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Entresutra: On the Shoulders of Foxes: A Hedgehog on Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Entresutra: On the Shoulders of Foxes: A Hedgehog on Entrepreneurship and Innovation

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Entresutra: On the Shoulders of Foxes: A Hedgehog on Entrepreneurship and Innovation

294 pagine
3 ore
Jun 8, 2018


As entrepreneurship and innovation becomes the new corporate and societal mantra, this book peers through known wisdom, glancing back and looking forward to what entrepreneurship and innovation mean, unravelling key ingredients for success. Covering a vast and complex terrain, the book uncovers six pillars that determine entrepreneurial success, providing insights stringed together from different fields of knowledge, as well as the author's own experiences, to narrate a compelling and realistic account. While each of these pillars constitutes a story in its own right, taken together, a fabric is woven that permits the reader to appreciate the entrepreneurial journey, drawing lessons for one's own endeavours as Aha! moments are encountered along the way. The book is also intended for corporates to understand how innovation unravels, for understanding the need for balancing conflicting goals as well as the importance of promoting entrepreneurship from within. EntreSutra will whet the appetite of the curious, and help demystify the essence of creation.
Jun 8, 2018

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Entresutra - Soumodip Sarkar



" ‘NASCITUR POETA’¹ is a maxim of classical antiquity, which has passed to these latter days with less questioning than most of the doctrines of that early age. When it originated, the human faculties were occupied, fortunately for posterity, less in examining how the works of genius are created than in creating them; and the adage probably had no higher source than the tendency common among mankind to consider all power which is not visibly the effect of practice, all skill which is not capable of being reduced to mechanical rules, as the result of a peculiar gift. "


in Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties, writing in the section on ‘Poets born and poets made’.


It’s in his blood, this miserable f(*) existence. My rotten, f(*) putrid genes have infected my kid’s soul. That’s my gift to my son.

THUS ran Tony Soprano’s bitter rant on what he held to be the genetic basis for the anxiety syndrome which plagued his family. Tony Soprano, the New Jersey mob boss in the hit American television drama series, The Sopranos, is pictured here talking to his psychiatrist Dr Jennifer Melfi. Tony was venting his anger at what he believed to be the reason behind the ‘effiminate’ fainting of his son, Anthony Junior, aka AJ. Owing to his fainting spells, AJ was considered ineligible to find a place in a military academy after having been expelled from his school. In this episode, Tony is with Dr Melfi, right after a panic attack of AJ. Tony Soprano then goes on to claim:

" You know—it comes down through the ages. I remember hearing about my great, great, great grandfather—he drove a mule cart over a mountain road. He was transporting these valuable jugs of olive oil. Probably was a panic attack.

² "

This was the quintessential reference to genes in The Sopranos where hereditary was frequently recoursed, to explain various tics and tendencies in the Soprano family.

Do genes really determine who we are, how we are, and what we do? Do we have a free will, or are we condemned by what is written in our genetic code? Can we be inspired to be creative, to be movers and doers, or to be entrepreneurs? Or are some people just born that way?³

In its April 1998 issue, Life magazine ran a cover story provocatively titled Were You Born That Way?⁴ The piece presented snippets of research which supposedly linked genes to various character traits. While the title of the piece suggested an openness to the question, the subtitle ‘Personality, temperament, even life choices. New studies show it’s mostly in your genes’, however implied that the debate was arriving at its closure, and with genetic makeup coming up as the winner.

In a wide variety of domains such as psychology, evolutionary ecology, biology, sociology and anthropology—among other fields of science, there has been a raging debate for over a century focussing on the question of whether our behaviour is determined and conditioned by our genes, or by our environment. The principle protagonists involved in this discussion on what determines who we are, have tended to reside on two ends of a spectrum. At one extreme, are the nativists asserting that individual and cultural behaviour are hard-wired to our brains. At the other end of the spectrum, reside the empiricists, who believe that the human mind at birth is a blank state, which over the years gets filled as a result of accumulating experience.

It has been long held that many individuals’ physical characteristics such as the colour of one’s eyes, hair, skin, appearance, and so on, are inherited from the genes of one’s ancestors. Scientific evidence also increasingly suggests the probability of having certain allergies as well as particular diseases including cancer, diabetes and Parkinson's—among many others, are also genetically determined. Many proponents of the genetic predisposition theory, take a few steps further to claim that more abstract individual traits are also genetically encoded in the person. For instance, individual traits like intelligence, criminal propensities, aggression, emotional disorders, talents and even sexual orientation are genetically wired. The purported scientific evidence behind these assertions is frequently derived from the study of the behaviour of newborn human babies as well as animals.

