Disagreeableness theory of entrepreneurship

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.

Further reading:

Gladwell, M. (2009). How DavidBeats Goliath.

Gladwell, M. (2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants. Hachette UK. 



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3 comments for this post
  1. This entrepreneurship theory resonates with me particularly because I feel that “disagreeableness” has been a key component of my own career. Starting while I was completing my undergraduate degree, I’ve always attempted to find loopholes or alternative ways of completing the same task as everyone else. This is demonstrable in my insistence that I use my full time job in media in place of an internship in order to graduate. I held this job with a startup media company covering technology. I then went on to complete my MBA because of a longstanding interest in the challenge of solving the business development challenges faced by media companies. I still hope to these problems through the pursuit of this degree, and I know I’ll need to chart my own path in order to do that.

    • After reading “Entrepreneurial personalities in political leadership,” I’ve been thinking about the value in conducting personality tests to determine who would best be suited for entrepreneurial careers, versus other careers. The paper identifies the entrepreneurial candidate as high in Extraversion, Conscientiousness, and Openness, and low in Agreeableness and Neuroticism. This paper could improve upon the content of this blog post, because It solidifies that being a great inventor and being a great entrepreneur are not interchangeable. Perhaps, someone with a great idea would be much happier working to bring the idea to life, and then selling it, rather than running a business in the long term. Having a better understanding of your own personality traits can go a long way in determining what kind of entrepreneur you may want to be – if any at all.

  2. Obschonka, M., Fisch, C. Entrepreneurial personalities in political leadership. Small Bus Econ 50, 851–869 (2018). https://doi-org.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/10.1007/s11187-017-9901-7

    Link to cited work: https://link-springer-com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/article/10.1007%2Fs11187-017-9901-7#Abs1

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