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The entrepreneurial method: as the foundation of entrepreneurial expertise.

That there exists something like an "entrepreneurial method" was first proposed by Sarasvathy and Venkataraman (2011). They assert that entrepreneurship scholars may be committing what they call, after Ryle (1949), a "category error" by regarding entrepreneurship to be part of a class of things to which it does not belong. Instead of thinking of entrepreneurship as an academic discipline, they assert, perhaps it is better to conceive of it as something larger-as a method akin to the scientific method and/or as a social force akin to other social forces such as democracy or capitalism.

This paper explores the concept of the "entrepreneurial method" in the context of the more deeply analyzed concept of the "scientific method". The scientific method has been a focus of philosophical investigation and analysis for hundreds of years. If we accept that the concept of the "entrepreneurial method" indeed has merit, and we think it does, then it may be possible to use the extensive scholarship into the scientific method to advance our understanding of the entrepreneurial method. This paper traces the development of a pragmatist perspective on the scientific method that significantly influences current mainstream thought. The main insight contributed by the pragmatist perspective is that the way scientists come to understand the "scientific method" is not via pedagogy (i.e., aspiring scientists rarely take courses in the scientific method), nor is it an immutable set of guidelines for discovering "truth". Instead, the scientific method is introduced to aspiring scientists via a process of acculturation into the profession and is best understood as a set of profession-specific "moral virtues" (Rorty, 1990). This paper explores the possibility that aspiring entrepreneurs should come to understand the entrepreneurial method via a similar process of acculturation into the profession of entrepreneurship. It also suggests that the goal of this acculturation process is development of a set of profession-specific moral virtues that differentiate expert entrepreneurs from novices and from non-entrepreneurs. We propose that these virtues include a focusing on value creation as the primary purpose of business, accepting the judgments of the marketplace concerning the offerings of a new venture, an abiding respect for private property rights and contractual obligations, and a recognition that failures are an inevitable part of the startup process.

Throughout this analysis, care is taken to avoid over-reaching as much work remains to be done to explicate the "entrepreneurial method" and to build consensus among the community of entrepreneurship scholars. Still, it has been some time since a truly unique and new approach to understanding entrepreneurship has come along. We believe that further exploring the entrepreneurial method may lead us into some fruitful new insights that will enable us better to prepare aspiring entrepreneurs and may foment a new understanding and purpose of entrepreneurship education (Blenker, Korsgaard, Neergaard, & Thrane, 2012).

The Scientific Method

Conducting a search among the scholarly literature for the term "entrepreneurial method" currently brings up only a handful of citations. The original coinage of this term was in a paper by Sarasvathy and Venkataraman (2011) in the prestigious Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practice journal. Since that publication, there has been scant scholarly follow up. This may be a function of the novelty of the concept. Thinking that there is an "entrepreneurial method" akin to the scientific method is decidedly new and may require some "young Turks" to adopt it as a primary line of research for it to catch on more broadly. In the meantime, we believe the concept is sufficiently compelling to warrant further analysis here.

Perhaps the most insightful way to develop the concept of the "entrepreneurial method" is via comparison to the more well-known and, certainly, more deeply analyzed concept of the "scientific method". The scientific method has been a topic of philosophical, sociological, historical, and even scientific study since the Renaissance (Vasso, 2005). While practicing scientists are generally disinterested in the ongoing philosophical analysis of the scientific method, it is arguable that important results have been achieved. For example, Thomas Kuhn's (1961) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is often cited as one of the more important books of the 20th century (Rorty, 1998). Kuhn famously identified the notions of "normal" and "revolutionary" science, and how normal science is generally conducted within the "disciplinary matrix" of a widely-accepted "paradigm".

Some historical background on how the concept of the "scientific method" has evolved is central to our analysis. Early reflections on the "success" of science and scientists concluded that there must be something special about the individual scientist that enables a clearer view of reality compared to non-scientists (Giere, 1990). These early scientists, including Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, and Archimedes, were held as exemplars of this special "talent" and remain among the most notable in the history of science.

