Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Beyond the Single-Person, Single-Insight Attribution in Understanding Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Academic journal article Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice

Beyond the Single-Person, Single-Insight Attribution in Understanding Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Article excerpt

This article helps develop the creativity perspective within entrepreneurship in two ways. First, it elaborates on the nature of opportunity as a creative product. Rather than viewing opportunities as single insights, it suggests that they are emerging through the continuous shaping and development of (raw) ideas that are acted upon. Second, rather than attributing them to a particular individual, it highlights the contextual and social influences that affect the generation and shaping of ideas. This helps move entrepreneurship research beyond the single-person, single-insight attribution that currently permeates it.

Introduction

There is a well-known phenomenon in social psychology--the fundamental attribution error--whereby in judging the behavior and deeds of others, people typically underestimate the power of situations and situational pressures, and thus ascribe what they see to individual strengths or weaknesses (Ross, 1977). When we talk and think about (great) entrepreneurs, the fundamental attribution error is evident in our tendency to praise their individual characteristics or skills and overlook the enabling force of their environment. To some extent, the recognition of opportunities--especially those that are ultimately considered great, radical, creative, etc.--is an area of research especially prone to the fundamental attribution error. Indeed, in the spirit of the great, visionary deeds that Schumpeter (1934) ascribes to his entrepreneur-innovator, the search for the mind that produces these earth-shattering ideas is ever appealing and thus never ending.

Entrepreneurship is not the only field interested in the origin of great ideas. Neither is it the most advanced. The study of creativity, "the production of novel and useful ideas by an individual or small group of individuals working together" (Amabile, 1996, p. 1155) represents a long and advanced tradition in social and cognitive psychology (e.g., Glover, Ronning, & Reynolds, 1989; Sternberg, 1999). Nevertheless, its utility for the study of opportunities as great entrepreneurial ideas is not a matter of simple application due to several conceptual challenges that the context of entrepreneurship poses. It would be naive to think that business ideas--the way we know them in our post hoc admiration of them--are originally conceived in the same shape and form; rather, they emerge in an iterative process of shaping and development. In addition, it is unrealistic to presume that individuals develop their ideas in isolation; rather, as potential entrepreneurs seek to convince, engage, or organize other social actors, this is a social process of discussion and interpretation. I refer to this process of shaping, discussion, and interpretation, whereby initial ideas are elaborated, refined, changed, or even discarded, as opportunity development. This term represents both a dynamic, iterative, and a socially embedded view of how entrepreneurial opportunities reach their final form. The dynamic, iterative aspect of this pertains to the gradual "polishing" of what is initially an unpolished idea. The socially embedded aspect pertains to the fact that potential entrepreneurs, rather than thinking and acting alone, are actively engaged in information and value exchange with a surrounding community. In order to systematically and rigorously study opportunity development, one needs to (1) capture its ephemeral beginning and fragile sustenance in order to avoid survival bias, (2) reconcile the positivist and constructivist accounts of the nature of opportunities, and (3) incorporate the involvement of stakeholders beyond the individual entrepreneur (Davidsson, 2003; Dutta & Crossan, 2005; Gartner, Carter, & Hills, 2003).

The purpose of this article is to establish new conceptual ground for the study of entrepreneurial opportunities by emphasizing their (gradual) development and by producing a constructive synthesis of ideas from the fields of creativity and entrepreneurship. …

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