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"Enabling Internationalization Excellence for Family Enterprises"

IFE, 2017

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From life-experiences to identities and international entrepreneurial behavior

In our recently published research article, Tanja and I discuss our findings of founder-CEOs of early and rapidly internationalized ventures, their identities and relative behavior. In the paper, we elaborate on how individuals, telling about their life-experiences and becoming and being international entrepreneurs, construct their identities into scripts — i.e. a Pioneer, Native, Diplomat, Gambler, and an Eclectic script. Moreover, we illuminate how founder-CEOs’ developmental experiences feed into and frame their international entrepreneurial behavior as emergent in the range of historically bound and generational contexts, encompass the sense-making of international social interaction and shed light to the emotional aspects relative to one’s international entrepreneurial journey.

Are you the explorer of unmarked paths…

A “pioneer script” encapsulates the life narratives of international entrepreneurs who make sense of themselves as forward-looking, possessing a proactive attitude and eagerness to move along unmarked paths throughout their career. “Pioneers” emphasize that while becoming an international entrepreneur is perhaps challenging, it is deeply rewarding in terms of personal growth, as when one persists in believing in something that has not hitherto been attempted. Founders of this script are of great persistency and visionary in their outlook, reflecting the context of doing international business at times and places when there are little or no external support for conducting and enacting the emerging pioneering ideas. To this extent, a Pioneer script involves the sensitivity to the ideologically, politically, and culturally different times an international entrepreneur may encounter, where one might be pressured either to give in, or else to fight for something personally meaningful, while developing an unconstrained yet legitimate status for one’s company and one’s self.

…or a diplomat, who builds bridges between people and yourself?

Some of the founders’ identities and behavior unfolded according to what we could call the ”diplomat script”. This script gains momentum from personal cultural and social encounters that both challenge and provide learning opportunities, constructing knowledge of the international context over time. It also manifests the developing path of internationalization, arrived at through introspection, with interpretation of interactions with people from different backgrounds along one’s life trajectory. Furthermore, a diplomat script seems to be grounded in people-oriented experiences, and fits well with the demands of contemporary internationalization and of entrepreneurial careers that build on social relationships and networks.

Perhaps you were just born with it?

While reflecting the position of founder-CEOs who are internally driven by awareness of the necessity of doing international business, the “native script” also tells of the ones having an entrepreneurial mindset and the privilege of being internationally and/or entrepreneurially oriented from an early period in their life. Assuming that such individuals also have personal motivation for entrepreneurial practices, this script fits well with the behavior of “born global” entrepreneurs, i.e., those who have the internal abilities to adapt easily to various global “cultures” of business (by being, e.g., a “world citizen” or a “digi-native”), and to international careers in which they become more and more embedded. Such characteristics — in conjunction with the push of personal interests and education and the pull of broad social networks, accentuated by the technological advances of the time — enable the person to construct a flexible identity that will endure both personal and social scrutiny.

When “positive delusion” is the name of the game

A “gambler script” manifests the behavior surrounding risk-taking amid the uncertainties of founding an international new venture. If such a script is followed through, taking on calculated risks provides the “thrill of the game” while pursuing big dreams. Reaching millions of online followers worldwide may be both the motivation and the means for their international venturing. As one might expect from such individuals, a pre-eminent characteristic is intelligence, applied to dealing dispassionately with human cognition and emotions. Thus, this script seems to incorporate a sense of responsibility for one’s risk-taking actions. Disregarding the negative connotations of “gambling”, international entrepreneurship makes sense as a kind of “sport” of logic and problem-solving, one that makes it necessary to keep a close eye on competitors’ actions and reactions, have good abilities to handle emotions and manage one’s own reactions in stressful situations.

The reflexive Eclectic

When we suggest such categorizations of founders’ identity constructions and their “narrative scripts”, we ought to remember that no entrepreneur should beput into a box. Neither can we maintain much of stability in the rapidly changing and dynamic world we live in. Hence, we ought to read further the international entrepreneurship script as an eclectic one. Many of the founders’ experiences manifest eagerness to and ability to learn, and strong willingness to be transformative in the dynamic and changing international business context. In addition to an internal motivation to initiate and to work diligently for the next “big thing”, founders may find a good degree of reflexivity over one’s actions, with a profound willingness to reflect on and re-interpret their interaction with their (social) environment on the way. Manifesting a rather deep sense of one’s own self — while also ability to challenge one’s assumptions following feedback from others — an “eclectic script” seems to give an entrepreneur the possibilities to adopt a myriad of approaches within the complexity of international and entrepeneurial practices.

We encourage you to read further our open access article, where you’ll find the importance of considering the various cultural and time contexts, generational contexts, and social contexts, as well as the emotional aspects in which one becomes and is an entrepreneur leading an international venture. Considering these dimensions underpinning individuals’ actions and behavior would then have the aim to develop more reflective practices – especially reflexivity – among those who engage daily in “writing the new scripts” of international entrepreneurship, such as educational insitutes, media as much as entrepreneurs themselves.

Book in the picture: Polkinghorne, D., E. (1988) Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. New York: State University.