Sunday, November 14, 2010

My List of Great Entrepreneurial Thinkers

I got an email recently from a budding business academic asking about my opinions on the best sources of academic information on entrepreneurship.

I had to tell him that I'm not an expert on the academics of entrepreneurship. Most of the academics I know who teach entrepreneurship do so with very subjective perspectives, and often use "texts" made up of photocopied articles rather than specific books or authors. I think the field of entrepreneurship is just moving too fast for the academics to keep up!

When there was an international conference of entrepreneurship academics held in Halifax a few years ago, I contacted the professor in charge of reviewing the research papers to be presented there, and asked him to point me to the most groundbreaking studies he had seen. I wrote a column about those papers, but they were a pretty undistinguished lot, to my layman's eyes.

For better or worse, here are the works I pointed my correspondent to:

“For me, the most significant thinker in entrepreneurship is Joseph Schumpeter, who came up with the notion of "creative destruction" - that entrepreneurs' role is to create progress by destroying what came before. A lot of people still talk about his work today, although "disruption" is the preferred term now for the impact of innovation.

Roger Martin at the U of T's Rotman School is certainly the most influential Canadian academic when it comes to disrupting and succeeding in business markets (not exactly entrepreneurship, but close). I only recently came to understand that his model, "integrative thinking", is really just code for all kinds of ideas and practices that don't fit into traditional management thinking, such as the importance of design, or innovative approaches to innovation. He seems to write a new book a year, mainly retailing anecdotes from his current favorite business success stories. So I think the state of the art in business scholarship is pretty flimsy.

However, I think the most respected thinker in entrepreneurship is Peter Drucker, who wrote many, many books on management, and settled on innovation and entrepreneurial thinking as the two priorities in business. Geoffrey Moore (Inside the Tornado, and Crossing the Chasm) is king of fast-growth entrepreneurship, focusing mainly on the problems faced by Silicon-Valley-type tech companies.

Jim Collins (Built to Last, and especially Good to Great) is by far the most quoted author I know. He's sort of a freelance academic who uses what seem to be legitimate, academically-oriented research teams to probe management problems that interest him.

At a lower, more operational level, the most influential thinker has been Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth and The E-Myth Revisited, among others. He created the concept that entrepreneurs should work "on the business, not in it," which I hear quoted back at me at least twice a week.

The other books most quoted by the entrepreneurs I know are layman works, especially by Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers, etc.) and Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat). Which tells you that the journalists are way ahead of the academics in distilling today's business trends."

How about you? What are you reading?
What thinkers do you admire?

1 comment:

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