The New Language of Entrepreneurs

29 June 2018 | Think­ing in New Ways

I first met Dimo Dimov (@dpdimov) in 2004, as he was fin­ish­ing his PhD in Entre­pre­neur­ship at Lon­don Busi­ness School. That same year Dimo [link] joined me as a pro­fes­sor in the Entre­pre­neur­ship Depart­ment at IE Busi­ness School in Madrid, Spain [link].

Dur­ing our time togeth­er at IE, we have col­lab­o­rat­ed often in work­ing with MBA stu­dents or on cours­es tied to the sub­ject of entre­pre­neur­ship. He is also one of our found­ing Nextsen­sors [link].

Dimo and I have a num­ber of points of con­nec­tion on a per­son­al lev­el:

  • Dimo is from Bul­gar­ia, and my fam­i­ly immi­grat­ed to the US from Roma­nia. I have stud­ied in Budapest, and my master’s the­sis focussed on the socio-eco­nom­ic tran­si­tion of the cen­tral and east­ern Euro­pean coun­tries. Dimo once served as the CFO of the Budapest Mar­riott, and we often revis­it sto­ries about life in Budapest and our shared affec­tion for the city.
  • Dimo’s back­ground com­bined work­ing as a cor­po­rate man­ag­er as well as his train­ing as a schol­ar. Same here. This has served us well in help­ing our stu­dents to con­nect­ing the dots between schol­ar­ship and the prac­tice of entre­pre­neur­ial man­age­ment.
  • Like me, Dimo is a glob­al cit­i­zen, hav­ing lived in Hun­gary, the UK, the US, and Spain — as well as his native Bul­gar­ia.

No mat­ter where we might be, we always stayed in touch. I have always found his research inter­est­ing, his ideas provoca­tive, and his inten­tions admirable. After I read his 2017 book The Reflec­tive Entre­pre­neur [linkUK] [linkUS], we dis­cussed our mutu­al research and approach­es to entre­pre­neur­ship. Just as I did, he imme­di­ate­ly saw the con­nec­tions. So, we have been work­ing close­ly ever since.

We now are devel­op­ing a shared vision for a teach­ing phi­los­o­phy with assess­ment and instruc­tion­al tools for edu­ca­tors and stu­dents. After a recent appear­ance togeth­er in Lon­don at a cor­po­rate sem­i­nar, I talked with Dimo about his book and how it is help­ing to shape a new rela­tion­ship with The Nextsens­ing Project.


Pistrui: Ear­ly in the book, this sen­tence grabbed me: “Peo­ple come up with ideas but, as entre­pre­neurs, they pur­sue oppor­tu­ni­ties.” What made you think of that?

Dimo Dimov

Dimo Dimov

Dimov: There is often a sense that ideas do all the work, that once we have a good idea, the rest is his­to­ry. But ideas are sta­t­ic, they do not engage with real­i­ty, they are infi­nite­ly per­fectible. It is the dri­ve to make them real that mat­ters, the pull of the future they rep­re­sent. It is the com­bi­na­tion of an idea and its pur­suit that cap­tures the essence of entre­pre­neur­ship. What makes you an entre­pre­neur is not whether you have ideas but whether you do some­thing about them.

Pistrui: You refer to peo­ple with new ideas as either genius­es or lunatics. Should this inspire or intim­i­date a bud­ding entre­pre­neur?

Dimov: Ideas come from hunch­es, intu­itions, gut feel­ings; and it is impos­si­ble to com­mu­ni­cate these to anoth­er per­son. We can look at the same sit­u­a­tion but “see” dif­fer­ent things. This lies at the bot­tom of the genius vs lunatic ten­sion of the entre­pre­neur­ial jour­ney — that our ideas are bound to be met by scep­ti­cism by oth­ers. If the scep­ti­cism is not there, this is per­haps a sign that our ideas are not ground­break­ing enough. Rather than being intim­i­dat­ing to bud­ding entre­pre­neurs, this should bring them com­fort that push­back and rejec­tion are nor­mal parts of the process.

Pistrui: How impor­tant is “luck” in being a suc­cess­ful entre­pre­neur? For exam­ple, were Richard Bran­son and Steve Jobs more lucky than bril­liant?

Dimov: When we think of luck as all the things beyond our con­trol that have gone in our favour, then luck is essen­tial. But so is, of course, skill or bril­liance. It is not a ques­tion of whether one is more impor­tant than the oth­er, or whether one should be labelled lucky or bril­liant.

The best way to think of this is as SUCCESS = SKILLLUCK.

