Sep 292011
 
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entrepreneurship - science or art?

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.

Paul Morin

paul@companyfounder.com

www.companyfounder.com

 

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  • I’m agree with you it’s a mix. But I think that in entrepreneurship the component of art prevails. that’s come from the fact that the entrepreneur feels the opportunities and the challenge before thinking about it. In italian we say that he feels the business with his stomach before made the plan to act.

  • Keri

    When I saw your message about your post, my gut answer was, “Both!”

    Thank you for the objective exploration. These words spoke to me:

    “progression from intuitive (art) or intentional (science), to intuitive and intentional.” I’m chewing on this a bit…

    ~Keri

  • Interesting article. I totally agree with you it is part science part art! Just one more thing to add, in the end it really doesn’t matter whether it’s science or art as long as it accomplishes these two functions.
    1. Innovation 2. Marketing which by definition are both part art and science!

  • Margaret (Peggy) Herrman

    the art/science conversation has been going on as long in conflict/mediation circles. I’m not sure why we tend to think either/or ….always confuses me. Life, medicine, law, spiritual writing, even retail and selling is both.

    Life is complex. a lot of the art in all of these endeavors is in listening to deeper messages, personal intuition, and timing. then there is the need to study trends and waves to project changes. some of the science comes in there. I suspect the real successes come when we blend seamlessly. Best, Orchid Ladies and Doc Peg

  • Hi Paul,
    As I was reading the beginning of this post I was thinking the same thing about entrepreneurship. It takes a little bit of both. When we use a combination of the right and left brain thinking we can really make things happen for the better.

    I see too many really bright people who are in business rely heavily one way or the other. Becoming balanced would be ideal or at least get a partner that can balance us out.

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  • As an artist I’m one who’d be quick to say that ” art imitates life “, ( there’s a Latin version of that saying which I can’t think of at the moment ) and and as a lover of the sciences I say life is science. It’s yin/yang.

  • Thanks, Fabrizio. Entrepreneurship is a mix of art and science — there’s almost no getting around it, if what you’re seeking is sustainable success. I love the perspective of the Italian saying you mentioned, that the entrepreneur feels the business in his stomach before he/she makes plans to act. That’s a great way to look at it! I wrote a post called Entrepreneur – Follow Your Heart. Analysis Is Overrated. Even though I tend to be an analytical person, I strongly believe that you must follow your heart (stomach) first, then do the analysis to see if you’re headed in the right direction, or should course adjust.

  • Thanks, Keri. You should always “trust your gut” as the saying goes. 🙂 Entrepreneurship is most always a mixture of art and science. The balance changes, but both elements are almost always present. I agree – I really like the “intuitive and intentional” description. Paul

  • Hi, Lee. Agreed — Entrepreneurship is part science and part art. How much of each depends on a bunch of factors and can/will change over time, but it most always contains both elements. I also agree that innovation and marketing are EXTREMELY important. Thanks for you thoughts. Paul

  • Hi, Peggy. I agree that most all of these pursuits, professional or otherwise, like entrepreneurship, are both science and art. I like the way you closed your comments: “I suspect the real successes come when we blend seamlessly”. In my experience and observation, this is correct! Paul

  • Hi Justin,

    Agreed – Entrepreneurship is both art and science. I like your comment about using both sides of the brain to really make things happen. In my experience, as I just said in response to another comment, that is a very accurate statement. If you can get both your right brain and your left brain working simultaneously, which is not easy to do, you can make some amazing things happen. I’ve known a few people that balance the two sides of the brain quite well, but I haven’t known many. Your point is well taken though: if you don’t balance them well yourself, then at a minimum seek people to work with you who can help create that balance.

    Paul

  • Well said, Quintius. I agree — it’s yin/yang. I’m not sure if art imitates life, or life imitates art. 🙂 I guess it depends. Thanks, as always, for stopping by!

  • Alyson Miller

    At PivotGuild, we’ve chosen “The Art Of Entrepreneurship” as our tagline for a company which essentially trains and provides guidance and community around integrating native skills and practice to master acquired skills. Having worked with artists and scientists-engineers on commercialization for many years, there are many similarities centered on creativity. Among the most successful, the “science” is integrated with the “art” with no “firewall” between the two! PS This is always a really interesting discussion topic…thanks for sharing!

  • Hi, Alyson. Thanks for stopping by. Sounds like what you do is quite interesting! I agree — there should be no “firewall” between art and science in the entrepreneurship context. Often the most successful ventures (and entrepreneurs) have a healthy mix of the two. Paul

  • Sherrie Koretke

    Hey Paul,
    It’s most definitely both! If anybody thinks running a business without either one is possible they haven’t run a business. If no humans were involved when running a business you could possibly run it scientifically, But since that’s impossible you need the artistic or what you called intuitive side. Human thoughts, behavior, and emotions are rarely predictable. Just try and do it! 🙂
    Sherrie

  • Hi Sherrie,

    I know you’ve “been there and done that” when it comes to running a business. I agree with you completely that there are elements of both art and science in running a business. It’s an unavoidable reality, so if you tend to shy away from one or the other, you should work with others to help you manage the “other side,” and/or continue to augment your comfort level and knowledge in that non-primary (for you) area. As the CEO of a company, you must be able to deal with both art and science, on your own and with the help of your team.

    Paul

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  • ibitoye oluwashola

    i totally agree with you that entrepreneurship is a part of art and a part of science.because art deal with skill and creative imagination while in science deal with things of life.that i put there is very importance in people life.so as entrepreneurship you must have knoledge in science and art too.thank you