Newton's mechanical view of the universe constituted a turning point in how science was understood within the context of culture writ large (McMullin, 2001). His view of the universe as a mechanical system led to applications in the domains of engineering and commerce. The rigorous mathematical constructs that enabled the building of bridges, cathedrals, and monuments were seen as more than mere useful tools to help get things built; they actually seemed to be examples of Nature's own language. As this perspective gained adherents, the focus in philosophy of science shifted from analyzing the unique capacities of individual scientists to analyzing the unique power of mathematics. The order and control that mathematics enabled led some intellectuals to postulate that math was not simply a language for understanding and controlling reality, it was the language in which the "Book of Nature" actually was written (Rorty, 1979). The point of view that one or another of the various ways that humans use to describe the world actually describes the Real World (the World as it would describe itself) is known as "realism".

Realism as a perspective on science was born out of the rigorous mathematical tools that enabled people to predict and control physical events. In brief, realism is the perspective that the words and symbols people use to describe nature can more or less accurately reflect the way Nature would describe itself. Since its early conception, it has been the bedrock of reflective understanding of science and scientific inquiry. In fact, most practicing scientists today regard themselves as "realists" (Weinberg, 1992), although they are not often asked to distinguish this perspective from any others (Rorty, 2004). Realism assumes that absolute knowledge can be attained, and that the most potent approach to such knowledge is the scientific method.

The philosophical energy dedicated to explicating realism reached its zenith in the twentieth century. Some of the great thinkers who tackled the challenge of articulating a robust realism included Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, A.J. Ayer, and many others. Each set out to define the logic and/or first principles underlying realism. Perhaps the culmination of this philosophical effort was the positivism (a form of realism) that reigned between roughly 1900 and 1960. Foremost among the early positivists, Whitehead and Russell (1925) produced their monumental Principia Mathematica, which attempted to subsume the entirety of scientific knowledge under the formal language of logic and mathematics.

While many philosophers of the day quibbled with the details of Principia, few attempted to offer a wholesale refutation of the underlying premise that a formal system of mathematics or logic could subsume all true statements. A fatal refutation of the premise behind the Principia was offered in the 1930's by Kurt Godel. Godel's "incompleteness theorem" proved that no formal system of logic or mathematics could account for all the truths that could be developed via the axioms and theorems of that system (Godel, 1931). Godel demonstrated that formal systems necessarily require an external perspective to be understood as true or false under certain very specific and inevitable circumstances. Until Godel, it was thought that something like Russell and Whitehead's project could be carried out, even if their particular effort somehow fell short. After Godel, it was decided that all such efforts are doomed from the start because of the inescapable incompleteness that Godel proved all formal systems necessarily possess (Hofstadter, 1979).

Despite Godel's proof that formal systems of logic are necessarily incomplete, realist philosophers continued to search for the foundations of certain knowledge. As a result of Godel's work, realist philosophers shifted their focus away from the logico-mathematical underpinnings championed by Russell and Whitehead and towards an approach dedicated to uncovering the physiological foundations of all knowledge. This approach attempted to ground knowledge in indubitable atoms of what were referred to as "sense data". Sense data were defined as phenomena whose existence and properties are known directly to us via our physiological faculties of perception. So-called "sense-data empiricism" reached its zenith in the 1940s and 1950s. Among the leading proponents of this approach was American philosopher A.J. Ayer. For Ayer and the empiricists, sense data were fundamental atoms of knowledge in that they are "given" to the senses without any "interpretation" (Ayer, 1940).

Sense-data empiricism was refuted in the writings of Wilfred Sellars and others who argued that the notion of "givenness" is, in fact, a myth (Sellars, 1963). These critics argued that language and interpretation go all the way down--that there are no sensory phenomena that humans experience that are not subject to interpretation and translation into natural language (Wittgenstein, 2009). As such, all efforts to separate what is "given" from what is "interpreted" are doomed to fail.

The realists fundamentally were motivated by the question, "why is science so successful in helping us predict and control the natural world?" They were hopeful that a fully explicated realism would reveal a correspondence between sentences that we utter and the Real structure of the World. In essence, realism and the so-called "correspondence theory of truth" attempted to explicate human experience in terms of absolutely certain epistemological "atoms". This lofty goal, and the hope that it could be realized, elevated science as the area of culture that was most "in touch with reality". As that image of the sciences took hold, other disciplines sought to emulate the "rigor" and "discipline" thought to be evident in the sciences, with physics being conceived as the "hardest" of the scientific disciplines. Ultimately, this perspective on physics as the "hardest" of the sciences led to what came to be known as "physics envy" (Rorty, 2004a). Physics envy is simply the longing of the "softer sciences" to be as rigorous and as "in touch with reality" as physics (Rorty, 2004b).

