His passion for the subject is unmistakable. When William B Gartner – or Bill as he is often called – talks about entrepreneurship he speaks fast, vividly and with many references the sports world.
– Entrepreneurship is just like sports – most people don´t win. But we don´t want to talk about that, because it´s boring, he says.
Being one of the true pioneers in the field, Bill Gartner started exploring entrepreneurship research in the 1970´s. With his 1988 article, 'Who is an Entrepreneur?' Is the Wrong Question, he contributed to a shift in the field, from studying the individual traits of the entrepreneur to regarding entrepreneurship as a behavioural process.
Behavior drives identity
Gartners firm belief is that behavior drives identity, and he dismisses the idea of entrepreneurs having common traits that unite them.
– I really believe that we become what we do, in terms of identity. I mean, how can you have the identity of a tennis player, without playing tennis? Mozart came from a family of musicians. And why has Sweden produced so many good tennis players: because everybody play tennis!
If you hold on to a view of special entrepreneurship characteristics, it leaves out a lot of people who might play the game in an interesting way, Gartner points out.
– But that doesn´t mean that everybody should become an entrepreneur, or act entrepreneurial. Everybody can learn the basics of the game, but some will be really crappy at it!
"The notion on the American Dream – that trying hard always leads to success – is stupid"
Gartner stresses the importance of looking at entrepreneurship from a contextual perspective. We should focus on the process, how and why people start companies, and not on the individual, he argues.
According to Gartner, there is an unfortunate tendency to mystify entrepreneurship.
– We want to make the process magical, and tell the story of the successful individual. But that´s just naive. Entrepreneurship is anti-heroic. It´s hard work, and vast amounts of it is boring. Also, it´s not an individual act. Entrepreneurship is always relational, it always involves other people, he says.
Criticizes the Trump slogan
Gartner believes that the general image of the entrepreneur as a hero is problematic in many ways. He refers to what he calls “the dark side of the American dream”: the belief that all Americans can be successful in anything, regardless of social class.
– The notion on the American Dream – that trying hard always leads to success – is stupid. To say that everybody has the same set of access to everything - that´s just wrong. People can´t be whatever they want. This is where it becomes evil, because when you are told everything is available to you, it´s simply not true, and it distorts what is actually possible. What you can do is limited by things like your social network, your education and your capabilities, he says, and takes the opportunity to throw a swipe at the Trump campaign slogan.
– “Making America Great Again” is nostalgia for just a few individuals who had the possibility of opportunities in the past. It ignores nearly everyone else. America has forgotten that what made America great was the social ability to move forward. Social capital and education make a big difference, he says.
Unlike many of his American research colleagues in the field, Bill Gartner has a more qualitative approach in his research on entrepreneurial behavior. He argues that the language of entrepreneurship research had been usurped by the economists.
– People do things that aren´t rational, they do things for their own reasons. We need to be more realistic and humanistic, and have a larger, broader framework for paying attention to how people are, he says.
"To learn, and to be a good entrepreneur, you have to do a lot of crappy things. In entrepreneurship most people don´t win"
In entrepreneurship, failure is common. It is also necessary, and very hard to avoid, Gartner points out.
– You are going to make a lot of mistakes. To learn, and to be a good entrepreneur, you have to do a lot of crappy things. In entrepreneurship most people don´t win, he says, and uses a metaphor from the sports word to illustrate his point:
– Look at soccer. The likelihood of a professional soccer player getting the ball in the net is ten percent. That means nine failures out of ten! Sports is about failure, there is one winner and a bunch of loosers. It´s the same with entrepreneurship.
What can we expect from your seminar at Chalmers?
– I don´t know yet. I like to talk about whatever people in the room want to talk about. So, I won’t know what that will be until whomever is in the room asks questions and offers comments. I promise we will have a good time, it will be really interactive and interesting!
Bill Gartner on…
…what characterizes Swedish entrepreneurship research
“Its variation – and depth. Sweden has one of the longest entrepreneurship research traditions in Europe. You have many pioneers in the field, a strong behavioural group and great researchers within critical entrepreneurship studies”.
…his best advice to researchers in the entrepreneurship field
“Pursue your passion, and pay attention to other people”
…why he sometimes uses narrative methods (e.g. films, plays and novels) to study and describe entrepreneurship
” It´s about the nature of learning. We learn a lot through stories. People tend to be either content or process driven – and stories have both”
…the mystification of entrepreneurship
“People mystify entrepreneurship without realizing how much time it takes to create something. We simply don´t want to talk about the Mondays and the day to day processes, because it´s boring”.
Text: Ulrika Ernström
FACTS, RESEARCH AND MORE INFORMATION
About Bill Gartner
William B. Gartner
holds a joint appointment at California Lutheran University as Professor of Entrepreneurship and at Copenhagen Business School as Professor of Entrepreneurship and the Art of Innovation. He is also Visiting Professor of Entrepreneurship at Linnéuniversitetet. Gartner is the 2005 winner of the Swedish Entrepreneurship Foundation International Award for outstanding contributions to entrepreneurship and small business research. His recent book: Entrepreneurship as Organizing: Selected Papers of William B. Gartner (2016) is published by Edward Elgar. His current scholarship focuses on: “what entrepreneurs do:” the social construction of the future, and the hermeneutics of: value creation and appropriation, possibility and failure.
The seminar with Bill Gartner
On February 24, William B. Gartner held a seminar at Chalmers (at the TME Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Seminar) with the title: "What do entrepreneurs do? A dialogue on the nature of entrepreneurial behavior, practice and process"
About the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Seminar
The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Seminar runs every semester at Chalmers, Department of Technology Management and Economics (TME), Division Entrepreneurship and Strategy. The seminars are open to everyone and you do not need to sign up in advance. After the seminars, that usually lasts 1-1,5 hours, there is time for discussions.
Here are some of the previous speakers at the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Seminar:
, Chair of Management & Digital Markets at University of Hamburg