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Candidate Threshold Concepts in Entrepreneurial Thinking

This list was generated by Dr Lucy Hatt (Newcastle University) and Dave Jarman (Bristol University) by reapplying a method Lucy used in her PhD (2020) called Staged Stakeholder Curriculum Inquiry.  The list and the descriptors were generated iteratively, through a series of surveys and focus groups with educators and practitioners.  

It is the latest list (2021) of threshold concepts in entrepreneurial thinking that we are aware of.

Entrepreneurship is a practice

Entrepreneurship is a practice that anyone can use in any context to create new value. It is a way of doing things, a way of thinking and practicing or a way of seeing the world, that manifests as creation of value in response to opportunities and challenges.

Entrepreneurship is not a badge or a status or a goal, it is not something you ‘achieve’ or an exclusive club to join.


Things can be approached or completed in ‘more’ or ‘less’ entrepreneurial ways and that these ways can be learnt, developed, and enhanced through use and practice.

Entrepreneurship can be considered as a set of personal attributes, the exercise of which can be related to situational opportunities in an enterprise culture (Gibb, 2007), as a heuristic or method used by entrepreneurs (Sarasvathy, 2009), or as a practice, or even a set of practices (Neck, Greene, and Brush, 2014), that its practitioners use to spot, create, evaluate, and develop value in the world regardless of their context and self-identification.

Iterative experimentation

Iterative experimentation is a way of understanding the role of trial and error in establishing what provides value to the stakeholder.


Embracing small failures is a means of maximizing opportunities to learn from mistakes as well as successes.  Like the process of scientific experimentation where an experiment generates data, or the concept of rehearsal in the performing arts, iterative experimentation in this context is less emotive and outcomes are not deemed necessarily to be “successes” or “failures”.   


People who think entrepreneurially never risk what they are not prepared to lose, so they are prepared to lose less but perhaps lose more often.


They have a flexible and adaptable approach – they are quick to change direction when feedback indicates that is what is needed.

Many established entrepreneurial methods and practices embrace iterative development (Ries, 2011: Lean Start-up, IDEO: Design Thinking, and Takeuchi & Nonaka, 1986; Agile for example) and highlight the value of ‘fast failure’ as a means of learning through small iterative experiments.


This is also apparent in Sarasvathy’s (2008) Effectual Reasoning principles of Affordable Loss where small, affordable loss experiments create value through what is learnt, and Make Lemonade, where feedback informs and reveals new routes forward.

Your context is your opportunity to create value

Opportunities are habitually and constantly created and recognized within one's own context to create value.


People who think entrepreneurially are habitually resourceful and make use of what they find to realize and exploit opportunities to create value.


They are curious about the world, passionate about what interests them and tend towards making connections that develop their passions into intentions.

All contexts contain within them opportunities for value-creation, but the perception and evaluation of opportunity is ultimately subjective (Shane, 2003).


The history of innovation and creativity more generally is rich with examples of breakthroughs and ventures developed in response to the context of the inventor or entrepreneur (see the works of Stephen Johnson such as “Where good ideas come from”, and Tim Harford “50 Things that Made the Modern Economy” and “Messy”).


Effectual Reasoning in general and the Bird-in-Hand Principle (Sarasvathy, 2008) in particular highlight the value of starting from what is already accessible, be those resources or insights.


Causal Reasoning also recognizes the importance of determining what is required if a particular end is sought.

Recognizes their agency

One always has some agency to create value, or at least it is beneficial to assume that one does and to take ownership of one's actions.


People who think entrepreneurially know that small steps still constitute progress towards a distant goal – a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

This relates to the concept of self-efficacy which determines the beliefs a person holds regarding their power to affect situations, and whether a person sees barriers and threats or pathways and opportunities (Bandura, 2010).


It also relates to the concept of human agency (Bandura, 2006) which is centered on intentionality, forethought, self-reactiveness and self-reflectiveness and can be called “entrepreneurial agency” in this context.


Systems Thinking approaches help reveal the complex processes by which acting on one part of a system might enable changes and impact elsewhere in a system. By carefully selecting and applying  leverage some change is always possible.


Sarasvathy’s Pilot-in-the-Plane Principle (2008), encourages a focus on what is within one's control, rather than what is beyond it.   

Value is defined by others

People who think entrepreneurially are aware of their positionality and seek to understand the positions of others to establish or validate the value of their ideas.


They understand that only other people can define the value of what has been created, and others demonstrate the value they place on what is being offered by being prepared to give something tangible or intangible in exchange for it, for example money, time or goodwill.

Whilst according to Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, the audience, stakeholder or customer may not always know, or be right about what they need or want, the failure to find a market is the single biggest reason for start-up failure (CB Insights, 2019).


The value of anything is determined by its users and by the service it is put to rather than the value attached to it by its producer (Vargo and Lusch, 2004).  Value created is perceived by others and is indicated by the exchange they are prepared to make in return for it.  


The Crazy Quilt Principle  (Sarasvathy, 2008) highlights self-selecting partnerships that are created because of perceived value on the part of the stakeholder.

Taking Action

Intention must be translated into action for value to be created. Intention PLUS will is all-important to create or exploit an opportunity for value.


People who think entrepreneurially are good decision makers, understanding and evaluating what is necessary to create value, what is optional, and what is unnecessary.


Inaction is an action that conserves resource.  Sometimes the right thing to do is to say no or to do nothing.

Knowledge is always partial and often ambiguous

People who think entrepreneurially accept that they do not, and likely cannot, have all the data they would like to make decisions and they are always working with an incomplete picture.


One can still act even if the situation is not perfect, ideal, or even favorable – and the process of taking action is likely to lead to new situations, learnings, and ultimately opportunities.


People who think entrepreneurially are likely to regard ambiguity and the risk of failure as a barrier to others and thus an opportunity to break new ground.


Knowledge is always partial and often ambiguous but this need not represent a barrier to action.

Noone knows everything, knowledge is effectively infinite, and they is no need to know everything about something in order to make decisions about it.


Multiple realities are possible in any case, and elements of these realities may be shared among many individuals, so constructions are therefore only more or less informed and sophisticated rather than more or less “true” or complete in any kind of absolute sense (Guba & Lincoln, 1994).  Knowledge is subjective and a matter of interpretation and perception.  Value is similarly subjective and hard to assess from individual to individual and market to market.


Sarasvathy’s (2008) Pilot-in-the-Plane Principle is relevant here as an entrepreneurial response to not being able to control every situational variable but to focus on what can be controlled.


Unpredictable outcomes and insights are part and parcel of acting, any action or inaction involves a degree of risk and a degree of opportunity.  The Lean Start-up method (Ries, 2011) highlights learning quickly as a critical factor in successful start-up; the point is to generate information quickly and often so it can be learnt from, and ideally before others do in a manner that creates some advantage.


Disruption of existing systems and perceptions enables new value to emerge (Schumpeter, 1934)) which might then harnessed for a particular purpose.


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