ETHOLOGY is the name given to the domain of scientific study of animal behaviour, whose towering figure is the Austrian Konrad Zacharias Lorenz (1903-1989). Considered to be the father of modern ethology, Lorenz was passionate in the study of geese of all types—wild, domestic, and hybrid. In one of his articles published in 1935, Lorenz claimed that newborn chicks whose eggs were incubated in isolation would still correctly pick the call of their mother over another animal.⁵ This ability of wild geese appeared to be the perfect proof of innate aptitude among humans as well. In 1973, Lorenz ended up winning the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his lifetime work.

The entire debate of the extent to which our genes determine who we are, individually as well as a group, has been dubbed ‘nature vs. nurture’. This catchy phrase was reportedly first coined by Francis Galton in his thesis, English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture, first published in 1874. Galton stated that:

" ‘Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence from without that affects him after his birth.’

⁶ "

Galton, a first cousin of Charles Darwin, also coined the word ‘eugenics’ in 1883, which to him meant the ‘truly’ or ‘well-born’. Galton was a multifaceted and powerful thinker, with many robust scientific discoveries especially in the field of statistics where he formulated the statistical notion of correlation.⁷ However, he is now more remembered for his eugenic theory that directly associated certain people as being better or superior to others. By extension, this had a profound implication in suggesting the possibilty of improving the society via selective breeding. Galton went on to write:

" ‘It has now become a serious necessity to better the breed of the human race. The average citizen is too base for the everyday work of modern civilisation.’


Later adherents of Galton’s work, one that related variations in human ability to genes and hereditary, latched on to the supposed science behind eugenics and promoted their own agenda based on visceral biases. The whole field of eugenic science relies on attempts at finding correlations, the statistical measure discovered by Galton, between family pedigree charts and individual character traits. This area of study essentially linked individual traits, tendencies, cultural differences and social deviances to the gene pool.

In the mid 1990s, the notion that intelligence is largely heritable, found a powerful voice in the writings of a Harvard psychology professor Richard J Hernstein. In 1994, shortly after he died, Hernstein’s best selling book, The Bell Curve came out, which he had written along with a political scientist, Charles Murray.⁹ Their book used statistical analysis to explain variations of intelligence in the American society. The more controversial part of the book contained the purported role of genes in explaining ethnic differences. Using empirical statistical analysis, the variations in intelligence of American blacks and whites as measured by IQ scores was shown to have two different normal distributions. Based on this difference, the authors claimed that African Americans taken as a group, possessed less intelligence than the white population. Another core claim of the book was that low IQ correlates highly with anti-social behaviours.

The nature side of the debate has frequently leveraged genes to justify not only individual behaviour and characteristics, but also to explain sexual preferences, as well as employing genes for racial profiling. In explaining alleged racial superiority or differences in ‘intelligence’ and cultural behaviour, eugenicists have found in the gene argument, a usable scientific hook. When it comes to the field of entrepreneurship, and perhaps not surprisingly, genetic and cultural dispositions have also been used as we shall see shortly.

The nature apologists of the determinism of human behaviour as well as the eugenicists who form their core, have over the decades strived to demonstrate the linkage between individual traits, tendencies, cultural differences as well as social deviances to the gene pool. Not unexpectedly, they have also fallen to the tempation to connect successful group characteristics to heriditary, which are often visible in many domains including athletics. A prime example can be found in the work of the journalist, Jon Entine, who wrote a controversial book published back in 2000, called Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It.¹⁰ In his 340-page compendium, Entine asserts that the high performance of black athletes—ranging from sprinters from Jamaica, to long distance runners from Kenya and to some extent Ethiopia, as well as African-American basketball players; their excellence is a result of their ‘high performance genes’. The concentration of success in particular groups suggests the proof, as Entine goes further-on to claim: ‘To the degree that it is a purely scientific debate, the evidence of black superiority in athletics is persuasive and decisively confirmed on the playing field. Elite athletes who trace most or all of their ancestry to Africa are by and large better than the competition.’¹¹

It is true that in several areas in sports, there exists a dominance of certain nations. Take the case of Kenyan marathoners. Athletes from this East African nation have been dominating the long distance field in the last few years, so much so that today it is almost taken as a certainty that a Kenyan would win the men’s marathon in the most prestigious runs. Of the top ten men marathon runners in 2016, as revealed by the Running Times, nine are from Africa—five are Kenyan, three Ethiopian, while British national Mo Farah in the top position, was born in Somalia.¹² In the 2011 World Championships, both in the middle as well as in the long-distance running events, Kenyan atheletes dominated, winning an astounding total of 17 medals. In the olympics, starting with Kip Keno’s dramatic 1,500 meter gold in 1968, Kenyan men and women have won 21 golds in distance running, from the 800 meters to marathons.

