Trapped by the entrepreneurial mindset: Opportunity seeking and escalation of commitment in the Mount Everest disaster

Abstract Building on regulatory focus theory and the theory of action phases, we propose that the opportunity seeking of the entrepreneurial mindset is fueled by promotion focus, but transformed from something that liberates individuals from sub-optimal goals into something that traps them in escalation scenarios depending on the stability of environmental conditions faced, the duration of the project, and the specificity of the goal being pursued. Our meta-theoretical process model of escalation of commitment suggests that the decision to persist is set into motion long before individuals engage in the cost-benefit analysis examined in most escalation studies. We argue that, when individuals seek opportunities in a promotion-focused state of goal striving, they are likely to forego contingency planning, which precludes the formation of an exit strategy and leaves them unable to disengage despite an emerging desire to do so. Worse yet, opportunity seeking under the aforementioned conditions delays detection of an action crisis, which increases risk exposure and allows resources, time, and reputation invested to further accumulate, making disengagement that much more difficult once the entrepreneur realizes that a decision is necessary. Using the events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster made famous by Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, we illustrate our proposed model and discuss its implications for entrepreneurship, escalation, and self-regulation research.

Journal or Publication:
Journal of Business Venturing
Jeffery McMullen
Alexander S Kier
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