What sort of person is most likely to win the next series of The Apprentice? The persuasive contestant who can talk his way out of a corner? Or the one who works the hardest?
Entrepreneurs have become part of everyday life thanks to programmes like The Apprentice, but little is really known about why some real-life entrepreneurs succeed while others fail.
Now academics at Leeds University Business School have come up with a theory that may shed new light on the entrepreneurial phenomenon - would-be entrepreneurs are successful largely because of their interpersonal and communication skills and the ability to develop and shape ideas by listening to and tuning their ideas to others around them.
Joep Cornelissen, Professor of Corporate Communication, and Dr Jean Clarke, a Lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Leeds University Business School, suggest that a lot of it has to do with communication skills and that would-be entrepreneurs could to an extent actually 'learn' how to succeed by focusing on how they shape and communicate their ideas through language.
Professor Cornelissen said: "If you look at people like Richard Branson, Alan Sugar or Warren Buffett they are natural communicators and this is to an extent what sets them apart.
"We are proposing quite a radical idea - entrepreneurs largely come up with new ideas for a business opportunity when communicating with other people. Fluency in language and your verbal skills are critical to "capture" an idea. And whilst you're communicating with others you get vital feedback on your ideas and a sense of the buy-in from peers and potential funders whose support you need as an entrepreneur to succeed".
Traditionally, two theories about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial behaviour have dominated academic research and the policy agenda - a strict psychological approach, which suggests that certain personality traits is what makes someone likely to become an entrepreneur; and a sociological approach, which focuses on an entrepreneur's social networks as providing access to a market opportunity.
Cornelissen and Clarke believe the truth is more complicated.
Dr Clarke said: "We've reached an impasse in thinking about entrepreneurship. Psychological traits or existing market demand only goes so far in capturing how entrepreneurs emerge and become successful. It is much more complicated and we think we've turned a really important corner in capturing how individuals who aspire to become entrepreneurs "create" ideas, whilst speaking with others and not in isolation as the psychological approach would have it.
"This communication approach also seems to explain how ideas for businesses may mature and develop as a result of communicating with friends and family, and with business contacts and potential investors."
A useful outcome of this approach is that it suggests that in principle most people can become an entrepreneur - rather than only those with certain psychological traits or rich social networks. Professor Cornelissen and Dr Clarke are now working with local businesses and entrepreneurs to equip them with the skills for framing and communicating business opportunities.
The paper, Imagining and rationalising opportunities: Inductive reasoning, and the creation and justification of new ventures, appears this month in the leading management research journal, the Academy of Management Review.
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Notes to editors
Leeds University Business School is among the leading UK university-based business schools with a high reputation for research and a history of successful partnerships with industry and commerce at local, national and international levels.
Key facts include:
Leeds University Business School ranked in the UK's top 20 business schools and the world's top 100 schools.
Leeds University Business School ranked in UK top ten for Research (RAE 2008).
EQUIS and AMBA accredited.
CIPD accredited and ESRC recognised.
Members of the Faculty are at the forefront of major developments in basic and applied research across the fields of Business, Management, Accounting, Finance and Economics. Senior staff have held leadership positions and committee membership and advised major policy-making bodies and learned societies. These include the Academy of International Business, the Academy of Management, the Economic and Social Research Council's Training and Development and Research Grants Boards and the British Academy of Management.
The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.