In the mid to late twentieth century explications of the "scientific method" veered away from the realist perspective primarily based on the work of philosophers like Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. Feyerabend was far more iconoclastic than Kuhn, writing that the only method that science has or should have is "anything goes" (Feyerabend, 1975). The "anything goes" perspective simply means that in the pursuit of understanding how the world works we should not, a priori, eliminate any possible theories, practices, or methods. Feyerabend thought that attempts to isolate a pre-determined scientific method in the manner of the realists were counterproductive and unnecessarily limiting. His Science in a Free Society was a manifesto of sorts for humans to experiment in myriad ways and use myriad different perspectives to discover new and useful things about our world (Feyerabend, 1978).

Kuhn, as we have already pointed out, countered centuries of realist interpretations of science and the scientific method with his seminal "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". In that book, Kuhn pointed out that most scientists practice what he referred to as "normal science". That is, most scientists are acculturated according to the dominant prevailing theory or "paradigm" within their discipline. Aspiring scientists are trained to conduct experiments that presuppose the truth of the dominant paradigm, and that are designed to extend the paradigm into new areas of inquiry--producing new knowledge. Aspiring scientists are also trained to believe that any anomalous experimental results they obtain more likely reflect a problem with experimental design rather than with the underlying paradigm. With this training, only consistently anomalous results gradually provoke the normal scientists to re-consider the prevailing paradigm. Kuhn also noted that those most likely to take this step are younger scientists who have less professional commitment to the dominant paradigm.

Kuhn observed that as experimental anomalies consistently occur, the possibility emerges for a "scientific revolution". A "revolution" is the terminology Kuhn used to describe the challenge faced by scientists who suggest that a dominant paradigm might need to be replaced by a new one. The word "revolution" is appropriate because the paradigm replacement process in science is primarily a social process. That is, paradigm change involves persuading other scientists of the practical value of the suggested alternative paradigm. As opposed to a realist understanding of science, where theory change would involve demonstrating the "correspondence" between the new paradigm and Reality, Kuhn argued that changes in scientific understanding are no different than cognitive changes in other human activities. Scientists who propose a new paradigm must use persuasion, argument, patience, and tolerance of diverse views eventually to win the day.

Of course, if something like the "correspondence theory of truth" could be discovered or revealed to us it would undoubtedly be a beneficial thing. Why wouldn't we want such a "god's eye view" of "the way things really are?" (Putnam, 1990). Unfortunately, the barrels of philosophical ink that have been spilled trying to explicate the scientific method along realist lines have proven futile, and the realist perspective may now have outlived its usefulness. It seems that the primary sticking point of this perspective is that there does not appear to be a way for humans independently to verify when they actually have discovered the method that reveals absolute knowledge. What method would we use to verify that method? If we use the same method to verify itself that would constitute an unacceptably circular argument. In light of this conundrum, and in light of the criticisms raised by Kuhn, Feyerabend, and others, some of today's leading philosophers--primarily designated as "pragmatists"--urge instead that we adopt a different perspective on scientific method.

Pragmatism and the Scientific Method

Pragmatism as a school of thought originated in large part as a reaction to the philosophical failures of the realists and their dubious efforts to devise a correspondence theory of truth. In contrast to that project, pragmatism suggests that the history of attempts to gain consensus around a particular version of realism demonstrates that that project likely has outlived its usefulness. Rather than continuing the realist experiment, pragmatists suggest we abandon it altogether. They suggest that we view "truth" not as correspondence between our sentences and the "way the World Really is", but simply as a word we use to affirm beliefs that work for our particular purposes (James, 1907). If we look at things in this way, there is no need to worry about whether we are corresponding to some "underlying reality". If we confine our worries about truth to worries about whether our beliefs are working for our purposes there is no need for further analysis (Rorty, 1982).

