The field of entrepreneurship is as old as the history of mankind. Indeed, works of successful entrepreneurs are well documented the world over across various ages, some of them in the holy books. Apart from scientists, entrepreneurs have contributed significantly to the milestones of modern civilization. Modern day economic success is mainly defined by how enterprising a civilization, society or individual is; relative to other civilizations, societies or individuals.
Has the development of a theoretical body in entrepreneurship eluded us?
Studies in the development of a practically applicable theory of the practice of entrepreneurship have however been like discovering the cure for common cold that scientists have overlooked at the expense of more serious diseases yet all of us are bound to contract it at one time or the other. But why has the quest for this theory eluded us for so long despite its critical role in improving our well being? Can entrepreneurship really be taught like practices in law, medicine or engineering so that once someone graduates, he or she immediately embarks on running and successfully excelling in any business venture? Entrepreneurship theory world over is at nascent stages and in Kenya, the ground is almost unscratched.
The answer to this lies in understanding what is indeed entrepreneurship. From what is being taught at business schools in our higher institutions of learning, entrepreneurship has been mistaken for business management or administration. However, management or administration are functions in a business. Needless to say, particular activities once performed repeatedly and in synch with each other make a business a going concern. If well undertaken, they deliver success in administration or management of the said business. However, these particular activities are just functional and have nothing to do with entrepreneurship. This therefore means that if you teach someone traditional subjects such as accounting, marketing, record keeping, vision and mission statements and business plans to mention but a few, you have merely trained him or her on performing particular activities in the best practice of business management.
If the person excels in these activities, then he becomes an excellent administrator albeit in that particular function. This means that he becomes very good in that activity at functional or strategic level. Excellence in such a function however does not lead to entrepreneurial growth in the person and that is why we have many graduates in business administration or management who cannot run mundane businesses like vegetable stalls or food kiosks successfully
If entrepreneurship is not management or administration of business functions what then can it possibly be? The answer to this lies in understanding human behaviour. Take the example of a thief. Stealing entails taking possession of people’s property against their will. The function of waylaying a person can be accomplished through a combination of diverse means and skills which maybe either basic or sophisticated. The most successful cases of theft however do not necessarily depend on the sophistication of the applied means but on the skill. This means that stealing is not motivated by ability (for instance muscular endowment) or means (like access to weapons), though these are functionally important elements in ensuring its success.
Apparently, not all the highly skilled or sophistically armed individuals thrive in crime however tempting it might be. Similarly then, those highly qualified in business studies from our higher learning institutions do not necessarily become entrepreneurs just because they have the functional skills and sometimes means to undertake business.
Just like stealing, entrepreneurship is part of human behaviour and is embedded in human personality. It is therefore safe to claim that some people are born entrepreneurs and success in business is intertwined in their DNA. Others (just like thieves) have acquired the behaviour through either influence from the environment or learning. It can also be taught through development of a relevant body of knowledge that has behavioural transformation as its main focus. To learn entrepreneurship then would entail viewing the process as a persistent change in behaviour as a result of deliberate effort to experience and develop competencies that would lead to success in that field. This means that to teach entrepreneurship would then entail imparting knowledge on specific theories that have specific implications for motivating behavioural change.
From a behavioural perspective then, the implication is that for one to become an entrepreneur, there are certain basic traits he or she must exhibit.
Understanding the habits
To understand these habits, we need to dissect the personalities of successful entrepreneus. Let’s begin by looking at the successful hawker whose base of operation is the city centre. For purposes of our argument, this is a business model that has been successful. Hawkers endure endless harassment from various quarters but their quest to make some money from their modest businesses has made them a resilient lot. Why do they dare to venture into a territory which is dreaded by many? Persistence and desire to achieve certain goals in their lives is the answer. No matter what business venture one undertakes, it must be driven by the desire to achieve a realistic goal which makes him resilient, patient and persistent. This is associated with behaviour. The desire to educate their children, fend for their families and improve their welfare despite the lack of employment opportunities drives these hawkers to the limits of their potential.
But why not undertake other less tasking business ventures? The answer could lie in the fact that there is no course taught any where including at the university known as business morality and business is therefore not based on good or evil but the desire to achieve. Could be they make more money undertaking the business in the city streets, could be they have other branches back in their residences, could be… but the bottom line is that distracters like county government askaris are just unavoidable obstacles in the achievement of personal goals. Besides, entrepreneurship is the only profession that thrives even under times of great human suffering such as war, hunger and disease.
Successful entrepreneurs will share a lot about the goals they have set and the challenges they have either faced or anticipate to face. Finally, they will give accounts of how they have surmounted (or are planning) to surmount them. Setting realistic goals means having insatiable ambition and achieving them in well outlined stages.
Let us now take a more serious look at our local shop keeper. He is on the road to success after converting his green grocery into a mini supermarket. But how did he achieve this feat? He did it through exploiting an opportunity that many in his locality had ignored. He first started by selling charcoal by the road side, then he introduced groceries, before stocking some shopping goods. Thereafter, he converted his investment into a shop and finally he shifted to a more spacious premise. Currently, he has established two branches of mini supermarkets. Does this have anything to do with his character, or it is prudent business strides and luck?
Well it is character. He was able to identify a business opportunity which his colleagues would not. The ability to identify opportunities is behavioural in nature and that is the main reason why successful entrepreneurs engage in several business ventures and thrive in them. While others see problems or hardships, entrepreneurs turn them into business opportunities.
Talking of success and opportunity seeking, one wonders why Kenchic was not the pioneer in quail farming or why the company gave the business a wide berth altogether. Is it because it was not interested in diversifying into the seemingly lucrative field despite its market dominance in poultry farming? Probably yes.
In which case, it negates my earlier argument that successful entrepreneurs are perpetual opportunity seekers. The most likely scenario that made them not jump into the quail bandwagon was that the information in their possession indicated that this easily executable money making venture was not sustainable and was based on half truths and could therefore pose a great risk to their business. This means they must have evaluated their risk based on credible information as opposed to rumours, innuendos and hypes and concluded that it was not worth it. All successful entrepreneurs take calculated steps towards achieving their goals. At times, they might make mistakes, but generally, they approach risk with caution and hence minimizing failure. Informed risk evaluation assist in deciding the target clientele.
So what do Manu Chandaria, Dr. James Mwangi, Bill Gates, the hawker, and the local shopkeeper have in common? As a matter of fact, they all set clear goals which enhances their chances of succeeding. In addition, they pursue the said goals relentlessly and they make decisions based on factual information. Moreover, they exude self confidence and are able to identify and seize business opportunities. Despite their different backgrounds, race and nature of business, they have similar habits which define them as entrepreneurs and contribute to their overall success. It is not a must for them to possess skills of managing various functions in their businesses like accounting and marketing. They can simply hire talented employees or outsource these functions to professional firms.