I Pay Rapt Attention

Effectual thinking

Posted in adventures by Zoelle on July 22, 2009

I just finished reading this document. It summarizes the 2001 findings of Saras Sarasvathy who tried to determine the essence of an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Yes, it’s from 2001, so it’s not exactly hot-off-the-presses new, but the answer is to draw a distinction between causal thinking and effectual thinking and it also happens to articulate the reasons for my hesitance to pursue entrepreneurship better than anything else I’ve seen:

All entrepreneurs begin with three categories of means: (1) Who they are – their traits, tastes and abilities; (2) What they know – their education, training, expertise, and experience; and, (3) Whom they know- their social and professional networks. Using these means, the entrepreneurs begin to imagine and implement possible effects that can be created with them.

Well, that’s all well and good- except I’ve spent the last 20 years (yes, that’s my entire life) learning little else except writing/effective communication, following directions, and maybe a little HTML. I spend most of my time reading. This isn’t to undermine the value of those pursuits or that knowledge- I just never thought of those skills as facilitating the creation of a business, perse. Maybe a consultancy, but I didn’t have anything except my high school diploma and some classes in creative writing. You get my point- the “what I know” bucket seemed to be pretty lacking as a staring point for anything at all. That, in combination with my own particular brand of extreme risk aversion, seemed to put the kibbosh on being an entrepreneur any time soon.

Well, things change. I’ve spent a lot of time this summer reading about entrepreneurship, watching my friends try it out, and playing around with some ideas of my own. I’ve been reaching out to that community a little bit (I live in the bay area, after all) and trying to get a feel for the sorts of people who engage in this effectual thinking. It’s something I’d like to learn, antithetical as it intuitively seems to the way I typically function.

Because I’m going into my senior year of college (and facing the sudden possibility of $150k of debt in just a few years if my interview at HBS goes well at the end of August [yes, I got one- just found on on Monday]) I’ve suddenly been weighing my priorities and thinking a lot about ways to merge the type of lifestyle I desire with the sort of job that will provide me some modicum of security or at least (best?) work that’s engaging enough to make me forget how terrifying it all is. It turns out the engaging-work part is more important to me than the other two, at least for now. What’s more, it seems to me that as far as times-of-your-life-to-risk-everything go, right after college isn’t a bad one. It’s not like I’ve got much to lose- the worst case scenario is I live at home and have to take the full loan package for my MBA.

So this is my public declaration (to keep me honest) that I’ll actually explore this possibility. I’ll push my comfort zone, challenge my thought process, and yes, if my (current) little idea looks like it’s going to work, I’ll tell you all about it.

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2 Responses

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  1. backlitselfimage said, on July 23, 2009 at 12:16 am

    Do it. Go forth and be awesome – and make a little money while you’re at it.

  2. AJ said, on July 28, 2009 at 12:58 am

    Sounds great. I went to a school near Harvard around the time facebook started. I have been toying with ideas since college with my classmates. I have done some small businesses here and there but nothing serious. I have been out of college for 3 years and I think I am finally ready to go for it.


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