NETWORKING AND THE SMALL BUSINESS
The study of entrepreneurship from a social network perspective is an important contribution to our understanding of entrepreneurial behaviour, supplementing more long-standing psychological approaches that emphasise the sources of individual motivation (McLelland, 1961; Manimala, 2000), and economic theories that concentrate on the economic rationality of those starting their own businesses (Casson, 1982, 1990). Indeed, the contention of Aldrich and Zimmer (1986: 9) that 'comprehensive explanations of entrepreneurship must include the social context of (such) behaviour, especially the social relationships through which people obtain information, resources and social support', is now broadly accepted in the entrepreneurship literature. For some, perhaps, the concept of networking takes us a step further; it helps us move away from the traditional view of entrepreneurs as resourceful individualists to an image of entrepreneurship as a collective phenomenon (Johannisson, 2000). We are, however, not suggesting that the motivation of individual entrepreneurs can be discounted in explaining the creation of new business ventures. Rather, we agree with Wickham (1998: 39) that the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs include: hard work, self-starting, goal-setting, resilience, confidence, assertiveness and comfort with power. It is certainly the case that James Dyson demonstrated all of these characteristics over a considerable length of time. At the same time, we have illustrated how Dyson's entrepreneurial activities were heavily embedded in an extensive network of family, friends and casual acquaintances. Clearly this network would not have developed in the way that it did without Dyson's ability (agency) to maintain and utilise existing strong ties while at the same time initiating, nurturing and mobilising a range of weaker ties.
Since the seminal work on entrepreneurial networks in the mid- to late-1980s by the likes of Howard Aldrich, Sue Birley, Dorothy Leonard-Barton and Bengt Johannisson, there has been an increasing interest and burgeoning body of empirical work in the area. This work has provided insights into the size, diversity, stability and morphology of entrepreneurial networks, and has highlighted the range of important roles and functions for which it is nurtured and mobilised. Research has also informed us of the variety of the flows through the network, the mechanisms and forums for interaction, and the often informal and multiplex nature of many of the network relationships. More recent empirical work has highlighted differences in the nature of the network and networking activity between entrepreneurs of different nationalities and, to a lesser extent, between male and female entrepreneurs.
- Why might entrepreneurship be considered to be a 'collective' phenomenon?
- If entrepreneurship is to be considered a 'collective' phenomenon, then what would you view to be the key roles, skills and resources of the entrepreneur?
- In what ways might an entrepreneur's social network be mobilised during the entrepreneurial process?
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