Enterprising or Entrepreurial?

The English language is surprisingly unhelpful when we consider the different ways in which enterprising people take on social and private businesses. Why is there no noun, other than ‘entrepreneur’, which reflects the variations between different ways of going about one’s ‘business’? And does this indefinite mode of ‘naming’ influence the way that some folk approach the business world?
I had a very interesting conversation today with a friend who works in suporting Liverpool businesses.
We were mulling over the issue of more public than private sector economic activity in Merseyside, and we got onto social enterprise. The reason there’s so much social enterprise here, it seems, may be that most people who decide to set up their own business come from working in the public sector… so their previous professional experience was of being employed by the state or local government.
From this public sector background, the full-blown private sector can look pretty scary, a step too far. Social enterprise is perhaps seen as closer to the ethos of public service, and perhaps less daunting, than would be full private sector competition in all its glory.
Enterprising and self directed
In some sense the ‘social’ option permits one to develop one’s skills in an enterprising way, without having to ‘go for it’ as would be necessary in a private business.
In my dictionary (Concise Oxford) enterprise is defined as ‘[an] undertaking, esp. bold or difficult one; business firm; courage, readiness, to engage in enterprises’. When defining the adjective, ‘enterprising’, the word ‘imaginative’ is added to this list.
In other words, people who are enterprising are willing to take on challenging and stretching tasks; but they may or may not aim to make financial profit as such. Mostly, it could be said of those who are enterprising that they like to choose their own way forward, and perhaps survive on their skills and wits, rather than that they are out for what they can get in the purely financial sense.
Entrepreneurial and in control
My dictiionary has a slightly different take on the meaning of ‘entrepreneur’. It says of entrepreneurs that these are people ‘in effective control of [a] commercial undertaking; [they] undertake a business or enterprise, with a chance of profit or loss…’.
So is the difference between someone who is ‘enterprising’ and someone who is ‘entrepreneurial’, that the latter are willing to drive forward – not simply direct – their activity in a way that exposes them to risk as well as profit?
Would social entrepreneurs agree?
It’s probably unjust to suggest that some social entrepreneurs are unwilling to take risks; the best and most socially amibitious of them certainly do… though sometimes – not always – the ‘risk’ may be more to their standing and others’ view of their skills and judgement, than directly to their pockets. (Social entrepreneurs, please do disagree, if you wish!)
Nonetheless, there may be something in this. We are many and varied in the way we see the world. Some of us value hard cash and all that goes with it; some of us put more store by value judgements of other kinds; and of course some of us try to bring these different, perhaps in part conflicting, elements of our lives together in what we set out to do. The world is a complex place.
Inadequate vocabulary
There’s one thing that strikes me about all this, however: There simply isn’t a separate noun in the English language which refers to people who are enterprising, rather than those, the ‘entrepreneurs’, who are entrepreneurial in the ‘strong’ sense.
When we talk about people setting up small businesses (even if they have absolutely no intention to become big ones), or social enterprises, we use the same word – entrepreneur – as when we discuss those who seek to take on huge financially make-or-break activities of the fundamentally ‘red in tooth and claw’ sort, in the private sector.
What’s the best balance of enterprise to entrepreneurship?
Perhaps this lack of distinction in our naming of activities and roles goes a little way towards explaining the lack of ‘ambition’ in significant numbers of people, for instance, in Merseyside. Because they haven’t actually rubbed shoulders with too many folk who really are ‘full-blooded’ entrepreneurs, they don’t recognise there are two senses in which one can become enterprising and / or entrepreneurial.
Undoubtedly, many industrious business people, in both the social and the private sectors, would not want to be entrepreneurial in the strongest sense, even if they saw the opportunity. I’d be interested, nonetheless, to find out what general percentage of businesses in any locality is the best predictor of a healthy and reasonably stable economy. Does anybody know?

Posted on November 23, 2005, in Regeneration, Renewal And Resilience, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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