G. Dale Meyer, PhD
*Originally prepared for the Journal of Small Business Management (JSBM) Special Edition 49.1. Article adapted to fit the style of this blog and represents ICSB’s new mission to provide more synergy with the journal through outlets where our members can actively discuss JSBM content. You can find the complete JSBM article here –http://www.icsb.org/assets/reinventionofacademicentrepreneurship.pdf.
In the heat of the long “battle” advocating the legitimacy of academic entrepreneurship, few, if any, of we early advocates predicted the great swarm of colleges and universities that now embrace the academic entrepreneurship discipline. Present-and-growing, one now finds academic departments, hybrid departments, institutes, centers and even one encompassing school now focusing on academic entrepreneurship. I celebrate the positive outcome after the long trek for acceptance and support for entrepreneurship in the academic world. That world often is known to resist change (as one long-ago colleague often said “changing a university is like moving a cemetery”). I applaud the teachers and researchers who are currently plowing the ground by teaching entrepreneurial “skills” and researching and publishing “entrepreneurship” content in the huge number of academic journals now open to SME and entrepreneurship subject matter.
My focus here, however, is on a number of “elephants in the room.” I have been known for pointing out such elephants – such as the worship of the rational business plan in curricula; the blind pursuit of magazine entrepreneurship reputation rankings; and that academic entrepreneurship is not the property of B-Schools. Who better to point a few foibles and stumbling blocks than an old guy (Dr. Quandam Erstwhile – look up the words folks).
Elephants and More Elephants
First, with the academic entrepreneurship boom going strong, is it not about time that rigorous measurements of results and accountability be required? Accountability is more than cheer-leading; it is providing metrics to report results that create a platform for improvement. Those academic entrepreneurship programs that are, in fact, conducting rigorous measurement on how entrepreneurship education and research are benefiting students and society should also publish their results in academic journals and in other media that reach important populations. Over 10 years ago in what was then labeled the USASBE Coleman White Paper Series, I spoke of the dangers in magazine reputation rankings. These rankings have proliferated and all PR materials of ranked entrepreneurship programs loudly tout their rankings. Sorry, but rankings are not rigorous metrics to account for the results of academic entrepreneurship.
Second, academic entrepreneurship is constrained by old paradigms that are primarily the products of neoclassical economics and its attendant theories. Another of my former PhD students, Sharon Alvarez of Ohio State, now focuses on theory building in academic entrepreneurship. Alvarez has published articles and a monograph titled Theories of Entrepreneurship (2005). And economist Scott Shane published a book in 2003 titled A General Theory of Entrepreneurship. My point is that, when one examines carefully the scholars and the academic jargon utilized in these efforts at entrepreneurship theory building, it is apparent that economic theory is the overwhelming backbone of what is presented and published. The modern field of strategic management attained legitimacy by assimilating industrial organization economics. Why comment on this? – The Academy of Management Entrepreneurship Division greatly overlaps membership with the AOM Strategic Management Division. This overlap is one of the reasons that Ted Baker was able to assert in Strategic Organization (2007) that “strategy is succeeding in its takeover of the academic field of entrepreneurship”.
Third, academic research in entrepreneurship has forfeited much of its uniqueness at the alter of academic journal publishing leading to tenure. Historically, young PhDs focusing on entrepreneurship were counseled early in their careers before tenure to publish in “A-level” journals. In addition, they were apprised that these journals would not publish entrepreneurship subject content. The validity of this advice can be questioned but, personally, I knew quite a number of young scholars who were denied tenure even though they had published in the available entrepreneurship journals. This perhaps faux situation has changed dramatically partially due to the fact that entrepreneurship journals have transformed themselves to accommodate tenure portfolios. The research designs, database creation, and econometric statistical techniques are the key to the A-level journal count. This transformation to the A-level journal model progression is over 50 years old in business disciplines.