Pragmatism's basic arguments provided potent intellectual therapy to ward off the endless debates of the various realist/positivist schools of thought that had dominated philosophy since Plato (Whitehead, 2009). The pragmatists of the middle to late 20th century argued that we should no longer attempt to see true beliefs as those that put human descriptions of the world in direct "correspondence" with "the way the world really is". Instead, they urge a different view, one that begins with a Darwinian picture of humans as complex creatures attempting to cope with the causal forces of the world as best they can (Rorty, 1998). In order to cope, these clever animals invent a variety of tools that help them manage better from one generation to the next. Significantly, the words exchanged by these animals are among their more powerful tools (Rorty, 2004b). Words not only enable humans to hold beliefs about the way the world works, they also enable humans to communicate these beliefs among one another. Importantly, pragmatists suggest that no further analysis is needed if we adopt this "words as tools" perspective. They suggest that just as we don't find it interesting to analyze whether a hammer or a screwdriver "correspond" to the world, we should also not worry about whether our descriptions of the world "correspond" to it. We should be satisfied merely with analyzing the relative utility of the hammer and the screwdriver, and of our descriptions of the world.

The pragmatist perspective on the scientific method also challenges the assumption that has lingered for centuries that scientists are, via their method, in a privileged cultural position. Where the realist sees science as getting us ever closer to "reality as it is" the pragmatist sees it producing increasingly useful beliefs about how to predict and control. Instead of seeing the scientific method as a set of techniques designed to help expert scientists see reality plainly and clearly, pragmatists see it instead as a set of moral virtues that are an important part of the scientific profession.

On the pragmatist account, the profession-specific moral virtues that scientists possess include, among other things, a willingness to use persuasion rather than force when debating competing theories; a willingness to reject popular theories on the basis of persistent experimental exceptions; the ability to tolerate differences of opinion among colleagues; and the ability to design and execute experiments that others in the profession regard as rigorous. Under this conception, scientists don't possess any special access to reality that helps them succeed in their profession; they simply have been acculturated to specific moral virtues that predominate within the scientific profession.

Can pragmatism inform scholarship into the entrepreneurial method in the same way that it has provided new insights into the scientific method? And, do expert entrepreneurs succeed based on profession-specific moral virtues the way scientists do? Those questions are explored next.

The Entrepreneurial Method

It is possible that Sarasvathy and Venktaram (2011) have introduced a new philosophical conundrum that will take centuries to unravel the way philosophers have been unraveling the concept of "scientific method" for centuries. For example, some might think it reasonable to ask "Is there an interpretation of the successful pursuit of economic opportunity analogous to a realist interpretation of the successful pursuit of knowledge?" Perhaps an answer to that question would be something like an attempt to discover realist insight into the way customers think and behave, or a realist analysis of how economies really function, or a realist analysis of the way money flows to expert entrepreneurs. The present authors are not clever enough to envision the many ways in which more philosophically minded thinkers might want to explicate the notion of the "entrepreneurial method." However, based on the above analysis of the history of explication of the "scientific method", there seems to be a Pandora's Box awaiting those who travel a parallel road in the explication of the "entrepreneurial method."

On the other hand, we can save ourselves years (perhaps decades or even centuries) of agonizing analysis by leap-frogging possible realist interpretations of the "entrepreneurial method" and proceed directly to a pragmatist perspective. Under a pragmatist perspective explication of the "entrepreneurial method" will lead to a vastly different forward-going research project than it would if explication from a realist perspective were attempted. For example, rather than focusing on discovering the isolated behavioral and/or cognitive "atoms" that form the basis of the success of expert entrepreneurs, we would focus instead on the profession-specific moral virtues that expert entrepreneurs tend to manifest. Then, similar to the manner by which aspiring scientists are acculturated to join the community of scientists, entrepreneurship educators would work to acculturate aspiring entrepreneurs to join the community of entrepreneurs.

More to the point, under the pragmatist perspective it is seen as impossible to make sense of the notion that there are necessary and sufficient behavioral or cognitive "atoms" that should comprise the bulk of entrepreneurship research and pedagogy. Instead, of this, and following the pragmatist scholarship on the related concept of the "scientific method", the focus for entrepreneurship educators would be on preparing aspiring entrepreneurs to develop and practice certain moral virtues that expert entrepreneurs tend to exhibit.

Acculturation of aspiring practitioners is essential to any profession, and acculturation to entrepreneurship certainly includes much more than the moral virtues alluded to here. Our present efforts at acculturation of aspiring entrepreneurs into the community of practicing entrepreneurs center on technical skill development. Some of the technical skills that comprise the basic elements of our current curricula include how to prepare business plans and financial forecasts, how to develop networks of talented supporters, and how to raise capital (among many other things). These are basically correct, but if we analyzed what separates expert entrepreneurs from novices the important differentiating factors likely don't center on capacity for writing business plans or preparing financial forecasts. Instead, it is very likely that expert entrepreneurs excel at the moral virtues unique to success in the profession.

