Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Maxime Bernier and the "secret sauce" of entrepreneurship

I just ran across this ridiculous speech from Industry Minister Maxime Bernier. Speaking in Saskatoon last September, he proved that he (or his speechwriter) doesn't really understand entrepreneurship.

I had no problem with this part:
"The first thing you should know about me is that I am from the Beauce, the region along the Chaudière River south of Québec. The Beauce is unique in Quebec — it is well known as the most entrepreneurial region of the province…. This is where I learned the values that go with entrepreneurship: individual freedom, integrity, responsibility and self-reliance. When I am defending economic freedom and entrepreneurship, I am defending what to me are “les valeurs beauceronnes” — the values of my native Beauce.”

The Beauce is a beautiful, remote region, just north of Maine’s moose country. Everything he says about the entrepreneurial spirit of the region is true. It’s great to have an industry minister (even a lawyer who used to work in insurance) who understands what innovation is all about:
"I grew up believing that when we are free to create and to innovate, and to reap the benefit of our work, all human beings will tend to exhibit some quality of entrepreneurship. And by embracing these ideals we will make the world better, for ourselves and for everybody else at the same time."
But this is going too far:
"You can be an entrepreneur in your own field, since there is always something to improve whatever we do. A hairdresser who develops an ability to match heads with new hairstyles is an entrepreneur. An industrial worker who finds a faster way to assemble a machine is an entrepreneur. A teacher who uses games to keep his students interested in mathematics is an entrepreneur.
"All these people create something of a greater value. They do it not only because they can earn more money. They do it because it makes their jobs more interesting, because it gives meaning to their lives, because they believe that they can make a difference."
This is hogwash. The minister here is talking about innovation, not entrepreneurship. I feel strongly about this, because if we are to truly appreciate and encourage entrepreneurship in Canada, we need a precise understanding of what it is.

Entrepreneurship is not just innovation. The essence of entrepreneurship is not producing something new – it is taking a risk to work towards a goal that may provide a reward. It is the belief that the goal is more than worth the risk.

Without risk there is no entrepreneurship. When a teacher turns a hard subject into a game, that is good teaching - and it may be innovation. But it is not entrepreneurship, because there is no evident risk. There is no attempt to pursue that innovation to a larger end. There is no conception of the reward for leveraging that game, that lesson, to help other students and teachers in the world.

When that teacher takes a risk and remodels the game into a product, and spends time and money seeking out distributors and retailers, that is when innovation becomes entrepreneurship.

I don't mean to be all haughty about it. But entrepreneurship is a precious thing, a fragile sense of confidence that must be continually reinforced and supported. If our government, our culture and our institutions don't support risk-taking as the fundamental basis of entrepreneurship, they're off course before they've begun.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Excellent post very thought provoking.

How does one define Entrepreneurship?

This is an incredibly important question in an economic and policy context. If governments of all levels intend to invest in Entrepreneurship then the definition of Entrepreneurship needs to be clearly understood.

My take is that the definition of Entrepreneurship involves; innovation, risk taking, knowledge creation and value creation. Innovation forms the basis of entrepreneurship in the sense that something new is being created. This something could be a process, or product. There must be an element of risk involved; the hairdresser and teacher examples do not involve risk. The element of knowledge is intertwined within innovation and creates a competitive advantage. The teacher and hairdresser examples had no competitive advantage in that they could be easily replicated. Finally and most importantly (in my opinion) the innovation must create value. Creating value means injecting money into the economy rather than taking money from an existing source.

Best regards,

Ian Graham