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Core Characteristics, Ethics & Theory

GDE 730 Week 9

Core characteristics, ethics and theory of entrepreneurship




a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.

The dictionary definition of an entrepreneur seems to be pretty straightforward and you would be forgiven for thinking that every person that starts a new business could be described as such.  As I began my research this week I realised that there are more characteristics that contribute to the modern view of an entrepreneur than the pure dictionary definition indicates.  My immediate vision of an entrepreneur is taken from the television program called Dragons Den, in which people stand in front of potential investors to pitch their ideas.  The Dragons (investors) often choose to invest in people to whom they feel an affinity with their passionate personality, those who have an emotional backstory demonstrating resilience and strength and that convey foresight, honesty, and integrity.


The lecture hosted by Neef Rehman of USTWO, introduced 3 designers turned entrepreneurs.  As they discussed how their business vision took shape and what was driving them, I noted the parallels to the characteristics favoured by the Dragons.  Robin Howie discussed his view that design supports acts of citizenship and this idealism is at the heart of his business.  John Sinclair expressed how important the right staff are to his organisation and they help steer his business direction.  Sophie Hawkins implied agreement that people maketh the business when she explained that a part of herself and her lifestyle are packaged up in her business.  Her acquaintances, friends, contacts, followers, tradespeople, suppliers, and customers all subscribe to her inspirations, values & ethics.  Good relationships, developing them, managing them, and maintaining them is at the forefront of successful entrepreneurship, the gregarious personality being particularly skilled in this area.

Howie, Sinclair & Hawkins had clear visions for their respective businesses, they all acknowledge that to be an entrepreneur requires versatility, that characteristic has enabled each of them to move away from purely design and into the realms of finance, marketing, procurement, management, human resources and more.  In her article for, Jessica Alter presents the belief that designers make great entrepreneurs because they already possess some of the key characteristics that could help them strike out on their own, namely 'problem solving' and 'iteration'.  The analytical mind of the designer provides an objective approach that repeatedly questions the rationale of their vision. 


Designers have the innate ability to juggle the satisfactions of a number of people involved in their projects, this is similar to how the entrepreneur strikes a balance between pleasing investors, customers & teams.  Alter assesses that the best entrepreneur designers are those that are passionate about the process of design and not just designing per se.  The process of designing to answer a brief is essentially the same as the process of designing a new business.

When considering the opportunities presented to designers to become entrepreneurs, the current climate of the digital revolution, much of which is encompassed by the creative industries is spearheading innovation and change in the economy.  New and disruptive technologies are used and created by designers with eyes on the futures markets, social and cultural discourse.  Designers' involvement in such markets is sparking ideas, identifying niches, and possible new products & services.  Furthermore, the increased profile of ecological and environmental issues is unleashing ethical design business models looking to help and further the cause.  

Delving into the ethics of entrepreneurship, I read a study written by B. Bucar et al for the Journal of Business Venturing in 2003.  The essay, called Ethics & Entrepreneurs:  An International Comparative Study, identified differences in what is deemed by society to be unethical behaviour across countries and therefore cultures.  People enter into a social contract with businesses whereby they allow them to exist in return for their services or goods.  The parameters within which they practice fair trade are measured and controlled by the institutions elected by the people.  This social contract theory present in society is formed and shaped by local context.  The values purported by business owners in countries with strong liberal markets will differ from those where there are strong competitive markets or those facing difficult economic landscapes.  Despite these marginal differences, societies, in general, expect entrepreneurs to create opportunities for employment, wealth and move the economy forward.  Many practices, judged by the masses as unethical, would be detrimental to this mutually acceptable goal.

