The true meaning of entrepreneurship
Email a Friend
Entrepreneurs are often portrayed as adrenaline-addled risk-takers, but is the willingness to take a gamble really their defining trait?
George Bush is supposed to have remarked that the problem with the French is they have no word for entrepreneur.
The former US president had, of course, forgotten that the word is French in origin, and only entered the English lexicon in the 19th century. Its usage has exploded since then, and is growing all the time as the favoured term to denote someone who takes a risk to make a buck, as Bush might have put it. On the back of its popularity, a clutch of new coinages has sprung up around it: we have had entrepreneurship for a long time, but now we have intrapreneurs, webpreneurs and mumpreneurs.
One reason for the popularity of the word, apart from its Gallic glamour, may be its connotation of risk-taking. Using the word as a synonym for ‘business person’, as almost everyone now does, places the willingness to take risk at the heart of what it means to start and run a company.
This month on GrowthBusiness, we'll highlight some of the make-or-break risks our readers have taken with their businesses. These are compelling stories, ranging from the purchase of a piece of land that could only be reached by helicopter, to investing a seven-figure sum in developing a new product.
But I’m not at all sure that the willingness to take risk is the chief theme to emerge from those stories, or the key to business success for that matter.
I once encountered an entrepreneur (and in this case I really can use the word) who had taken a big risk to start up his business in the first place. He gave the impression of being gung-ho and up for any challenge, but I believe there was a lot of caution in his nature.
He would often come up with what seemed to be a brilliant idea for a new business line, and invest a great deal of time and money in feasibility studies. Then, at the last minute, he would pull the plug on the embryonic venture, simply because he wasn’t comfortable with the risk. To others, his behaviour seemed over-cautious, but he was probably the best judge of the new business’s chances.
Maybe we should amend our notion of a successful entrepreneur from a risk-taker to a risk-assessor. What entrepreneurs do is not the equivalent of spinning the roulette wheel; it’s about knowing when to buy a stake in the casino.