Alexander Bolinger and Kory Brown on Teaching Entrepreneurial Failure as a Threshold Concept

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JME_72ppiRGB_powerpoint[We’re pleased to welcome Alexander R. Bolinger of Idaho State University and Kory D. Brown of Pacific Lutheran University. Drs. Bolinger and Brown recently published an article in Journal of Management Education titled “Entrepreneurial Failure as a Threshold Concept: The Effects of Student Experiences.”]

  • What inspired you to be interested in this topic?

Teaching students about entrepreneurial failure is a topic that appealed to both Kory and me because it intersects with our interests and experiences. I study creativity in groups and one of the challenges of creative groups is that they experience a lot of failure – they go down many paths that ultimately don’t work out and they have to come to terms with failing a lot. Kory was an entrepreneur and manager in the semiconductor industry prior to coming to academia, so he saw the impact of failure and was a bit frustrated by the difficulties of getting students to appreciate that entrepreneurs can fail miserably and ultimately come out better for it on the other side.

  • Were there findings that were surprising to you?

I think we were surprised by just how important experiences, any experiences with entrepreneurship, were in affecting students’ perceptions of the extent to which failure can have productive aspects. Our study design was conservative to the extent that we asked participants to self-report their experiences with entrepreneurship and we did not differentiate based on the length or quality of the experiences. What this tells us is that simply getting involved and experiencing entrepreneurship, even in limited ways, can have significant effects in broadening students’ perceptions of both the costs and benefits of failure.

  • How do you see this study influencing future research and/or practice?

In response to our findings, we hope that failure is given greater priority as an important topic to discuss in entrepreneurship classes. In our research for this paper, we looked at existing textbooks and found that many of them only mention failure in passing, often in terms of overall failure rates of new ventures.

The risk, as we see it, is that students might either be so scared of failure that they don’t seriously explore entrepreneurship as an option, or conversely they don’t give much thought to the consequences of failure. Either way, instructors do not equip students to appreciate the nuances of failure – its emotional and social, as well as financial dimensions, but also its potentially productive consequences over time – if they do not spend time candidly incorporating it into their courses.
More critically, our findings suggest that universities would do well to cultivate opportunities for students to experience entrepreneurship, even in limited ways. We see it as no accident that some of the most successful entrepreneurship programs in schools of business across the United States and around the world have integrated into their curricula regular, structured opportunities for students to experience entrepreneurship.

You can read Entrepreneurial Failure as a Threshold Concept: The Effects of Student Experiences from Journal of Management Education for free by clicking here! Want to know about all the latest news and research from Journal of Management Education? Click here to sign up for e-alerts!

BolingerAlexAlexander R. Bolinger is an assistant professor of management at Idaho State University, USA. His research interests include group work and its effects on group members, negotiation, and service work. His research has also appeared in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes and Cornell Hospitality Quarterly.

Brown-130x130Kory D. Brown is an Assistant Professor of Management and teaches strategy and knowledge management courses in the undergraduate and MBA programs at Pacific Lutheran University. His research interests explore collaborative innovation, technology management, networks, alliances, and entrepreneurship. He has extensive involvement in standard technologies such as ZigBee, Bluetooth, USB, and IrDA. Dr. Brown actively consults with technology firms in technology-centric business planning, corporate strategy, and external financing.

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