In light of that, a good starting point for a pragmatist analysis of the "entrepreneurial method" is to make some educated guesses about the profession-specific moral virtues they likely manifest. We take up that challenge in the next section of this paper.

The Moral Virtues of Expert Entrepreneurs

The analysis above of two competing conceptions of scientific method can and should inform how entrepreneurship scholars and educators conceive the entrepreneurial method. Under a "realist" perspective, scholars might be compelled to attempt to identify and isolate cognitions and/or behaviors--and only those cognitions and behaviors--that underlie entrepreneurial success. The goal of such scholarship would be to bring these behaviors into stark relief, dissect them into their component parts, and examine the causal interactions of these behaviors with other variables in the complex entrepreneurial environment.

Entrepreneurship educators would welcome the identification of these behaviors and/or cognitions, and the causal analysis of how they lead to entrepreneurial success. Educators would develop appropriate curricula and training regimes to prepare aspiring entrepreneurs in these cognitions and behaviors. Attempting to do anything else in the entrepreneurship classroom could reasonably be construed as malpractice.

But as we have indicated, under a pragmatist perspective the entrepreneurial method can be construed as consisting broadly of a set of moral virtues. The role of the educator under that interpretation would be, in part, to acculturate the aspirant to these moral virtues. Below are four profession-specific moral virtues that we propose are practiced by expert entrepreneurs.

Proposition 1: Expert entrepreneurs believe it virtuous to focus on value creation as the primary purpose of business.

Entrepreneurs have no illusions about the purpose of business. They don't have time to worry about whether the purpose of business is to maximize shareholder wealth, demonstrate "sustainability", or solve social problems. Expert entrepreneurs know that they must create value for other people in order to generate returns. And since the startup venture, unlike the large enterprise, must create value from desultory resources the expert entrepreneur is more deeply involved in the "creation" process than most corporate managers and leaders.

Recent research into effectuation and the so-called "lean startup" is aligned with this proposition. For example, Read (et. al., 2009) have pointed to the entrepreneur's tendency to create markets instead of merely finding them, somewhere, "out there" under conditions of uncertainty. Additionally, the "lean startup" and its extension in the recent work of Blank and Dorf (2012) counsel the entrepreneur to eschew business plan development since "no business plan survives first contact with the customer" (p. 16). According to this perspective, the value creation process is iterative and experimental. Startup entrepreneurs must spend their time searching for a repeatable, scalable business model. Only after such a business model has been discovered can the venture make the transition from searching (value creating) to executing (value delivering).

A 2007 special edition of the Academy of Management Review focused on the topic of value creation. From the perspective of the editors of the special edition "there is little consensus on what value creation is and how it can be achieved" (Lepak, Smith, & Taylor, 2007; p. 180). Yet, entrepreneurship happens and value is definitely created by startups--even failed startups. The expert entrepreneur cannot wait for scholars to debate the finer points of value creation. The entrepreneur must act under such uncertain conditions to generate returns that transform the startup venture into a going concern. As such, any entrepreneur who did not find it virtuous to view value creation as the primary purpose of business might be distracted by other, nonessential goals that may contribute to the venture's demise.

Proposition 2: Expert entrepreneurs believe it virtuous to rebound personally and professionally from failure.

There have been many studies looking into how entrepreneurs cope with and think about failure (Cardon, Stevens, & Potter, 2009). Many of these have focused on the concept of resilience. Resilience is certainly a necessary part of success in entrepreneurship, but it is also a necessary human characteristic in myriad other career pursuits. The expert entrepreneur is resilient, but the resilience is based on a deep-seated belief that failure is acceptable and not a reflection of one's personal worth or capacity to launch and operate future ventures (Hayward, Forster, Sarasvathy, & Fredrickson, 2009).

