Zuck Harvard

What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial?

It’s all in your head

Have you ever wondered what makes some people natural entrepreneurs? Lemon aid stands at the age of 5, starting their own companies out of their dorm rooms, getting fired from every “real” job because they could never quite get the knack of working for others…

Saras D. Sarasvathy at the University of Virginia did some research into this question of what makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurial and what she found was that entrepreneurs think differently than normal people.

When, er, “normal” people imagine what could be – or what they want to be, they employ what the researchers termed causal reasoning. That is, they figure out what they want to do, set it as an end goal, and come up with the step-by-step plan for how to get there.

Very straightforward. Very what we’re taught in school and what big companies put a lot of money into place to perfect the art of.

The art of tinkering

Entrepreneurs, however, don’t think like that at all. They use effectual reasoning. And in effectual reasoning, we don’t even start with a real end goal. (gasp)

Instead, entrepreneurs take a hard look at where they are TODAY – who they are, what they know, who they know… and they start to tinker (YaY!). They start exploring the possible things that can be created out of all of this.

And so entrepreneurs make progress by allowing their goals to EMERGE over time, rather than defining them up front.

(Not) planning for serendipity

Here’s the thing. If you define up front where you’re going – there’s not going to be innovation there, because you already know where you’re going.


And even if some interesting ideas come up along your way, you’ve got a path that you’re busy following. Success for you is reaching your end goal, and so it’s not in your interest to veer off and look at these others things.

Which could be fine.

They might not be anything. And you’ve got places to go.

But it doesn’t leave you open to things like serendipity.


Whereas the entrepreneur’s goal is NOT to get to a certain known place, or accomplish a known thing.

To the entrepreneur, success is learning, not execution.

And when your goal is learning, and allowing what you learn to guide you – well, you’re exactly open to serendipity. And to discovering things that are so far off the beaten path that nobody else would ever get there.

And that is where innovation comes from.

Mind reading contraption

If you want to be entrepreneurial – stop making plans and start following your curiosity.


2 responses to “What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial?”

  1. Mt definition of “entrepreneur” has always included at least some kind of business acumen or at least modest success … maybe because those are the only entrepreneurs I ever hear about, those who make some kind of name for themselves.

    And perhaps that’s why I don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur … although I fit a number of the characteristics outlined in the article. I’ve certainly been making it up as I go along, though generally within certain boundaries, because I saw the mountain in the distance, and so stayed somewhat on course trying to get there. I certainly adapted along the way as I found out what I could and couldn’t do … what the limitations of the software and hardware were.

    Once again, you share an inspiring / encouraging viewpoint!

    1. Now I wish I had your comment before I wrote this. I was going with the topic of the research (which was specifically about entrepreneurs) but you’re totally right. This describes hackers (who are All About tinkering & following their curiosity) just as well as entrepreneurs. Not that you can’t be both! But, if I wrote it again I’d totally make it about hackers & entrepreneurs. Damn, I will have to write about that in a future post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *