And If You Can’t Teach, Teach Gym
| Peter Klein |
Kate Maxwell, writing at Growthology, is concerned about the distance between those who do entrepreneurship and those who teach or research entrepreneurship:
In my reading of the entrepreneurship literature I have been struck by the large gap between entrepreneurs and people who study entrepreneurship. The group of people who self select into entrepreneurship is almost entirely disjoint from the group of people who self select to study it. Such a gap exists in other fields to greater and lesser degrees. Sociologists, for instance, study phenomenon in which they are clearly participants whereas political scientists are rarely career politicians but are often actors in political systems.
But in the case of entrepreneurship the gap is cause for concern. My sense is that all too often those studying entrepreneurship don’t understand, even through exposure, the messy process of creating a business, nor, due to selection effects, are they naturally inclined to think like an entrepreneur might.
I agree entirely with this description, but am not sure I understand the concern. Kate seems to assume a particular concept of entrepreneurship — the day-to-day mechanics of starting and growing a business — that applies only to a fraction of the entrepreneurship literature. Surely one can study the effects of entrepreneurship on economic outcomes like growth and industry structure without “thinking like an entrepreneur.” Same for antecedents to entrepreneurship such as the legal and political environment, social and cultural norms, the behavior of universities, etc. Even more so, if we treat entrepreneurship as an economic function (alertness, innovation, adaptation, or judgment) rather than an employment category or a firm type, then solid training in economics and related disciplines seems the main prerequisite for doing good research.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that entrepreneurship scholars shouldn’t talk to entrepreneurs or study their lives and work. Want to know how if feels to throw the winning Superbowl pass? Ask Tom Brady or Eli Manning. The stat sheet won’t tell you that. But this doesn’t mean that only ex-NFL players can be competent announcers, analysts, sportswriters, etc. Similarly, I like to read about food, and have enjoyed the recent memoirs of great chefs like Jacques Pépin and Julia Child. These first-hand accounts are full of unique insights and colorful observations. But there are plenty of great books on the restaurant industry, on the relationship between food and culture, on culinary innovation, etc. by authors who couldn’t cook their way out of a paper bag.
What do you think?