#5 William B. Gartner

William B. Gartner holds a joint appointment with Copenhagen Business School (Fall Term) and California Lutheran University (Spring and Summer Terms). He has held faculty positions at the University of Virginia, Georgetown University, San Francisco State University, the University of Southern California and Clemson University. He is the 2005 winner of the Swedish Entrepreneurship Foundation International Award for outstanding contributions to entrepreneurship research. His research has been published in AMR, JBV, ETP, JOM, JSBM, IJSB, SBE and SEJ. His current scholarship focuses on entrepreneurial behavior, the rhetoric of entrepreneurial practice, and the hermeneutics of possibility and failure.

Bill Gartner




Tel:+45 38153398
E-mail: wbg.mpp@cbs.dk
Department of Management, Politics and Philosophy

What is your understanding of entrepreneurship? 

I am interested in processes of organizing (from Weickian and Schumpeterian perspectives) as it pertains to the emergence of new organizations. But the sensibility of “processes of organizing” could also be expanded to include the emergence of new: markets, products, services, technologies, and ways of doing business (i.e., business models). Given a more expansive definition of the term “entrepreneurship,” the word has become a catchall phrase that has become meaningless (see below). Entrepreneurship means whatever people want it to mean, and, therefore, it is almost useless for talking about what the phenomenon might or might not be. So, for example, one might not see how “swimming” and “entrepreneurship” would have anything in common, yet, if someone combines them into “entrepreneurial swimming” then, there is some sense making that such a phenomenon exists as an aspect of entrepreneurship. 

As Arthur Cole put it in 1969: “My own personal experience was that for ten years we ran a research center in entrepreneurial history, for ten years we tried to define the entrepreneur. We never succeeded. Each of us had some notion of it – what he thought was, for his purposes, a useful definition. And, I don’t think you’re going to get further than that.”

What characterises an entrepreneur as an individual? 

The empirical evidence is meager for supporting any claims that entrepreneurs are different from any other kind of individual. The question assumes an essentialist perspective on individuals that differentiates people based on who and what they are, rather than on what they do. A “process perspective” would see that someone who plays soccer is a soccer player, and when they aren’t playing soccer they are not soccer players. Identity is transitory, depending on action, rather than being. Entrepreneurship involves actions, that, at some point, end, and, people become something else.

What does this mean for university education, or education more generally? 

I believe knowledge about the processes of organizing are now, widely known, and, in some respects, a set of routines that are easily learned. What is under-appreciated about this phenomenon is that the likelihood of successfully organizing is less than 30% of all attempts. So, the experience of entrepreneurship most likely involves failing. Entrepreneurship, then, is primarily about having things go wrong more often than not. Education tends to be about “right answers” while entrepreneurial processes are about trying and not having things work out. Success is the wrong metric for entrepreneurship education.

 What is the role and function of entrepreneurship for private companies and for
the public sector? 

All good things come to an end. Success is transitory. Failure is a fundamental aspect of change. Traditions are solutions to yesterday’s problems. So, if today is different than yesterday, then, what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. Entrepreneurship for the public and private sectors implies that nothing lasts. Get used to it. Failure is in your future. Move on.

In what sense is entrepreneurship important for society? 

Human beings appear to desire a great deal of novelty in their experiences. We are easily bored. Therefore, change is inevitable. What is often under-appreciated is that change does not necessarily lead to being “better off”. We tend to forget that Schumpeter saw entrepreneurship as the process of “creative destruction.” Entrepreneurship as a solution to problems in society is over-rated. Whenever people tell me that they have a solution for mankind’s problems, I run away from them as fast as I can.

To whom do you pass on the baton? 
Asma Fattoum


The page was last edited by: Entrepreneurship Platform // 06/23/2021