Entrepreneurship is typically defined as the pursuit of opportunities. But what is an opportunity?
Let’s answer this question by trying to construct one. As a basic minimum we need three things: (1) a product or service, (2) one or more agents who consume it, and (3) one or more agents who produce it. But just the simple collection of such agents and artifacts is not enough; the essence of the opportunity lies in the relationships among them. Behind each relationship lies a distinct pattern of interaction, for example exchanging money for the product or exchanging labor for money. In other words, an opportunity is a set of interactions, a social structure.
Friendship is also a social structure. It requires at least two people. But the simple collection of them does not produce friendship; it is their distinct pattern of interaction that does so.
As social structures, opportunities and friendship are emergent phenomena, i.e. they amount to more than the sum of their parts. It is the interaction of these parts that give rise to the structure in question.
Given this, what does it mean to identify, recognize, discover, research, or even create an opportunity? Well, these terms make no sense when applied to friendship, so why should they make sense for opportunities? In a forward looking sense, the relationships that constitute an opportunity or a friendship do not exist; they can be imagined and aspired to. An opportunity or a friendship arises – if at all, that is – only when those relationships are fired up and sustained.
We do not plan our friendships. We take small steps to interact and, if there is a mutual spark, keep the interactions going. Over time, these sustained interactions become friendship.
Let’s revisit the opening definition of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the taking of many first steps, some of which may give rise to opportunities.