Mindless Managers — Magic Entrepreneurs?

It’s a kind of magic (Source: Internet)

Entrepreneurs Wanted!

Wherever we look, whatever we read, a revolutionary movement seems to have captured the fantasies of corporatelandia: the battle for more entrepreneurialism is on!! Armies of consultants and swarms of starry-eyed agilistas are storming the bulwarks of bureaucracy and raiding the fiendish fortresses of decadent hierarchies and conservatism. Their demand is unanimous: we must transform our businesses, and ourselves, to become more entrepreneurial! Or with the words of Zhang Ruimin, CEO of Haier Group and alleged chief ideologist of (Chinese-flavoured) agile capitalism: “Management is not about managing people, but about helping people become entrepreneurs”!

Hip Hip Hurrah! It was about time that someone rattled those rusty cages of unnecessary controls, administrative constraints and costly regulations! Down with old bureaucracies, freedom for free enterprise, sovereignty to customers (… and profits for the capitalist)! Who wants to be a (dull) manager anyway?!

That all sounds great, but wait… what exactly is “an entrepreneur”?

The Curious History of Entrepreneurialism

With all the hype about entrepreneurship it might come as a surprise that the role and reputation of “entrepreneurs” has been far from unequivocal during the last two centuries:

Therefore, it turns out that the invention of entrepreneurs as icons of modernity is surprisingly new. Joseph Schumpeter might well be its godfather: he describes entrepreneurs as creative and dynamic figures who ”imagine and implement new combinations of resources to generate innovation and economic growth”.

The Modern Myth of Entrepreneurialism

But the story does not quite finish here: with the invention of modern management methodologies, the explosion of global markets, and, alas, the introduction of business schools the portrait of entrepreneurship mutates once again, albeit slightly. In most textbooks today, technical definitions of entrepreneurship dominate and any ethical legacy has almost vanished.

“An entrepreneur”, says Investopedia, “is an individual who creates a new business, bearing most of the risks and enjoying most of the rewards.” In other words, entrepreneurs are those pioneering disruptors of modern markets, who through their creativity fuel economic growth and above all make a lot of money for themselves. Sounds familiar? Whilst apparently amoral, it legitimises — not for the first time — behavioural narcissism, whilst introducing a touch of drama and magic to the dismal science of economics! It might be no surprise, then, that in the soul-thirsty imagination of our ever more disillusioned corporate society, entrepreneurs have advanced to an almost mythical status of almighty avengers — in a global Darwinian battle for market share, technological innovation and power. Let there be not doubt: in the Churches of Capitalism entrepreneurs are the new uncontested Saints!

Entrepreneurs of the World, Compete!

Exciting! So, should we heed those battle cries and radically transform our organisations to become more “entrepreneurial”? And make every employee an “entrepreneur”?

Maybe, then, our conclusion is not that we need millions of new entrepreneurs at work — epitomising gig economies and self-employed uber drivers; but rather that we need more entrepreneurship to innovate the way we work, for the purpose of “good work”. Perhaps management is not simply about “helping people become entrepreneurs”, but about enabling all individuals and communities to flourish. Either way, reifying individual entrepreneurs as the messianic saviors of humankind — as some management prophets of sale seem keen to do, is certainly neither justified nor useful.

Historical overview of the notion of “entrepreneur” based partly on: Christliche Unternehmer by Francesca Schinziger


Isn’t more autonomy good? Fair point Otti. However, would you say that shifting the system of management and governance in organizations to provide more autonomy to individuals in the workplace is an equally problematic aspiration? I would argue this it is inherently a good thing for humans and humanity, even if some organizational members prefer less autonomy for themselves. To be fair, the post talks about giving more autonomy to workers — which resulted in more of them acting like entrepreneurs. As long as they made this choice on their own, it is hard to find fault in that. The problem would be in imposing the risk profile preference of an entrepreneur on everyone.

From: “Sunday Morning Thoughts on LinkedIn” — I will report some of the interesting LinkedIn dialogues here, paraphrased and applying the Chatham House Rule — trying to protect some of the sentiments, thoughts, and above all our stimulating discussions from oblivion ;-)



Disruptive thinker, amateur poet and passionate global C-level transformation leader with over 20 years of experience in cross-cultural strategic change

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Otti Vogt

Disruptive thinker, amateur poet and passionate global C-level transformation leader with over 20 years of experience in cross-cultural strategic change