The enterprise culture: an acquired taste?

Gray, Colin W. J. A. (1994) The enterprise culture: an acquired taste? Doctoral thesis, London Guildhall University.


This thesis critically assesses the psychological and economic underpinnings and consequences Of enterprise culture policies - public exhortations for individuals to start their own businesses, enterprise training (basic management skills training), relaxation of industrial relations legislation, reductions in income tax, etc. The argument unfolds from the economic macro level, drawing on aggregated quantitative data, through a consideration of sociological studies to the social psychological micro level. Economically, most human economic activity is seen as bounded and determined by the socio-economic structures in which groups of people find themselves at any given time and place. Sociologically, different groups of people share common attitudes, cultural assumptions and social representations of work in general and different occupations in particular, largely determined by their economic and historic circumstances. Psychologically, variations in individual abilities, attitudes, expectations and personalities are reflected in motivational and behavioural. differences but occupational choice and economic expectations are seen as largely determined by structural and cultural factors.

The concept of the entrepreneur and the neoclassical assumptions of the enterprise culture model are considered in their political economic context then in the light of economic and psychological theory. Entrepreneurial small firm owners are contrasted with the wider sector of the self-employed. The main psychological variables identified in the literature (locus of control, achievement motivation and the need for independence) are analysed through a number of Small Business Research Trust (SBRT) postal surveys and two specific studies - 145 enterprise and non-enterprise trainees and 307 growth-oriented and growth-averse small firm owners - plus two repertory grid studies of enterprise trainees. The aim is not to provide a better socio-economic development model but an economic psychological assessment of enterprise culture policies.

Entrepreneurial behaviour is shown to be motivated by culturally determined expectations, not always economic in character and not so amenable to manipulation by public policies of the enterprise culture type. The empirical evidence presented strongly suggests that the foundations of enterprise culture policies are fatally flawed because their real policy targets are the least entrepreneurial elements of society and its stress on individualism runs counter to modem capitalist development. There is no support for the concept of a unique 'entrepreneurial personality' but rather the reverse - the identification of various 'non-entrepreneurial personalities' upon whom enterprise training appears to have negligible effects. The conclusion is that enterprise training, in its present form, has little prospect of contributing significantly to the creation of new entrepreneurs. Alternative policies for promoting more sustainable enterprising business behaviour need to focus on the social processes of business and support training should have the social skills required for flexible specialisation and networking as its central focus rather than the elementary management skills that dominate so much of current 'enterprise training'.

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