Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

The Hunt for the Heffalump Continues: Can Trait and Cognitive Characteristics Predict Entrepreneurial Orientation?

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Strategy

The Hunt for the Heffalump Continues: Can Trait and Cognitive Characteristics Predict Entrepreneurial Orientation?

Article excerpt


In this paper, we aimed to get more insight into what typifies Flemish entrepreneurs. Therefore, we compared entrepreneurs with non-entrepreneurs for five characteristics (tolerance for ambiguity, self-efficacy, proactive personality, locus of control, need for achievement) and for cognitive styles. Additionally, we used these trait and cognitive characteristics to predict variances in entrepreneurial orientation (EO). We found that entrepreneurs (n = 177) score significantly higher on all traits than non-entrepreneurs (n = 60). For the cognitive styles (measured with the Cognitive Style Indicator), we found that non-entrepreneurs score higher on the knowing and planning style. No differences were found for the creating style. With regard to the link between the entrepreneur's profile and EO, we found a significant contribution of tolerance for ambiguity and proactive personality to EO.


To answer the question 'who is an entrepreneur?', researchers tried to identify the unique characteristics of entrepreneurs by borrowing concepts from the trait psychology domain (Landström, 1999; Shook, Priem, and McGee, 2003), but these studies did not yield unequivocal findings (Cromie, 2000; Florin, Karri, and Rossiter, 2007). However, as some scholars contend, it remains worthwhile to study the entrepreneurial profile, as there cannot be entrepreneurship without the entrepreneur (Poon, Ainuddin, and Junit, 2006; Steyaert, 2004). Consequently, the aim of this research project is to gather more insight into what typifies Flemish entrepreneurs and what distinguishes them from non-entrepreneurs.

With this study, we continue the hunt for the Heffalump; this is answering the 'who is the entrepreneur' question (Bouckenooghe, Cools, Vanderheyden, and Van den Broeck, 2005). The Heffalump is a character from Winnie the Pooh that has been hunted by many individuals using various ingenious trapping devices, though no one has yet succeeded in capturing it. All who claim to have caught sight of the Heffalump report it to be enormous, but they disagree on its particularities (Steyaert, 2004; Wickham, 2004). Given the criticism on the trait approach, this study differs from previous studies on the entrepreneurial profile in two respects.

To begin, we add a cognitive perspective, in addition to the trait approach, as it provides an alternative lens with which to explore entrepreneurship-related phenomena. The recent adoption of the cognitive perspective in entrepreneurship research reflects a promising evolution of the ongoing discussion of the 'who is the entrepreneur?' question (Baron, 2004). The cognitive view of entrepreneurship focuses on detecting knowledge structures and mental models that entrepreneurs use to make assessments, judgments, or decisions involving opportunity evaluation, venture creation, and growth (Mitchell, Busenitz, Lant, McDougall, Morse, and Smith, 2002). An interesting construct in this context is cognitive styles, defined as the way in which people perceive stimuli and how they use this information for guiding their behavior (Hayes and Allinson, 1998). Cognitive styles influence people's preferences for different types of knowledge gathering, information processing, and decision making, all key actions entrepreneurs are confronted with daily (Leonard, Scholl, and Kowalski, 1999). Although cognitive styles provide an alternative means to conceptualize the characteristics of entrepreneurs, they have not received much attention in entrepreneurship literature to date (Sadler-Smith, 2004).

Second, we use the different trait and cognitive characteristics to examine entrepreneurial orientation (EO). EO has been widely studied to conceptualize the methods, practices, and decision-making styles that business leaders use to act entrepreneurially (Lumpkin and Dess, 1996). The failure to identify a set of dispositional characteristics of entrepreneurs has led some scholars to shift their attention to entrepreneurial behavior, conceptualized as the firm's EO (Krauss, Frese, Friedrich, and Unger, 2005; Poon et al. …

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