MY METHOD OF STUDY
My underlying approach was to follow the logic of the very quotable English poet and essayist, Alexander Pope, who said, "The proper study of mankind is man" (1734). To me, it followed then, that the proper study of entrepreneurship is the study of the entrepreneur. I had read somewhere, too, that if you are going to study something, you should study greatness. I would look for entrepreneurs who were, or still are, really consequential. The characteristics that made them click should show up in more exaggerated form. At least that was my premisea good one, I think.
Those who know my work know that I have never been a stickler
for research protocol. (It's probably my reporter's
mindset.) I have always believed that a good sample
of one is far better than a poorly drawn sample of a
thousand. Further, we're discovering more and more that a
lot of research in entrepreneurship has used parametric analysis
where nonparametric was appropriate. I'm not alone in my
sins. I've always remembered, too, that my chemical
engineering training revealed to me that Karl Wilhelm
Scheele discovered ammonia while boiling toads in urine.
I've often wondered what research protocol he was
following. In fact I often wonder what on earth he was
really up to! Anyway, noble findings can come from less
than noble approaches.
I would liken my approach as analogous to devoted baseball
fans following the game and its players. They read the
sports section daily and subscribe to Sports Illustrated and
other baseball oriented periodicals, know all the relevant
statistics, past and present; know the players' strengths and
weaknesses, and who the really good players are; know the
coaches' and managers' strategies and their abilities to select,
train, trade and use players; know team standings and who's
playing who and who can beat who and why. They read about
past and current heroes. They watch a lot of games.
They take every opportunity to talk to players. They know
who's coming up from the farm teams. Once in a while, if
they are lucky, they can get in a sandlot game with a few of the
name players. They have a collection of baseball cards that
they prize. Now if you take this same approach and overlay
an entrepreneur fetish over it, you've got the approach I have
used. If there was a market for entrepreneurship cards, I'd
have the world's best collection!
I studied past entrepreneurial heroes as well as contemporary ones. There are a host of useful biographies and autobiographies. Fortunately, too, historians never quit. New writers tend to correct old errors, or intentional misrepresentations or perceptions, and find new relevant information. The popular business journals offer an exposure and updating and continuous adjustment regarding the accomplishments of contemporaries and what they're up to. This continuous updating of people and events has proved invaluable in my learning and understanding of entrepreneurs and their patterns of behavior and their consequences. I watched the established "greats" and kept tabs on those who appeared to be emerging to greatnessor at least to have significant impact on the business and social scene. Besides history's "forgotten unforgettables," I studied the conglomeraters, the corporate raiders, the leveraged buyout artists, the turnaround specialists, the consolidators, individual rising stars, the deregulation opportunists, the corporate entrepreneurs, the downsizers, and the ever growing phenomena of the corporately spawned entrepreneurial firmsoften proliferating to 2nd, 3rd....generation entrepreneurial firms.
I drew on my own experience. I left academics in 1957 to seek my fortune in the business world. I started as a consultant. One of my clients was a distressed firm. The distressed firm was acquired by a growth oriented firm. I was hired to run the acquisition as a division vice president. Since it was my first job ever as a manager, I learned the ropes regarding execution on the job. The acquiring growth entrepreneur was a good mentor. I was a good student, and rose, successively, to become the firm's V. P. Marketing, then Executive V. P. Later, the entrepreneur decided on a new strategy with which I disagreed. I bought my old division on a high leveraged buyout, and made it the leading firm in the field. In less than four years, a conglomerate offered over 100 times the founding cash outlay. I signed a non competitive agreement and returned to academics. It was one heck of a 10 year ride. Unentrepreneurially, I got off at the first stop. I learned a lot through that period. Dealing in and around entrepreneurial types teaches one particularly about entrepreneursespecially if one is interested in entrepreneurship.
In studying entrepreneurs in depth and from many different angles, I tried to look for repeating patterns that had consequential results. From that I put together in clusters, behaviors that seemed to relate. I then drew general effects which those behaviors caused.
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Last Updated 03/15/98