Entrepreneurs, a breed of irrational people

Opinion piece by Hans Crijns, Partner and Professor of Entrepreneurship at Vlerick Business School; Source: Trends (16/02/2018)

Entrepreneurship is in fashion on Flemish television these days. ‘Durven falen’ (Dare to Fail) on Canvas is a six-part series by Liesbeth Imbo about entrepreneurs who have gone bankrupt but have found the courage to start again and look for a new path.

VIER is broadcasting ‘De Leeuwenkuil’ (The Lion’s Den, based on the concept of Dragon's Den) in which the five lions are investors looking for a golden idea, an innovative spirit or crazy ambitions. Both new and seasoned candidates are given three minutes to present their ideas to the experienced and well-known Flemish entrepreneurs, who decide whether they want to invest their own money in them. This has given several hundred thousand viewers the chance to get to know flesh and blood entrepreneurs.  

The fact that entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial behaviour are being put in the spotlight on Flemish television should be applauded. After all, a study that we conducted at Vlerick Business School showed that, in the past, only limited attention was paid to entrepreneurs on Flemish television: over the course of one year, we found just 191 items on the TV news that included search terms related to entrepreneurship. This is despite a policy that places entrepreneurship high on the agenda.

It also emerged that few news items show the innovative, more creative side of entrepreneurship. According to our analysis, news relating to entrepreneurship primarily has a financial and economic nature (66%). A glance at the 191 items demonstrates that, in more than half of all cases (54%), the entrepreneurs themselves (predominantly men) were the subject. Entrepreneurs are often depicted as irrational: from wild benefactors to corrupt cowboys, and in any case never as real people. 

Are they really a separate breed of irrational people? How much truth is there in the G.B. Shaw quote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man”?

An important factor here is the fact that more than half of Flemish people (59%) feel that there is not a lot of positive media attention for entrepreneurs. The question is whether ‘Durven falen’ and ‘De Leeuwenkuil’ will change this. For years now, we have been reaching the conclusion that fear of failure and difficulties finding start-up capital are the main obstacles to starting a business for most of Flanders' residents.

In our research, we also found that ‘successful entrepreneurs’ enjoy a lower status in Flanders than in neighbouring countries. The worldwide GEM (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) study shows that 54% of Flemish people agree with the statement that successful entrepreneurs enjoy a higher status. Here Flanders scores lower than its neighbours: France 70%, Germany 75%, the Netherlands 66%, Luxembourg 71% and the United Kingdom 79%. Flanders' residents appear to demonstrate a relatively low appreciation of entrepreneurs. Perhaps this can be explained by what media editor Valerie Droeven suggests in her discussion ‘a breed apart’ in the newspaper De Standaard's ‘Postenpakker’ television column, namely that Flemish people are more likely to choose the underdog than a separate breed.

Of course, attention must be come from both sides. Entrepreneurs, successful or not, must be prepared to come out from under the radar. The entrepreneurial landscape consists of more than just Coucke & Co.

That’s why Jacques, Conny and the rest of the lions deserve our respect for giving Flanders the opportunity to get to know entrepreneurs from all walks of life in an open way. 

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