunting, but it is a journey that cannot be avoided.
We at ICTE, with our partners across the globe, have embarked on this perilous journey, a journey to encapsulate and define the notion of systemic transformational entrepreneurship; a journey to define the systemic interrelated elements (with their multiple dynamic interrelationships) of this complex concept/construct; a journey that should provide us with appropriate indicators on how best to implement systemic transformational entrepreneurship; and, a journey that should allow us to, both at a local and global level, identify and to pursue the value adding intermediate and final ‘fruits’ of this worthwhile concept.
I am privileged to, with my fellow travellers, experience this wonderful journey. I have no doubt that, as they so aptly phrase it in transformation jargon, that it will be a ‘curve jumping’ journey requiring us to discard entrenched entrepreneurship paradigms and to embrace the emergent complexus of systemic transformational entrepreneurship. What an exciting opportunity, a journey certainly not to be missed!
The time has come for all of us who have an unwavering passion for ‘true’ entrepreneurship to take hands, to pool our resources and to co-invest in a shared and desired future – a future characterized by on-going systemic transformational entrepreneurship.
Can we afford to try to avoid this journey? The answer is an emphatic no. That will lead to the unnecessary demise of one of the keys to, in both a global and local sense, unlock a better future for generations to come. We must embrace this perilous journey and we must make haste with it.
There is no time to waste.