Fourth, it is notable that the topics that are chosen for research are often compatible with easily available secondary databases. Examples of this are the plethora of articles that deal with venture capital, IPOs, and other financial topics. In addition the richly endowed Kauffman Foundation has worked hard to create and lobby for more small business databases to support research in entrepreneurship. This comes as no surprise since the CEO and his research director at Kauffman are educated in economics. But consider the following: Abraham Maslow in a neglected book titled The Psychology of Science (1966) spoke of “problem-centered” and “means/methods-centered” research. In problem-centered research the “messiness” of the research project is put aside because it can create real understanding and advance science. In the “methods-centered” approach to research, one is schooled in “rigorous” methods that are ready to be applied, and then the statistical technician researcher looks for a research problem on which to apply that magical method.
Fifth, entrepreneurship theory building, research, and teaching mostly ignore the effectual creative energy of real entrepreneurs. Some of my colleagues are aware that in addition to my 35 years in academia that I left that world midway in my career to found and successfully grow three thriving entrepreneurial businesses. These are not small hobby businesses but those that eventually catalyzed their way to millions and one to billions of dollars in revenue. I know just a little firsthand about the creative processes of true entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship theory building and research by academics have the potential to understand more. Creativity and creative self-organizing systems are mostly neglected in entrepreneurship curricula. The Neck and Greene paper in this issue of JSBM is worth not only reading but also applying to the teaching of entrepreneurship. It is built on the neglected creative self-organizing process that is so fundamental to entrepreneurship. As I wrap up this essay, I will offer what I consider a new way to theorizing about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship.
Sixth, another elephant in the room is the blurring of the domains of entrepreneurship and SME management. Pascal Zachary wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times that appeared on June 3, 2007 titled “Creativity and Misfits as the Genesis of Entrepreneurship”. In this editorial Zachary also mentions Kuhn’s analysis of paradigms. Zachary argues that what is often ignored in Kuhn’s theses is that for long stretches of time institutions [for example, research paradigms, small business management, academic research] continue established regimes growing blind to signs that “the times are a-changin.” During these times, quietly in the background are those “creatives” who “see the unseen wind” of a new grand vision. And the contented “gatekeepers” continue to mend their fated garden. Some SME owners and managers are certainly among the creative coterie. However, the SME processes are seldom creative in the same mode as are the most successful and society-changing entrepreneurs. Renowned Professor Jonathan R. T. Hughes in 1983 stated the following about how Professor A. C. Cole, who founded and directed the Harvard Center for Entrepreneurship History from 1948-1958. Cole defined what entrepreneurship research should focus upon. Hughes quotes Cole as follows:
“The study of entrepreneurship is similar to the study of creativity in any field, for example, musical composition. On the grand scale of Schumpeter’s conception (“creative destruction”) to the more modest approach of Kirzner (the entrepreneur as arbitrager), it is creativity, originality which should be the central focus of entrepreneurial studies. The entrepreneurial contribution is precisely that of original perception, new ideas, new departures. The unexpected is made to happen.”
(Hughes, 1983, p. 136).
A New Paradigm for Entrepreneurship Research Teaching at the Back Door!
My personal view is that both economists and economist wanna’ be’s who are the current gatekeepers in entrepreneurship are leading others down a dead-end road. How many quite brilliant people who are not economists now read economics journals? Are entrepreneurship journals migrating down the same dead-end road that economics journals continue to travel? I say yes, but a new paradigm is rustling in the bushes.
In my opinion: (a) the academic field of entrepreneurship is “stalled” in both research and teaching; (b) modified economic theory and secondary database/model testing/econometric methodologies distance researchers from actual people and behaviors that catalyze entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship; (c) small business management and entrepreneurship are different phenomena – if entrepreneurship is everything, maybe it is nothing; (e) substantive entrepreneurship research is best created utilizing interdisciplinary theories and methods; and, (f) tenure and its gatekeepers are the “elephants in the room” that preclude more innovative and meaningful research and teaching in the field of entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship scholarship has, so far, mostly excluded rigorous examinations of complexity science. I highly recommend Bill McKelvey’s article in Journal of Business Venturing in 2004.