The skills needed to thrive in an uncertain future are often thought to fall under the term “entrepreneurial mindset” but New Zealand researcher Darsel Keane has found that there’s little clarity about what an entrepreneurial mindset actually is.
While the phrase is cited with increasing popularity in recent years, Keane, director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland, said a cohesive definition of the term is still up for debate, so she’s made it the focus of her doctoral research.
Last month, Keane, who’s in the early stages of developing a tool to measure the outcomes of entrepreneurial thinking, shared the findings of her project exploring the definitions and uses of the term at a conference in Denmark, a country that’s embracing entrepreneurship education.
“They teach entrepreneurship from ABCs through to PhDs and have national frameworks around incorporating this kind of learning into their education system,” she said.
Now more than ever, Keane argues, teaching and understanding the benefits of entrepreneurship education is vital.
“Consider a scenario in which all of a sudden a 40-year-old is out of a job because artificial intelligence can do it faster; how are we helping them develop a set of capabilities that they can take into different environments and transfer across industries?” she said.
“This is one area where we can see value in developing entrepreneurial mindsets, but there’s a lack of cohesion in the literature about what an entrepreneurial mindset actually is.”
Keane believes a lack of a clear definition hinders our understanding of entrepreneurship’s crucial role in driving innovation and success.
As a first step toward clarifying the entrepreneurial mindset, Keane and her co-authors reviewed 471 academic papers dating back to 1989, analysing the many definitions, constructions and dimensions of an entrepreneurial mindset and categorised them into four themes: cognition, competence, personality, and predisposition.
The researcher says they found that while the term entrepreneurial mindset is widely used, and that its use has accelerated since 2010, there’s considerable diversity in its definition and construction.
“People should be mindful of this. Otherwise, we risk the term continuing to be used superficially rather than developing into a strong idea that explains differences in entrepreneurial activity and outcomes,” she said.
Keane’s view is that a universal definition of an entrepreneurial mindset will have far-reaching benefits.
“It will allow us to be clear on what we are educating for, writing policy for, employing and building capability for, and investing in,” she said.
“It will also help to develop a tool or system to measure entrepreneurial mindsets.”
And that will support programme design and provide educators with better instruments to assess the outcomes of such courses and communicate their impacts, she believes.
For policymakers, Keane says a better understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset will help investors and others involved in developing startups better understand how entrepreneurial thinking can assist new ventures to grow, while also helping existing companies, non-profits and government agencies understand how they can hire, build capability and reward for it.