Surfing the Long Wave aims to explode some of the myths that cloud our understanding of entrepreneurship, confuse our attitudes and provide a misleading basis for the economic policies that are supposed to promote it. Put very crudely, entrepreneurship is an activity in which a partnership or team of people, combining different skills, identify an opportunity to create a new product or service and then mobilise the resources, both financial and human, to realise the idea.
In the past it has been assumed that achieving the right economic conditions is the only truly effective way to encourage entrepreneurailism. Not so, say the authors, who make a series of major policy recommendations which would dramatically alter the way government departments, notably the DTI, and public sector institutions operate as champions of business innovation.
The report is based on interviews conducted over three years with more than 30 British entrepreneurs, from animation to medical technology to dotcoms. The authors conclude that entrepreneurship is taking new forms: it is now less individualistic and more collaborative. The traditional view is that an entrepreneur is either a struggling small businessman or a lone hero with the charismatic qualities to take risks and persuade others to back their judgement: Anita Roddick, Alan Sugar or Richard Branson, for example. The research shows that this stereotype is increasingly misleading.
While entrepreneurs may often be lone mavericks, entrepreneurship is a far more structured, often team-based activity. Public policy should be less concerned with creating incentives for lone entrepreneurs and more concerned with promoting the conditions for successful entrepreneurship as an activity. Entrepreneurship succeeds by pulling together the different skills and know-how needed to turn an idea into a business, product or service.
The authors previously collaborated to produce The Independents, a definitive account of a new breed of innovative freelancers who are the driving force of the creative industries. Both Kate Oakley and Charles Leadbeater have acted as government advisors. Kate is a Demos associate and works for Local Futures. Charlie is also a Demos associate, consultant and author of the best-selling business book, Living on Thin Air.