How many students today are taught that failure is not only acceptable but also a necessary part of the learning process? Legions of authors and social critics have decried the "everyone is a winner" parenting and teaching style of baby boom parents (Best, 2011). As a result of the "coddling" that has been identified in the literature, a generation of young people have grown up believing that everyone will get a reward regardless of how well they play the game (Colvin, 2008). Consequently, the idea of failure as a necessary part of learning has been lost on many from this generation (Twenge, et. al., 2010). In fact, much of the popular literature on entrepreneurial success excessively emphasizes the need to be comfortable with failure en route to eventual entrepreneurial success (Dennis, 2009).

Expert entrepreneurs do not think this way. They are competitive by nature and are prepared to compete in games where there are clear winners and clear losers. They are fully able and eager to embrace the creative destruction identified by Schumpeter (1950) and which clears the way for new industries and new ventures. And they believe that rebounding from failure is a virtue. Recent scholarship into entrepreneurial success centers on the notion of the "lean startup". The lean startup model encourages entrepreneurs to "fail often, fail fast" in their search for "minimally viable products" (Ries, 2011). This approach to understanding the startup process validates the empirical literature that highlights the expert entrepreneur's acceptance of failure as an inevitable--and even necessary--part of venture creation (Blank & Dorf, 2012).

Proposition 3: Expert entrepreneurs believe it virtuous to respect private property and to uphold contractual obligations.

Expert entrepreneurs have respect for private property and contracts. To them, private property comprises the fundamental resources that they uniquely may leverage to create value for a market. Expert entrepreneurs understand that they are able to do as they please with the private property to which they lay valid claim within the boundaries of common law and regulations pertinent to their industry. Huang (2009) identifies respect for private property among Chinese entrepreneurs as a major factor in China's economic renaissance.

Expert entrepreneurs also realize that it is necessary to create contracts they are capable of fulfilling. Anyone who has practiced business globally recognizes that there are different ways of perceiving and acting regarding contracts. Some cultures regard contracts as fluid and flexible documents that can be altered in practice after they have been signed. Other cultures, in particular those of the West, view contracts as binding agreements (Sarkar, 2010). When faced with contract disputes a common adjudication guideline is to interpret the agreement as bounded by the "four corners of the contract". In other words, extraneous circumstances, conversations, or understandings that are not articulated in the signed contract are irrelevant to the dispute. Expert entrepreneurs act intuitively on the premise that private property must be respected and that contracts are to be honored. They regard it as morally virtuous to behave in this manner towards private property and contracts, and unseemly to behave otherwise.

Proposition 4: Expert entrepreneurs believe it virtuous to respect the judgment of the marketplace.

Effectuation research is based in part on interviews conducted with expert entrepreneurs. One of the widely cited quotes from this research is "I don't believe in market research. I just go out and sell the stuff' (Read & Sarasvathy, 2005). Of course, a single data point is insufficient to draw general conclusions, but the point aligns with more robust research on entrepreneurial market making (Read, Sarasvathy, Song, & Wiltbank, 2009). Scholars have investigated entrepreneurial opportunity recognition in great detail. Opportunity recognition is in part concerned with the identification of a market need. The concept of opportunity recognition is based on the assumption that a pre-existing market is somehow "out there" in the entrepreneur's environment waiting to be analyzed for "gaps" in the current offerings. However, it is clear from research into how expert entrepreneurs actually bring products to market that it is often the case that the entrepreneur must act as much to create the market as to exploit it (Sarasvathy, 2001).

The act of market creation involves skills, techniques, and metrics that differ markedly from those that are necessary for traditional market analysis and new product launch. Market creation requires the entrepreneur to be skilled at listening, experimenting, gathering feedback, and rapid prototyping. Some of the latest thinking about the "lean startup" is relevant here. The development of the "minimally viable product" is about introducing a product that enables the entrepreneur to begin to gather user information and create a growing market opportunity (Ries, Dillard, & Eisenmann, 2011).

Expert entrepreneurs regard it as a virtue to be willing to abandon one's deeply-held beliefs about what customers want, and to listen to and respond to the feedback of customers to refine and improve offerings. They are willing to run numerous experiments with their product and/or service offerings and to "pivot", if necessary, based on market feedback. Expert entrepreneurs know that "building a better mousetrap" is not guaranteed to motivate customers to "beat a path to their door".


This paper attempts to explicate the concept of the "entrepreneurial method" by way of analogy to the scientific method. The present authors didn't originate the link between the entrepreneurial method and scientific method--that was done by Sarasvathy and Venkataraman (2011). This paper attempted to examine some implications of the analogy between these two methods. Although the analysis presented here is heavy on philosophy of science, it seems a necessary starting point for entrepreneurship scholars who are serious about further explicating the "entrepreneurial method".