Research has been carried out that raises questions about the use of creative strategies in promoting innovation and problem-solving in business.  M Baucus et al analysed the likelihood that employees, managers & business owners could stray towards unethical behaviour in their quest to inject a vibrant creative culture into the organisational strategies.  The article, published in the Journal of Business Ethics 81 (2008),  states 4 areas where serious ethical issues can arise.  They breakdown as follows:

  1. Breaking rules & standard operational procedures.

  2. Challenging authority & avoiding tradition.

  3. Creating conflict, competition & stress.

  4. Taking risks. 

It is number 4 that I think resonates particularly with entrepreneurs - risk-taking.  Baucus explains the risk paradox as,


"a decision to pursue something that has a high probability of failure, coupled with the conviction that success appears certain" 


This identifies a quandary that would-be entrepreneurs face and illustrates that their convictions must be very strong to entertain such risk and start their enterprise.  It could be argued that entrepreneurs that enter into a business, employ staff, instruct contractors and accept financial aid, have the potential to mislead those that believe in their proposition if they have not assessed the risks accurately.  Baucus considers that risks can only be assessed by individuals with the experience and knowledge to make a sound judgment.  It, therefore, stands to reason that entrepreneurs need to have some understanding of their target market, the experience of the business sector and have done their homework to earn potential stakeholder trust.  Those that do not possess these attributes have a greater chance of failure, although this does not deter all entrepreneurs, who continue to learn and grow by repeated failures.

Baucus warns the entrepreneur that innovative yet untested ideas have the potential to unleash a "dark side" of undesirable consequences.  When one considers the positive value that society places on entrepreneurship and the 'hero' persona attributed to some high profile business individuals,  I thought this juxtaposition was very interesting and began to explore more about this so-called 'dark side'. 

Oscar Mendez et al investigated the dark side of entrepreneurship in their article of the same name.  They write about the enterprise-entrepreneur link and the public view of the "hero creator of value".  This notion is challenged by other authors who believe this only to be the case in some societies, particularly those in the western world.  The pedestal positioning that some entrepreneurs find themselves on can have a detrimental effect on their mental health and wellbeing.  The anxiety and stress of balancing the satisfactions of the many stakeholders, taking its toll on personal lives. 

The personality of the entrepreneur adds another factor in the measure of the 'dark side' of the story.  Business owners, whose ideas rapidly take hold, bringing an abundance of financial reward and adoration, can become narcissistic, Machiavellian, and display psychopathy.  These malevolent personality traits known as the Dark Triad, result in unethical business actions in the search for power and capital gain. 



My research has deduced that there are many positive attributes associated with entrepreneurs and society celebrates their contribution to economies.  The key characteristics that make them successful are; versatility, analytical, foresight, resilience, gregariousness and passion.  This is what I will refer to as the 'light side' of the entrepreneur.  The other side of the story is the negative traits that manifest when a person decides to enter in to an enterprise of entrepreneurism.  These characteristics include; egotistical, gambler, narcissist, manipulative, impulsive & domineering.  These undesirable qualities are not always present and sometimes evolve due to the stress and pressures of running a business, however when they do surface, they often cultivate unethical behaviour.  Whether or not that behaviour is called out by society depends on the judgements made under the social contract theory, as described by Bucar et al as;

"[the] benefits outweigh the detriments of the existence of productive organisations"

This illustrates how powerful mass public are in manipulating the success or failure of organisations within a given economy.  It appears that this is beginning to be realised if the current wave of ethical and environmentally focused business models are acknowledged.  Perhaps we are now seeing a shift in power from government and corporations?  If a modern entrepreneur is to be successful, they will need to recognise & plan for this changing dynamic.

Workshop Challenge

Create an information graphic, or diagram, or animation that, for you, highlights the effective definition and process of a being a design entrepreneur today.

As my research has illustrated the positive and negative characteristics that can be present in an entrepreneur, I wanted this outcome to reflect the light and dark side of the persona.  I instinctively thought of the black and white of the ying and yang symbol and decided that the infographic should be split in to half white and half black.  The word entrepreneur would then be intersected by the character traits of both those sides.

The Dark & Light Side of the Entrepreneur


Falmouth University Lecture – Entrepreneurship Case Studies, Available at:

Wired, Jessica Alter,(2013) Designers make great entrepreneurs, they just don’t know it yet  [online].

Frederick Harry Pitts

Futures of Work

Oscar Javier Montiel Méndez et al,The Dark Side of Entrepreneurship: An Exploratory Conceptual Approach (2020), Available at

B. Bucar et al,  Ethics & Entrepreneurs: An International Comparative Study, The Journal of Business Venturing (2003), Available at:

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