Entrepreneurship as experienced by the entrepreneur
Much has been written on the personal traits and characteristics of the entrepreneur, and more recently, the skills and capabilities associated with entrepreneurial success. While controversial, such work helps us to better understand entrepreneurial motives and behaviors. For instance, one of the more consistently emphasized entrepreneurial traits is achievement motivation. Many observers have suggested that entrepreneurs not only have a high need for achievement, but that the drive to achieve explains their motives and behaviors more than do other intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g., power, money, position, freedom). At the same time, researchers have devoted very little attention to the entrepreneurial experience itself. How is a venture actually experienced by the entrepreneur? In what ways is the entrepreneur affected by the day-to-day ebb and flow of running a business? If achievement matters, what is it like when one is in the midst of "achieving"? If entrepreneurs are tolerant of ambiguity (another personality characteristic), how are they specifically affected by highly ambiguous circumstances? Greater insights into these questions might significantly advance our understanding of a host of issues. As examples, the nature of the entrepreneurial experience might be expected to influence the entrepreneur's motives, goals, resource strategies, adaptability, ethical standards, growth propensity, exit strategies, and a variety of other variables. The first challenge is to identify relevant dimensions of the entrepreneurial experience. Many possibilities exist. Some fairly straightforward characteristics of the experience might include workload, stress levels, and task diversity. At a deeper level, the entrepreneurial experience might be characterized in terms of role conflict, role complexity and role ambiguity. Similarly, researchers might discover some surprising insights if they explored a variable such as Organizational impact', as any number of factors might affect the entrepreneur's sense of impact on his/her own firm. The tendency to self-identify with the work and/or the enterprise, or to experience a degree of alienation could be other relevant aspects of the experience. Further, mental processes involved with entrepreneurial work have received scant attention. Three inter-related constructs from psychology would also seem to hold promise for enhancing our understanding of the entrepreneurial experience: peak performance, peak experience, and flow. Peak performance is an episode of superior functioning, or superior use of human potential. Peak performance may affect and be affected by peak experience, defined as an intense and highly valued moment or period. Such experiences are self-validating or self-justifying, and can result in creativity and spontaneous innovation. Flow refers to a psychological state where nothing extraneous is allowed to interfere, and the person often senses a loss of time and space and self, boundless energy, and a perception of mastery and control. The person finds purpose and intrinsic reward in the activity itself, especially when the challenge matches the individual's skill. These constructs have historically been applied in extreme physical contexts, such as mountain biking. However, Csikszentmihalyi (1991) has applied the concept of "flow" to the work environment. He provides various examples of people in very ordinary work contexts, such as a welder in a South Chicago assembly plant, who transform a mindless, routine job into a complex flowproducing activity. Entrepreneurship would seem an especially rich area within which to examine these constructs. Might the process of achieving high rates of growth in an environment characterized by stress, a multiplicity of obstacles and demands, and uncertainty regarding outcomes, represent a type of peak performance? Might the entrepreneur find such performance to be rewarding or self-actualizing, resulting in a peak experience? Does the entrepreneur experience a state of flow as he/she applies personal skills and effort to the myriad demands of the venture? To use terminology popular in sports, does the entrepreneur periodically find himself or herself "in the zone"? Entrepreneurship is work. It is a job. Yet, for many who pursue this path, or consider pursing this path, it is much more. While entrepreneurship may well be a source of job creation, innovation, wealth generation, and economic development, might there be a more fundamental or intimate outcome of entrepreneurial activity? Does is represent a vehicle for optimal human experiencing? It is time that researchers probed deeper into this experience.