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January 21st, 2019


Do we think of entrepreneurs as researchers?  While the label might not seem inappropriate after a moment of consideration, it’s probably not the first thing we would ascribe to an entrepreneur.  Nor would we really think of a researcher as a kind of entrepreneur.  And yet, at their core, it doesn’t seem like their process is all that different.  Both are trying to finding something, to figure something out, and put things together in a way that hasn’t been thought of before.


So Is there really much of a difference?  We might relegate such a difference as the researcher within the institutional domain and the entrepreneur as outside of such a domain.  Or we might highlight the difference in motive: we generally ascribe the pursuit of money to the entrepreneur and the loftier pursuit of knowledge to that of the researcher.    And yet a researcher is required to seek out money, often in the form of grants in order to fund the often expensive process of research.  Whereas the entrepreneur can – with a little luck – bootstrap from absolutely nothing.


These differences are perhaps superficial if we refocus back on the core of what each does.  Each is searching for something.  But, the circumstantial influences of each most likely hinder the ones in each given domain and could prove useful to the other.


A simple example might be healthcare.  The researcher who is associated with an institution most likely has some kind of coverage which absolves this variety of stress.


Whereas the bootstrapping entrepreneur has no such stress net, unless of course they happen to be lucky enough to live in a country where this necessity is a given.


This is a practical difference, but the difference in strategy is perhaps even more important.


In some relative sense, the entrepreneur is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, whereas the institutional researcher is methodically designing experiments to slowly increment knowledge to create a richer context.  Both are looking for something in this process, but when the styles of each method are compared, one seems tediously slow and the other seems perhaps: reckless.


How many entrepreneurs would have found success instead of failure if they had been a little more methodical and incremental with their approach.  And how many researchers would speed up the rate of discovery if they performed a greater number of experiments instead of spending the time in the minutia of experimental design?  We’re probably more inclined to agree with the former and find discomfort with the later.


Is this because our feelings about such questions are absolutely correct?  Or is it because we are accustomed to associating a certain style of approach to each domain separately?


If we are comfortable with each style in it’s own domain, why do we find discomfort with a merging of such styles of inquiry?  Perhaps this is another niche of human thinking where The Identity Danger creeps in.


The strange lack of emotional overlap here hints at the real difference between these domains.  Institutional research carries within it an implicit contradiction and we can see it symbolically in the word ‘research’ itself.  The verb implies that researchers are merely searching through what has already been found in order to find connections that can solve our problems.  They are in essence searching again for what someone has already found.  But unpacked like this, it proves a fallacy.  Certainly researchers are building on top of previous knowledge, but the motive is to push forward and find something new with the help of previous knowledge.  The institutional shell for this process perhaps undermines this truth by implying that the solutions have already been found and catalogued, they just need to be… researched.  The reality is that many solvable problems have yet to be solved and we would do well to wonder if the concept of an institution devoted to the problem actually makes headway towards a solution or if it merely makes us feel better in the absence of faster more efficient headway?


The entrepreneur on the other hand operates with none of this implied denial and the underlying fear.  Leanness, often in the personal life of the entrepreneur leaves little time nor energy for such concerns.  The precious little time and energy must be spent actually doing things – throwing things at the wall of reality to see what will stick, what reality will take and run with.  The entrepreneur is like a water skier on the shore throwing a line out into the water of reality hoping a whale or shark will catch the end and pull that entrepreneur out over the water fast enough for one wild ride.


The real differences seem to be merely dispositional.  The entrepreneur invokes that fearless willingness to jump into the unknown and make things up as they go along, whereas the stereotypical image of the researcher is one who is safe in the certainty of routine inquiry. 


But beyond this, the entrepreneur and the scientist are one in the same, and it is perhaps an unfortunate ramification of constructed institutions that result in the simultaneous limiting of progress on the part of the scientist and scaring away more people from embarking on the entrepreneurial journey.


The institution burdens the researcher with the hoops and hurdles of bureaucracy and broadcasts to the would-be entrepreneur that the institutional path is the only reliable option. 


The concept of an institution may in fact be an offspring of a mass fear that we can all relate to on an individual level.  The fear inherent in taking a chance, venturing out into the unknown.  It is the act of searching the unknown for something new, as opposed to the empty achievement of researching something another person had tenacity to bring back from the unknown.



This episode references Episode 17: The Identity Danger.

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