When Saras D Sarasvathy wanted to pursue a PhD in Entrepreneurship in the US, people said that it is an oxymoron — because it’s like art that one cannot teach. So she ended up doing PhD in Information Systems from Carnegie Mellon University, still managing a dissertation in Entrepreneurship as her advisor, Herbert Simon, a Nobel Laureate, happily volunteered to examine it. She says, “I have gotten to see a lot of progress in entrepreneurship in the last 25 years and it has changed so much that there are several programmes in universities across the world. Gradually, colleges have realised that they need to hire full-time professors to teach this subject instead of entrepreneurs as adjunct professors.” Excerpts from an interesting interview:
What is your book Effectuation: Elements of Entrepreneurial Expertise all about?
It is a research book that kickstarted the movement of effectuation. The book was a result of my research and dissertation. I was trained in Cognitive Science and Behavioural Economics. Cognitive Science was used for research and study in various fields. For example, it was used to study the mind of chess masters to develop Artificial Intelligence. That’s how they would write a computer programme that would play chess. The idea is if you are an expert in any domain, I will give you a structured problem and ask you to talk continuously while you solve the problem. I decided to apply this method on expert entrepreneurs and discover what is that they have learnt through their experience. There were only 245 people who qualified as expert entrepreneurs during the survey I conducted. I gave them 17 sets of problems that had messy data and other factors. While they observed the data and made decisions, I observed which was common in their decisions. There were many strong common patterns of making a decision in the business with proper logic. Hence the name, ‘Effectuation’.
Who is an expert entrepreneur according to you?
According to me, an expert entrepreneur is a person who has run two or more companies and has an experience of 10 to 15 years in running a business. Because that’s when he or she can experience failure and success. Success and experience go hand in hand.
Do you think data can help entrepreneurs to predict future profit or loss?
Yes, Data is important for entrepreneurs all the time. All data is not the same and predictive data is different from the data used to calculate the present and past. Expert entrepreneurs say that one should understand that predictions for the future in any business are like betting in the game.
One should know what to do with the data. I think data should be used to change the future rather than predicting it.
What do you think business schools in India should inculcate?
Like Science, even entrepreneurship should be taught at the school level and not just the college or university level. I think business schools in India should take up training teachers at all levels to implement innovative methods to teach entrepreneurship and not only offer programmes and create incubators. I also say that Humanities or Art schools can also take up entrepreneurship. For example, historians can write the history of a series of contemporary entrepreneurs. I would take it up in the future to write about some of them.
What is the eligibility for students to apply for the Darden School of Business?
The eligibility is quite simple like it is for the other business schools across the world. Students must have completed their graduation in commerce or any other stream. They must also have two years experience of working in the industry, And of course, GMAT exams should be written. At Darden, we just don’t lecture in the classes. We use case studies and have got student-centred learning. And the other thing that we look at Darden is for students who care for business, environment and society together because the value system is important.