Harmonious Entrepreneurship & its systems thinking roots

Fifteen years ago, I proposed the need for a new entrepreneurship education paradigm (Kirby, 2007). At the International Enterprise Educators Conference (IEEC2022) hosted by Swansea University last week, similar calls were made once more. First, in his keynote address, Professor Shailendra Vyakarnam called for entrepreneurship education to be meaningful and proposed that the Friedman (1970) doctrine of “making as much money as possible” should be abandoned. Then, in his keynote address, Professor Klaus Sailer, of Munich University lamented the lack of systems thinking in Entrepreneurship Education. These are messages  with which the HES can concur.

In order for entrepreneurship to address the sustainability challenge it has to be recognised that the planet is a system composed of inter-connected economic, environmental and human subsystems, and, in accordance with Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety, any proposed solution to the problems it faces needs to address all three subsystems. Inevitably failure to do so, as with the separate application of economic, environmental, humane and social entrepreneurship, will mean that not only will any proposed solution have only limited impact, but it could create further problems for the interconnected subsystems, as has been the case to date.

“The time has come the walrus said to talk of many things…” (Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898)

For some time, and certainly since 1970, entrepreneurship has focused on the economic problems facing the planet. According to Friedman, the purpose of business is to satisfy its shareholders by “making as much money as possible” and this doctrine has prevailed both in theory and practice. In so doing, entrepreneurship has created problems for the environment and people, and may even be regarded as being responsible for the current crisis the planet is facing. If entrepreneurship is to impact the sustainability challenge, this needs to change. The Friedman doctrine has to be revisited as Shai recognised, and as Felicity and I demonstrated in our parallel session presentation.

What Friedman actually said was that the responsibility of business is to make as much money as possible “while conforming to the basic rules of society both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom”. Unfortunately, this has tended to be ignored and not all entrepreneurial activity has been embodied in either the law or ethical custom, particularly the latter. In the search for profit, people and the planet have often been neglected. Yet the major world religions, where ethical custom is to be found, call upon us to respect each other and the environment.

Entrepreneurship needs to recognise this and  develop holistic, systemic solutions to the sustainability challenge. Solutions that address all three subsystems – the economy, the environment and the people — and ensure they are in harmony. A completely new paradigm is required that focuses on sustainability, systems thinking and ethical custom and behaviour. This is what HES is all about – through its research and teaching (Kirby, et. al.,  2022). Let us be entrepreneurial and build on the current momentum and bring about “new combination”  that do not just disturb the status quo but help save the planet.

 “When harmony prevails all things under the sun will flourish” – Xun Zi, 313BC – 238 BC

David and Felicity.

Co-Founders, Harmonious Entrepreneurship Society

References

Friedman, M.  (1970), The Social and Ethical Responsibility of Business is to increase its profits. New York Times. September 13, 122-126.

Kirby, D.A (2007), Changing the Entrepreneurship Education Paradigm. In Fayolle, A., (Ed), A Handbook of research in Entrepreneurship Education: Volume 1: A General Perspective. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Kirby, D.A.,El-Kaffass, I and Healey-Benson  F., (2022), Harmonious  Entrepreneurship: evolution from wealth creation to sustainable development. Journal of Management History DOI 10.1108/JMH-11-2021-0060

5 comments

  1. young entrepreneurs are trying to reconcile the mentorship of more experienced entrepreneurs, where money is the goal, with their personal need to make reasonable money whilst being part of the solution. This means it is the established business people that must be reached.

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    1. Agreed. The Terra Carta of the Prince of Wales is doing that but we academics need to do so too, especially those of us in Business Schools teaching on MBA and executive education programmes. Additionally we need to be very careful when recruiting mentors . David.

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  2. With a new dawn and a new environmental philosophy from the recently proclaimed head of our Monarchy, now is the time for business, in all sectors and all sizes, to grasp the challenges of the 21st century. Yes, every business or organisation must generate sufficient revenue to sustain themselves and profits are often re-invested to grow the enterprises. However, culture and strategy are developed at board or owner-manager level and we should be asking the difficult questions – what are you doing and reporting to address the important issues of people, profit and planet?

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    1. Bev. But how do we make it happen? The North Sea is littered with redundant derelict oil rigs. Next it will be wind farms. Removing them eats into profits and impacts shareholder satisfaction. It will take time to change mindsets, time we do not have. Is there a solution in your comment? David.

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      1. Yes – always a solution. Sometimes it takes a bit longer but we must be realistic and accept that nothing happens immediately. We need to identify those large corporates who include the #HES principles in their annual reports and, yes, they are there to generate dividends to their shareholders but things are changing and more and more equity firms/pension funds are required by their clients to search for responsible business practices. In the first instance, I would suggest contacting Business in the Community, starting with the Wales branch – they are closely linked to the former Prince of Wales/now King Charles 111 and should be some way along this path. And, regarding wind farms etc, all the new contracts/planning consents require 25 years maintenance so we must be prepared not to expect quick results but you have to start somewhere. Exciting times ahead……

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