Entrepreneurs and networks

Marc Ventresca on entrepreneurship as assembly of heterogeneous elements. Hat tip to the Manitoba Chamber of Commerce.

Entrepreneurship and sex

Now there is an interesting topic! The reason I’m bringing this up is not to raise the issue whether becoming an entrepreneur leads to having more or less sex (although who knows, maybe there is something to it). It is also not about entrepreneurship in the adult industry. It’s not even about entrepreneurship and gender. Rather, what got me thinking about entrepreneurship and sex is this BBC News article about recent research on how “worms’ sex life yields advantage over parasites.” The article claims that this is the first convincing evidence on why reproducing sexually has an advantage over asexual reproduction:

Worms forced to reproduce asexually succumbed to a nasty bacterial infection and died.

The researchers say the results are the most convincing evidence to date for a key theory in evolutionary biology.

The theory holds that sex evolved because it lets organisms reshuffle their genes into new combinations to stay a step ahead of parasites.

Reproducing asexually – where organisms clone themselves – makes much more sense; there is no need for an organism to search and seduce a mate, fight off competitors, or risk contracting a sexually transmitted disease. (…)

And yet sex exists; the vast majority of animals and plants reproduce this way.

The link to entrepreneurship and actor-network theory–our main interests on this blog–lies in evolutionary theory. Schumpeter drew on biological evolutionary theory for his definition of entrepreneurship as the creation of new combinations. Latour also described himself as a Darwinian philosopher at the February 2008 Harman Review event. In The Science of Passionate Interests, Latour and Lépinay cite Tarde’s critique of Darwin’s evolutionary theory:

His mistake […] seems to me to have been in relying far more on the struggle for existence, a biological form of opposition, than on cross-breeding and hybridization, biological forms of adaptation and harmony. […] And […] a fertile hybridization, as an exception, is far neater than a hereditary accumulation of small advantageous variations, through competition and selection, to explain the formation of new types of life. (p. 36)

Later on Latour and Lépinay provide another Tarde citation:

And, certainly, it is good that Darwin’s genius pushed this paradox to its limit, for, at present, it is still established that natural selection, that excellent agent of purifying elimination, does not create anything and posits that which it claims to explain–living renovations–in the form of individual variations, and that the secret of these creations of life are hidden from our eyes in the depths of the fertilized egg instead of consisting in the outer shock of organisms fighting each other… (p. 44)

It does sound like the above research findings about the sex life of worms justify Tarde’s insight. What does all this mean for entrepreneurship though?

Schumpeter makes a sharp distinction between entrepreneurship as innovation (the creation of new combinations), and the mere reproduction of existing business models. Using the biological metaphor, it seems entrepreneurs producing innovations are reproducing sexually, while managers who replicate existing business models are reproducing asexually. Who or what would be though the parasites that infect non-innovative firms?

The problem with making this sharp distinction between differentiating and reproducing firms, as I’ve suggested in earlier posts, is that it ignores the fact that for the innovation to survive it actually needs adopters, those that ‘merely’ replicate the innovation (which is of course unlikely to be just a mere adoption and is probably more like an adaptation of the innovation). Although one could argue that adopters of an innovation are part of the overall wave or network of innovation, and therefore they are also guests at the sex party. Who are then those unfortunate asexually reproducing firms then, and what sort of parasites are causing their demise? How to identify both?

Maybe this is not as difficult as it sounds. Even from a pop culture point of view, entrepreneurial ventures and entrepreneurs are celebrated as sexy (Just think of Richard Branson’s Virgin, a company name that is almost an ironic reference to the sexy nature of entrepreneurship). Working for a start-up is risky and dangerous but also exciting and sexy, as opposed to working for a boring firm that is engaged in the repetition of formulas. Still, don’t we need boring firms and asexual reproducers as well to maintain and sustain the stability of the economic environment, which then creates the conditions for sexy entrepreneurship?

(In any case, I do hope all this talk about sex is not going to result in an orgy of spammers.)