Many people think and talk about competition without a slight feeling of uneasiness. Often, it is only the entrepreneur who feels comfort about competition in the marketplace. Most people do not understand the sense of competitiveness the entrepreneur possesses. The saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Not so for the entrepreneur.
In contrast, most people like the idea of comfort and predictability—don’t rock the boat! But there are times when change and something new are warranted — whether it’s making decisions in the marketplace, changing the allocation of resources to better suit consumer value, making better use of resources for products that are cost prohibitive, trying to make them better than what’s on the market. Many people accept that change will happen at some point. However, as Ludwig von Mises explained, it boils down to the means and not the ends that most people would agree upon.
Why and how do entrepreneurial people create discomfort in other people? Is the discomfort that entrepreneurs create good or bad for those who are not entrepreneurial? The entrepreneur sees the market differently than the non-entrepreneur.
Von Mises, Israel Kirzner, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Hebert all identified a full range of characteristics and attributes of the entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are basically dissenters from the status quo. In contrast, non-entrepreneurs are effectively the end users of products in the marketplace.
Entrepreneurs use their skills to unlock potential in things that others overlook. Some say that entrepreneurs are those people who tend to discover the novel product for the mundane use of consumers. In the face of dissatisfaction, entrepreneurs have historically looked for something new. This market action makes non-entrepreneurial types uncomfortable because it necessitates competition.
Entrepreneurs think about problems (i.e., products and or services) systemically and can be problematic consumers when they want to make a purchase in the market. This type of thinking is not surprising since entrepreneurs are characteristically discoverers and promoters by nature and apply their tacit and knowledge-based judgment at a particular point in time. As business owners strive to increase market share, this leads to the unpleasant task of competitors to come up with new, creative, and innovative ideas to conduct business. An extremely entrepreneurial person will continuously find new and novel ways of playing tug of war with his or her industry competitors.1
Who really enjoys competition? Who enjoys competition when all of one’s assets and capital are on the line? Not all entrepreneurs are competitive to the same degree, and not all entrepreneurs are open for change to happen in the marketplace. For many business owners, to hear of a new upstart or start-up in your industry can turn a smile into a frown. Competition tends not to be congenial. Entrepreneurial competitive behaviors start with ideas and creativity that play themselves out in the marketplace.
In the market, as well as in a firm, entrepreneurial action provides the fuel for the constant mining of consumer value. If entrepreneurs cease acting in this way, consumers will cease to see innovation and growing value in the marketplace. The tension between entrepreneurial ideas and predictability makes entrepreneurs vital to our economy and promote their valuable products and services. More than anything else, entrepreneurs explore ideas, which makes others feel uncomfortable. When ideas clash, it creates a friction between entrepreneurs all vying for similar results — seeking to acquire definite ends with dissimilar means. This causes competition in the market, which some might view as insidious. On the contrary, competition is a teacher to the entrepreneur and regarded as necessary.
You know that you are in the company of an entrepreneur when that person articulates out-of-the box ideas. This tends to make the box bigger for others. Non-entrepreneurial people may overlook the thinking and creativity of entrepreneurs, but they feel the sting of discomfort. Instead of protecting their turf, non-entrepreneurs should embrace the fact that competition is an inevitable part of market activity. It is the ultimate form of cooperation.
There is sharp contrast between the entrepreneur and those who are not at all entrepreneurs in more ways than one. First, it is the entrepreneurial nature to do things that others may have thought of to be absurd or ridiculous or “would never work.” They, however, continue to remain steadfast in their acquisition of knowledge both a priori and/or a posteriori to make profits and deliver value to the consumer. Second, entrepreneurs are not afraid to challenge uncertainty. Possessing subjective knowledge about a given market and a nimble spirit, entrepreneurs do not stick to predictability but understand the likelihood that yesterday was the past, and tomorrow preferences, tastes, and styles will change. This kind of thinking and attitude makes competitors uncomfortable, which changes the level of competitive behavior in the business landscape.
Not all businesses welcome the competition that the entrepreneur offers. But market competition should increase a congenial rivalry and not elicit discomfort, even within the firm where internal entrepreneurs vie to implement ideas. This should be healthy for all involved. But this assumption may be far from true in practice. The reality is that people who have entrepreneurial characteristics are seen as outsiders or dissenters, even if the intentions are not such.
The people who might feel uncomfortable may fall in the range or business owners, managers, and or industry competitors. Even family members might not appreciate the entrepreneur in the family who wants to rearrange furniture to make for more space for better use. People without the characteristics of the entrepreneur might find the entrepreneur difficult to understand or comprehend at times because of his or her vast knowledge and attitude toward the most novel ideas that seem to most people to be impracticable.
And this makes people uncomfortable.
- 1. Not all business owners are necessarily entrepreneurial, but there is a sizable overlap between the two groups. In a competitive marketplace, business owners must be entrepreneurial to a significant extent in order to maintain or grow market share.
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