Professor Kelly Shaver
Allan Gray Orbis Foundation | Center for Strategic, International and Energy Studies (Derasat)
What is it that leads people to become entrepreneurs, leaping into the unknown and creating the future? What is the mindset that results in successful entrepreneurial action? Is it innate to all people? Do some cultures foster it, or is it culturally neutral? We know who has it by what they do, but we don’t know what it is that they have. If you can’t define and measure it, does it even exist?
These questions, among others related to mindset, have been posed during the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) and Global Entrepreneurship Research Network (GERN) events. To seek answers, GERN initiated the Global Entrepreneurial Mindset Project, an international collaboration supported by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation (AGOF) and MindCette, LLC.
The project is intended to frame a scientific approach for collecting data on the hallmarks of an entrepreneurial mindset and serve the entrepreneurship community by achieving the following outcomes:
- Building a shared understanding of entrepreneurial mindset
- Introducing a data-based system for assessing entrepreneurial mindset development
- Revealing new insight about entrepreneurial mindset
- Creating an objective, quantifiable methodology for measuring progress over time
- Providing an evidence-based framework for developing recommendations for developing new policies and programs
- Increasing entrepreneurial action around the world.
Review of the Academic Literature
To achieve these results, the research team, made up of Professor Kelly Shaver, president of MindCette, and Immanuel Commarmond, an AGOF special advisor, set to work reviewing the academic literature in a variety of fields – cognition, psychology, behavioral economics, entrepreneurship, to name a few – in order to catalogue existing measurable entrepreneurial characteristics.
“Reading the literature presents a chronological story line of the emergence of mindset as a discipline,” said Commarmond, “from the days of psychological behavior in the 1950s before it was called entrepreneurial mindset.”
Foundations of Entrepreneurial Mindset
In a report published by the World Bank, Valerio, Parton, and Robb (2012) argued that assessing entrepreneurial training programs needs to involve both an individual’s competencies (entrepreneurial capabilities such as management skills and technical knowledge) and an individual’s personal characteristics (an entrepreneurial mindset that includes traits such as resilience and creativity and social-emotional skills such as self-confidence and leadership). Although particular traits are important, Commarmond and Shaver have adopted the Valerio, Parton and Robb view that an entrepreneurial mindset is more than a collection of psychological characteristics. Rather, mindset also includes beliefs about what can be accomplished, perceptions of opportunities, and expectations about the consequences of entrepreneurial actions. Fundamentally, entrepreneurs believe that change is possible, a view that is similar to Dweck’s (2012) “incremental mindset,” the idea that core qualities can be developed.
“Although a key focus of mindset is cognition,” Shaver explained, “we need to capture the behaviors that people actually perform, because we are ultimately interested in a better way to predict entrepreneurial success.” By identifying and collating the specific characteristics, each connected to an accepted scientific theory and adding nuance to the essential components, the project contributes to the development of a shared, if not universal, definition of the meaning of entrepreneurial mindset.
Commarmond’s (2017) review of the psychological literature revealed 76 theoretical principles that had been related to entrepreneurial behavior. He and Shaver examined these and, by eliminating duplicates, arrived at a list of 37 separate constructs to be tested. These were represented in a total of 116 questions that were then pilot tested. A complete description of the development process was presented at the 2017 Research in ENTrepreneurship (RENT) conference held in Lund, Sweden. (This paper is available from Shaver. For a copy, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.) The pilot test involved 400 individuals from South Africa. Data from the pilot test were factor analyzed separately for women and men, revealing that the factor structures were different for the two genders. The purpose of factor analysis is to eliminate superfluous questions, and that was successful, with 44 questions dropped, leaving a total of 72.
The final set of 72 questions was then administered to a nationally representative sample of South African citizens, to a set of female business owners, and to a group of participants in AGOF-led entrepreneurial training programs. Results from this total of 3,661 people revealed nine (9) core dimensions of entrepreneurial action. These are: Confidence, Diligence, Entrepreneurial Desire, Focus, Innovation, Leadership, Motives, Resilience, and Self-control. Again, substantial gender differences exist. More importantly, a comparison of the 561 entrepreneurs in the sample to the other 3,100 people revealed a significant difference between entrepreneurs and others on every single one of the nine dimensions.
The beneficial impact on societies of increased high-growth entrepreneurship is well documented. When conducted over time and across geographies, the new survey will generate information that contributes to evaluating the effect of policies and programs that seek to increase such entrepreneurial behavior.
This pioneering research, with its comprehensive, state-of-the-art approach to identifying and distilling all the essential characteristics, components, elements, and aspects, of the mindset that leads to successful entrepreneurial activity, holds the promise of providing the entrepreneurial community with the information it needs to make informed decisions, improve outcomes, and achieve enduring impact.