While not all philosophers of science hew to the pragmatist line, there is substantial scholarly support for it. The history of scholarship into the philosophy of science is rife with false starts, dead ends, and blind alleys. This rather dismal history provides ample reason to leapfrog any attempts by those inclined toward taking up an analogous realist approach to explicating the entrepreneurial method. Instead, and again based on experience with the history of scholarship into the scientific method, we can accelerate explication of the "entrepreneurial method" if we adopt a pragmatist perspective from the outset.

The pragmatist perspective on the entrepreneurial method, similar to its perspective on the scientific method, suggests that the development of expertise is largely a function of becoming acculturated to a profession by learning to act according to profession-specific moral virtues. In the case of scientific method, those virtues are comprised of, among other things: A preference to use persuasion rather than force when confronted by scientific disagreements; a willingness to change one's deeply-held theories in the face of countervailing data; and the ability to tolerate differences of opinion among scientific colleagues.

This paper contends that explicating the "entrepreneurial method" from the pragmatist perspective leads to the postulation that just as profession-specific moral virtues are the basis of scientific method; profession-specific moral virtues are also the basis of the entrepreneurial method. We proposed four such moral virtues to provide a starting point for what could be a vigorous conversation and a rich empirical research agenda.

The implications for entrepreneurship education if moral virtues are foundational to entrepreneurial expertise suggest a new trajectory. Current entrepreneurship curricula, as evidenced by leading textbooks, center on the standard topics of opportunity recognition, feasibility analysis, business plan development, financial forecasting, and the like. While that standard subject matter would not be supplanted by a focus on particular moral virtues, the reality of the entrepreneurial method suggests that an exclusive focus on developing these technical skills of entrepreneurship would be incomplete. A more robust curriculum would include acculturation in the entrepreneurial method and its underlying moral virtues. This could be managed in the same way that science educators manage acculturation of aspiring scientists. Science educators require aspiring scientists to design and perform experiments, write up the results, present the results, and become familiar with the style and type of feedback common to the profession. (It should be noted that aspiring scientists normally do not take explicit courses in the "scientific method". They learn it primarily by apprenticing in the scientific profession.) It might be difficult to expose aspiring entrepreneurs to the vicissitudes of the entrepreneurial profession in a similar way. While simulations and competitions do provide some acculturation to the profession, they are not direct immersions in the same way that an aspiring scientist is immersed in designing and conducting real experiments that impact future career opportunities.

Alternatively, it may be possible to acculturate aspiring entrepreneurs into the entrepreneurial profession more directly by addressing the moral virtues of expert entrepreneurs in the classroom. For example, it may be necessary to develop courses explicitly designed to address the nature of free markets and profit seeking behavior. Either that, or perhaps it is necessary to develop a selective system that screens students for the relevant moral virtues (if only in nascent form) in order to enroll in an entrepreneurship curriculum. Certainly aspiring scientists are thoroughly screened via the notorious "weeding out" courses that comprise much of their early curriculum. Having the relevant analytic skills is just the first step in the overall acculturation of scientists. Once that has been determined to be adequate, further acculturation occurs via apprenticeship in laboratory and field work experiments. Entrepreneurship educators could devise a similar screening and acculturation process that prepares the aspiring entrepreneur for additional opportunities to develop their expertise.

Do moral virtues form the foundation of entrepreneurial expertise? If consensus builds that there is an "entrepreneurial method", then there is good reason to think that to be true. What is left in question is whether the moral virtues proposed in this paper are the ones that are necessary for entrepreneurial expertise. Only additional empirical work can determine that. In the meantime, it pays to be cognizant of our rather short history of educating entrepreneurs, and recall that most expert entrepreneurs became such without formal education. With that humbling background, we have every reason to continue to explore and explicate the entrepreneurial method and its attendant acculturation process and moral virtues as, perhaps, a significantly new and important way to prepare aspiring entrepreneurs.


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Thomas N. Duening, PhD

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs


Matthew L. Metzger, PhD

University of Colorado at Colorado Springs

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Author:Duening, Thomas N.; Metzger, Matthew L.
Publication:American Journal of Entrepreneurship
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jun 1, 2014
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