We can’t recognise entrepreneurs, the way we recognise doctors or teachers, from the settings in which they operate. When we think of entrepreneurship as a force of the new, driven by human imagination and ingenuity, then entrepreneurs are defined by their active efforts to change the world, driven by their visions of a different world. We readily recognise entrepreneurs by the impact they have already made, but this introduces an obvious success bias. Most change efforts do not succeed. This cannot be an argument for not hoping and trying.
Most accounts of the etymology of the word ‘entrepreneur’ relate it to the French ‘entreprendre’, with its meaning of undertake or begin something. Even more vivid is the etymological relationship to the Sanskrit ‘antah prana / prayukti’ (अन्तः प्राण / प्रयुक्ति), meaning inner breath of life / motivation. This reflects an active stance towards the world, ready to engage with it with a sense of purpose. Without the entrepreneur’s stance, the world is just an amorphous whole. As John Dewey vividly explains in his classic work The Quest for Certainty, “there is a moving whole of interacting parts; a center emerges wherever there is effort to change them in a particular direction” (1960 p. 291).
All of this suggests that we cannot identify entrepreneurs from the outside. To an external observer, entrepreneurs may be indistinguishable – in terms of who they are and what they do – from other people. It is the meaning of what they do – arising from their purpose and proactive stance – that marks them as such. In this sense, ‘entrepreneur’ is not a label that one carries for life, on account of past achievements, but a signal of seeking to bring about a different future, of not taking the status quo for granted.
Everyone can be an entrepreneur. It is a matter of finding that inner impulse to make the world a better place.
Dewey, J. (1960). The quest for certainty. New York: Capricorn Books