Listen to entrepreneurs – or not?

The lives of entrepreneurs make great reading. More than that, argues high-tech entrepreneur and CEO, Henry R. Nothhaft, “in virtually every case over the last 200 years, the breakthrough inventions that gave rise to whole new industries and millions of new jobs were all made by entrepreneurial startups”. They are, he says, the true drivers of innovation in the economy. Economic and organisational sociologist Marc Ventresca disagrees, saying system-builders, not entrepreneurs, provide better lessons on innovation. Value creation more often comes from assembling heterogeneous elements into something else, he adds, using the iPod – “a glorious Sony Walkman – as an example. American historian Thomas Parke Hughes’ seminal work, Networks of Power, contains many useful insights, he says. The form of electricity grids varied from country to country depending on who developed them, and these pioneers “were more than just entrepreneurs,” he says. “They drew on diverse skills, they worked with different kinds of people, they created new kinds of protocols, funding, financing; they reworked regulation. In other words, they worked across a landscape that, until they’d come along, had been unconnected.”

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