What is the disagreeableness theory of entrepreneurship?Gladwell (2009) introduces disagreeableness as a key attribute of entrepreneurs. Not needing the social approval of peers, is explained as a psychological capability of successful entrepreneurs. It is a capability because most people might be influenced by critical feedback. If a friend or family member says “that is a bad idea” and you stop…then you are agreeable, not disagreeable.
He gives many examples, like IKEA pioneers in outsourcing production to Soviet periphery states during the Cold War, which was seen as a bad idea by many. In each case, the entrepreneurs are not afraid of being criticized (e.g., even for crossing into Eastern Europe). Disapproval should not stop an entrepreneur or keep them from trying again and again. The disagreeable entrepreneur shrugs off failure and critique and moves on.
Interestingly, Gladwell uses an interpretation of the David and Goliath story that has David being the disagreeable innovator, refusing to fight with traditional weapons, and using artillery to kill the giant.
The Disagreeableness theory adds to the growing list of personality trait theories. Others include locus of control, need for achievement, impulsiveness, and self-efficacy. Gladwell says that a sense of urgency is needed to be an entrepreneur as well as a belief that the world is volatile (can and will change). These two dimensions are likely to overlap with impulsiveness and self-efficacy, respectively.
This magazine article contains a video of Gladwell discussing the theory. This one provides a transcript of his speech.
Gladwell, M. (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. Hachette UK.