Entrepreneurship: About the Power in Just Not Being and Acting As If – by Björn Bjerke


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Our society is a changing society. We can notice this everywhere. But to say that we live in ‘a society of change’ is not enough. Today’s changes more often than before lead to challenges containing genuine uncertainties – uncertainties which cannot be reduced by careful and more detailed planning. Our changes have changed, so to say. This also means that we can no longer sit and wait for what the future might bring, but are forced to create the future – starting today.

There are those who claim that the society of today is a knowledge society. I agree. But what does this mean – really? It means, above all, that the most strategic resource today for starting up a new activity is no longer money, but something else.

In order to construct the future society we need people who understand that the future is created today, who understand that knowledge is the most important resource to do so and who understand that we cannot act alone to achieve something meaningful. I want to call them entrepreneurs! Entrepreneurial people function, as I see it, in two ways:

  1. They simply ‘just not are’. They do not follow provided tracks and procedures. They act over and above what they are asked to do and they do not follow their work descriptions or day-to-day expectations from the environment in order to come up with new solutions.
  2. They act ‘as if’. This means that they are not limited by existing or clearly foreseeable resources, but hope to act in such an interesting way that they will generate new tangible and human resources as they move on. This also means that they act as if they do not see any major risks in what they do or as if they already have achieved some success even if they have hardly started.

I sometimes express it such that entrepreneurs involve four parts of their body:

  • The head: to understand something of what they do
  • The heart: to love what they do
  • The stomach: to dare to do something different
  • Arms and feet: to act with an effect

But, to know oneself is not enough as an entrepreneur. Such a person also faces genuine uncertainties, of course. Entrepreneurs must therefore place themselves in situations (often in networks), where they learn as they go on and, above all, learn from their mistakes. The reason is, simply, that you always make mistakes when trying to do new things.

There are different types of entrepreneurs, of course. One important and interesting distinction today is between business entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. Business entrepreneurs try to give us what we want and social entrepreneurs what we need. And there are differences between what we want and what we need. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “There are resources in the world to give all people what they need, but not what they want!”

I have been involved with entrepreneurship (in theory as well as in practice) for more than thirty years. I would like to claim that it is possible today to separate two views on entrepreneurship – views that I call the narrow and the broad ones.

A short summary of the narrow view of entrepreneurship could be:

  • Entrepreneurs are driven by a need for achievement
  • Entrepreneurship is mainly an economic phenomenon
  • All kinds of entrepreneurs, even social entrepreneurs, should try to emulate successful business entrepreneurs as much as they can
  • If you are not interested in growth, you are not an entrepreneur
  • Entrepreneurs are good at spotting and exploiting opportunities
  • An entrepreneur is a special type of manager
  • Entrepreneurship starts with coming up with a good business plan
  • Entrepreneurship is about extraordinary behaviour among extraordinary people

In contrast, a short summary of the broad view of entrepreneurship could be:

  • Entrepreneurship is a phenomenon, where you sometimes should try to win an economic space and sometimes rely on a meaningful place
  • Entrepreneurship belongs to the whole society, not only to its economy
  • Business entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs live in different life-worlds
  • To be an entrepreneur means to just not be and to act as if in everyday life
  • You can be an entrepreneur without being it in the big way
  • Entrepreneurs need the power of imagination more than the skill to spot and to exploit opportunities
  • An entrepreneur is not just another manager
  • If you think too much about what is required to be an entrepreneur you are less likely to try to become one
  • Entrepreneurship is about extraordinary acts among ordinary people

I am convinced that the broad view of entrepreneurship is more adequate and I have found it personally more promising than the narrow view to tackle the problems in our present knowledge-based society.

Björn BjerkeBjörn Bjerke had his academic education at University of Lund in Sweden, where he had his first professorial chair in 1979 after having spent two years in Nigeria as a visiting professor to start a business school there (in itself an entrepreneurial act). He left Sweden again in 1984 and spent 15 years outside Europe in different professorial positions in New Zealand, in the Middle East and in South East Asia. He came back to Sweden in 1999, appointed as the third professor of Entrepreneurship in Sweden at Stockholm University.

Björn Bjerke has spent more than 30 years on entrepreneurship (in theory as well as in practice) and he is today professor of Entrepreneurship at Linnaeus University in Sweden. He has written 17 books, of which 8 are published in English and 5 with Edward Elgar.  These include Social Entrepreneurship: To Act as if and Make a Difference and the forthcoming textbook About Entrepreneurship.

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