The mul­ti­pli­ca­tion effect means that if skill or luck are miss­ing, then suc­cess will not come about. We can con­trol our skill by prac­tice and learn­ing, but we can­not con­trol our luck. Yet, if we think of our over­all luck as the sum of all the tries we make, then we get to the famil­iar say­ing “the hard­er I try, the luck­i­er I get.”

Pistrui: You talk about books and entre­pre­neur­ial ven­tures hav­ing some char­ac­ter­is­tics in com­mon. How so?

Dimov: For both books and entre­pre­neur­ial ven­tures, ulti­mate suc­cess is a ver­dict of the mar­ket­place. Behind that ver­dict is the social­ly inter­de­pen­dent ways in which con­sumers make their choic­es: what I choose depends on what my friends choose, and vice ver­sa. We are influ­enced by the pref­er­ences of oth­ers; and the more pop­u­lar some­thing is, the more like­ly we are to choose it over com­pet­ing offer­ings.

Just think of the star rat­ings that are now an essen­tial part of pur­chase deci­sions, such as those on Amazon.com. The impli­ca­tion of so many peo­ple shar­ing their buy­ing pref­er­ences is that the dis­tri­b­u­tion of suc­cess is not nor­mal (bell-shaped) but has a long-tail. The vast major­i­ty of books sell lit­tle; most ven­tures oper­ate at a small, lifestyle scale; but there are some huge suc­cess­es (best­sellers, Uni­corns).

Pistrui: You note that entre­pre­neurs face both an exte­ri­or jour­ney (the com­pa­ny, project, and so on) and an inte­ri­or (men­tal) jour­ney. Aren’t all entre­pre­neurs, at the core, alike — cut from the same human cloth? And, lat­er, you talk about “man­ag­ing inter­nal pres­sures”. Sounds like an entre­pre­neur can fail both by how he/she thinks and how he/she acts. True?

Dimov: Most food dish­es are made of the same basic ingre­di­ents, but think of the diver­si­ty of dish­es out there. Yes, we are all human at our core, but our per­son­al­i­ties, edu­ca­tion, and life expe­ri­ences cre­ate much diver­si­ty in what we want and how we respond to the same sit­u­a­tion.

Over time peo­ple devel­op inter­nal gate­keep­ers with­in them­selves on how to think and act, judge­ments of what is right or appro­pri­ate. But these are self-imposed. They cre­ate blind spots in terms of what some­one believes can be done or is pos­si­ble. How we think and act can lead to fail­ure in the sense that it pre­vents us from explor­ing the full space for devel­op­ment of our ideas.

Pistrui: What are “wicked prob­lems”?

Dimov: The entre­pre­neur­ial task is a com­plex prob­lem, with many parts that pull our solu­tions in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. The wicked­ness aris­es from the fact that solv­ing one part can wors­en anoth­er. Thus, an entre­pre­neur is after some­thing that needs to be desir­able in the mar­ket, tech­no­log­i­cal­ly fea­si­ble, and finan­cial­ly viable. She or he may know what cus­tomers want but also realise that this is not fea­si­ble or too expen­sive to make. Any com­pro­mise on the lat­ter may make it no longer desir­able. What cus­tomers need or want and what an entre­pre­neur can offer may be dif­fer­ent things. Align­ing them puts entre­pre­neurs through such a wicked, iter­a­tive process.

Pistrui: In our new work togeth­er, what excites you the most?

Dimov: Our work enables us to make the ques­tion “Are you an entre­pre­neur?” moot. Instead, we recog­nise that it is more rel­e­vant to ask “What type of an entre­pre­neur are you?”

This ques­tion makes it obvi­ous that it is not enough for an organ­i­sa­tion to want to be more entre­pre­neur­ial. There needs to be a spe­cif­ic direc­tion for devel­op­ment, a roadmap that recog­nis­es where they are and where they might want to go.

The new matrix frame­work that we are design­ing as both a con­cept and as an assess­ment tool enables peo­ple to find their start­ing point as an entre­pre­neur. It’s no longer a bina­ry mat­ter: that you are or are not an entre­pre­neur. Our new approach makes entre­pre­neur­ship like a lan­guage of moves to be mas­tered and used in dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. For any­one to mas­ter the lan­guage, they need to recog­nise that they have grown accus­tomed to only some of them. This in turns opens them up to what they could do dif­fer­ent­ly. This is a source of bound­less excite­ment for me.

Entrepreneurial Matrix

Joseph PistruiJoseph Pistrui (@nextsensing) is Pro­fes­sor of Entre­pre­neur­ial Man­age­ment at IE Busi­ness School in Madrid. He also leads the glob­al Nextsens­ing Project, which he found­ed in 2012.

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