Is there a new wave of entrepreneurialism?

Dragon's den in action.

Entrepreneur. It is a word that, courtesy of television programmes like "The Apprentice" and "Dragon's Den", conjures up images of a lone wolf or "dragon" with a business vision. When one thinks of entrepreneurialism one immediately thinks of personalities like Sir Richard Branson and Steve Jobs building a brand and a business empire in their own image, hewn from their own industry and wild creativity. Entrepreneurialism appears then to be something wholly individual, almost egotistical, and consumer-facing. It is not a term one would often associate with big businesses and certain sectors – professional services being particularly close to my heart - seen as almost anti-entrepreneurial. 

Yet I believe any good business has an entrepreneurial heart beating at its core. Entrepreneurialism is all about change, creating a competitive advantage so that you can outperform your competitors. It is this urge to create competition and then to beat it that lies at the centre of successful entrepreneurship.

The most successful companies empower people to think in an entrepreneurial manner by enabling employees to feel able to express themselves within a safe environment, to challenge, to be challenged and to talk openly without fear of being derided. Promoting diversity in the workplace, both in terms of skill and background, enables businesses to create what you might term a ‘melting pot of ideas’ capable of producing a regular stream of creative ideas based on the pooling of a wide variety of influences and knowledge. I would go so far as to argue that under the right conditions - a blend of framework, incentives and liberalism - businesses can produce an entrepreneurial spirit capable of matching the most creative of "dragons". Fostering a global community of budding young entrepreneurs is a subject close to my heart and something I am personally involved with, sitting as I do on the board of Youth Business International (YBI), a global charity with members in 40 countries - inspired by the Prince of Wales and linked to the Prince's Trust - whose purpose is to encourage young entrepreneurs. The cultivating of young entrepreneurs around the world not only helps stimulate growth, it also eases youth unemployment, which is a massive global problem.

A big part of entrepreneurialism is based on making calculated risks. For any business with ambitious growth plans it is no different. Companies make calculated risks all the time in an effort to expand their frontiers – be they geographical, operational or cultural. In a post-financial-crisis environment, however, businesses must be able to retain their “permission for entrepreneurialism”. There is an inherent contradiction in political rhetoric which on one hand exhorts banks to lend more so that businesses can grow and on the other enshrines an anti-risk culture. Expansion at this phase of the economic cycle is especially tricky and the importance of a well timed and strategic move plays heavily on the minds of business leaders internationally. After a period of economically-induced relative stasis, I believe we are about to see a wave of entrepreneurial activity, whereby progressive businesses seek first mover advantage. As well as M&A activity, this could manifest itself in the form of investment into new geographies, potentially diversifying further from the developed markets, new technologies or into human capital - providing staff with the support and training required to develop new skills and new ways of thinking.

The appetite to take informed, strategic risks is a cornerstone of growth – and, as the post-crisis tremors show signs of abating, the ability of companies’ to act on this impulse will increase. Entrepreneurialism is not merely something reserved for the gifted individual with an idea and the bravery and perseverance to pursue that idea in a highly competitive marketplace, it is a central tenet of capitalism and an essential component of any sound business strategy. Without entrepreneurialism, businesses stagnate. Perhaps in the UK we need to ramp up what has historically been a strong part of the "national character" - an outward looking urge to trade new items with new territories.

If you want to see Dragon's Den in action, look no further than global businesses and the internal culture they foster and you will find more often than not a thriving hub of creativity and bold business ideas.

Kelly Hoppen. Photograph: Getty Images

Co-CEO of DLA Piper

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war