This article was produced and financed by BI Norwegian Business School

Students with implementation-oriented mindsets account for most startups. (Photo: Colourbox)

Mind over matter for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs who use a lot of their mental powers to obtain as much information as possible, have less success transforming their idea into a new business than those who automatically think implementation.

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BI Norwegian Business School

BI is a private and independent business school in Norway.

As international competition is becoming increasingly tough, we depend on entrepreneurs who come up with new, ingenious ideas and who succeed in converting their ideas into viable companies.

Quite a lot of our young people today will probably find a job in businesses not yet established.

Several universities and university colleges provide educational programmes in entrepreneurship and innovation.

PhD student John-Erik Mathisen and Associate Professor Jan Ketil Arnulf at BI Norwegian Business School have conducted a study of how increased formal competence affects the mindset of people who are interested in entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneur mindsets 

A mindset may be described as automated recognition of patterns in one’s surroundings, with associated actions.

A chess player’s ability to quickly see and solve chess problems which other people would take a long time to consider, is a good example of a mindset.

“We assume that mindsets are important in all professions, and we have looked at how entrepreneurship can be described in terms of mindsets,” says Mathisen and Arnulf.

The researchers distinguish between two main types of mindsets in entrepreneurs:

Elaborative (explorative) mindsets: 

Mindsets that concentrate on assessing a situation and obtaining information. When people are influenced by elaborative mindsets, they are open to new information and become thoughtful. Elements of doubt will also increase. When you are taking in new information, one of the consequences is that you are unable to draw conclusions.

Implemental (implementation-oriented) mindsets:

A state where everything is interpreted using known patterns, and where the outcome is always some kind of action.

Measure the mindsets

Mathisen and Arnulf have developed a method for measuring elaborative and implemental mindsets in students of entrepreneurship.

“Teaching can of course provide useful information for people who are interested in entrepreneurship. But it is also possible that the teaching situation in itself leads to a prevalence of elaborative mindsets, with doubt and too many different ideas,” the researchers say.

The researchers conducted their study of mindsets among 242 bachelor students at BI Norwegian Business School and finance students at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) in Ås near Oslo.

The results of this study will now be published in The International Journal of Management Education.

The cost of doubt

The study shows that students who participated in the survey had different degrees of the two mindsets. The researchers looked for any connection between the students’ mindsets and the number of new companies they set up (entrepreneurship in practice). 

They found that students with implemental mindsets were behind most of the new companies, while there was no corresponding connection between new companies and students with elaborative mindsets.

“We find that elaborative mindsets can create obstacles in setting up new companies. Our study indicates that formal knowledge may get in the way of action, because it makes room for more doubt,” says Mathisen and Arnulf.

The researchers argue that doubt should be considered a cost in entrepreneurship. 

“Only students who had implemental mindsets to a very high degree, seemed able to also benefit from elaborative thinking.”

John-Erik Mathisen and Jan Ketil Arnulf have the following clear advice to schools that teach subjects where professional performance requires initiative (such as entrepreneurship and management):

“If one is not aware of this need, formal education might at its worst lead to passivity and doubt,” the researchers warn. 


Mathisen, J.-E., & Arnulf, J. K. (2013). Competing mindsets in entrepreneurship: The cost of doubt. The International Journal of Management Education, 11(3), 132-141)


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