Is Entrepreneurship Art Or Science?
I have heard and participated in this debate for as long I’ve been involved in entrepreneurship. I have friends and colleagues who will argue until they’re “blue in the face” that entrepreneurship is either art or science. In an effort to answer this question, if you observe entrepreneurs and particularly those who have been successful, you quickly realize that there is no “right” answer. Sometimes entrepreneurship looks more like art, sometimes more like science, and sometimes, it looks like an equal mix of the two.
Before going further, let’s define “art” and “science,” so that we’re all on the same page. In the online Merriam-Webster dictionary (www.merriam-webster.com), there are several definitions of both “art” and “science”. I have chosen one definition for each – see below – so we can look at them more closely in the context of entrepreneurship. Note: I also included the definition of “scientific method” to make the “science” definition clearer.
Art: The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.
Science: Knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.
Scientific Method: Principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
So which of these sounds more like entrepreneurship to you? If you’re more of an engineer or “scientific type,” you’ll probably lean toward science and the scientific method. If you’re more of an artist (or “poet”), you’ll probably lean more toward the art definition. One talks more about imagination and creativity, the other more about data and “hypothesis testing”.
In reality though, regardless of which side of the spectrum you gravitate toward, if you’ve had much experience with entrepreneurship, you’ll realize that most businesses are part art and part science. How much of each is involved typically has a lot to do with the type of business and the particular entrepreneur or entrepreneurial team involved. It also is often correlated with the stage of the venture.
In early stage ventures, there often is not a lot of “hard data” available, thus there tends to be a lot more “art” and intuition needed to keep the business moving forward in a positive manner. This reality brings us back to the saying that venture capitalists and other early stage “risk capital” investors would almost always rather put their money into “an A team with a B idea” than “a B team with an A idea”. Why is that? Because at the early stage of any venture, there’s not much certainty about the correct direction to take and a more intuitive or “artful” management team is needed to navigate through dangerous waters.
This is not to say that those “intuitive” and “artful” entrepreneurs will not be using the “scientific method,” nor is it saying that they’re lacking strong left-brain, analytical capabilities. To the contrary, such “A team” entrepreneurs and managers often have very strong analytical capabilities, and moreover, they usually have a track record of experiences that allow them to naturally mix art and science, frequently without even realizing it. Such “A” entrepreneurs have usually been through several early stage ventures and have seen the good and bad results of both “artistic” and scientific approaches to various early stage venture issues and scenarios. The good ones are then able to rely on pattern recognition and apply their previous experience through an “intuitive filter” and lead the venture through challenges and opportunities.
One of my colleagues at Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs used to call it moving from the intuitive to the intentional. I’m not sure it’s necessarily a “progression” from intuitive to intentional; rather, I think it’s a progression from intuitive (art) or intentional (science), to intuitive and intentional. No matter how scientific or proactive an entrepreneur would like to become in growing and leading their venture, and no matter in which business lifecycle phase they may find themselves, situations frequently arise where there is no certainty regarding the “correct” answer and intuition must play a key role.
So, in the end, entrepreneurship will always be part art and part science. What changes, based on the entrepreneur or entrepreneurial team, the particular venture, the lifecycle stage, and so on, is the required balance between art and science. Make sure that in your entrepreneurial life and ventures, if you tend to be too heavily weighted toward the artistic or the scientific, you find a way to arrive at a balance that makes sense. Depending where you are on the spectrum, this may involve bringing in more “professional managers,” who by definition are usually more scientific in their approach, or it may involve bringing in more creative and intuitive types. Of course, there will never be a perfect balance, but some businesses and management teams are so heavily weighted toward one end of the spectrum, that they are exposing themselves to the risk of being “blindsided,” for lack of orientation and competence toward the other end of the spectrum. Find a balance; don’t allow yourself or your business to be blindsided.
I look forward to your thoughts and questions. Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.
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