Surely, one can almost hear the modern day eugenicists claim, this dominance can only be accounted for by a Kenyan gene?


When you blame your genes, you’re really blaming yourself. And that’s what we should be talking about.


as Tony curses his Soprano gene.

While the Life issue of 1994 was positioned as an even-handed analysis of the nature vs. nurture debate, it nudges the reader into bowing to destiny. Yet, the fight against determinism is far from over, indeed the balance may now be tilting to the other side. For that we have a more rigorous science to thank for, whose revelations have fortified the position of the ‘nurturists’. The nurture side of the argument considers our environment to be the womb in which our personality and behaviour are shaped. The English physician and philospher, John Locke (1632-1704), one of the most influential enlightment thinkers, vigorously argued that at birth our minds are a Tabula Rasa, which is latin for a Blank Slate. Locke held that over the course of our lives, our experiences ‘write’ on this slate. Emerging from this core philosophy are the empiricists, who contend our family and society have very strong influences on both individual and group behaviour. Who we are, is conditioned by personal experiences, hence ‘empirical’, as well as by the environment in which we live.

It took an infant to demonstrate how human behaviour can become conditioned. Little Albert is forever imprinted in the literature of psychological experiments, featuring in all introductory tectbooks of psychology. Way back in 1920 at the John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, John B Watson and his assistant Rosalie Rayner conducted an experiment with an infant of almost nine months, whom they called ‘Albert B’. This now famous experiment was used to demonstrate how conditioned response and behaviour can emerge right from infancy. In what could be considered unethical today, albeit with permission from Albert’s mother—in the experiment the researchers studied what amounted to the phobia acquisition. The experiment began with a series of baseline tests, where the infant was first shown diverse articles such as a white rat, a rabbit, a dog, a monkey, masks both with and without hair, cotton wool and burning newspapers among other items. Little Albert showed no fear towards any of these items. Following the baseline experiments, Albert was exposed to a white rat alone in a room, again towards which Little Albert showed no fear, and in fact he was even seen reaching out to the rodent. Then, came the conditioning tests. Now each time Albert would try to touch the rat, the researchers would produce a loud noise by hitting a hammer on a metal pipe, upon which terrified Albert would start crying. After repeated association of the rat with the loud noise, Albert had acquired a phobia. As a result, even when no noise was produced, Albert would start crying merely on seeing the rat. As the psychologists Watson and Rayner noted:

" ‘The instant the rat was shown, the baby began to cry. Almost instantly he turned sharply to the left, fell over on [his] left side, raised himself on all fours and began to crawl away so rapidly that he was caught with difficulty before reaching the edge of the table.’

¹³ "

Little Albert B was taught fear and ‘conditioned learning’ was demonstrated for the first time in the field of psychology. Later, Watson would go on to claim that it is possible for human responses to be conditioned:

" Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select... regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors.

¹⁴ "

The lifetime work of Harvard psychologist B F SKINNER (1904-1990) had been largely devoted towards demonstrating how both our behaviour as well as actions should be considered to be our sole responsibility. It is also interesting to note that Richard J Hernstein of the Bell Curve fame had worked with and had been a student of B F Skinner at the same institution. Widely regarded as the father of behavioural science, Skinner was also a consumate inventor, relishing in inventing devices ranging from a ‘baby tender’ which was an air-conditioned crib with see-through walls to the ‘Skinner box’. This box was an operant conditioning device, which measures responses to changes in the environment. This device was essentially a cage with a mechanism inside whereby the subject animal would perform a particular action in response to a given stimuli, for instance, when given small amounts of food. It was by using this cage that Skinner demonstrated the existence of conditioned behaviour using his famous superstition experiment. The experiment involved placing a series of hungry pigeons in the ‘Skinner box’, which had an automatic mechanism that would randomly deliver food to the pigeons. The feeding schedule was based on a sequence of random numbers, completely unknown even to Skinner. What the behavioural scientist discovered was that the pigeons would associate the delivery of food to whatever action they happened to be performing at that particular instant, and they would then repeat these actions, in the expectation of food, thinking that it was their action which prompted the supply of food!

Skinner went on to observe: One bird was conditioned to turn counter-clockwise about the cage, making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. A third developed a ‘tossing’ response… Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body… Except playing golf, it would seem that the pigeons could be conditioned to do anything!¹⁵

In the years which followed since the publication of The Bell Curve, a detailed analysis of the core findings of Hernestein and Murray has found serious flaws in the statistical analysis on which hinged the basic thesis of the book. Evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and writer Gregg Easterbrook for instance, have blasted the Bell Curve, holding that it should ‘be seen as a tract advocating a political point of view, not a detached assessment of research.’¹⁶

In addition, there are other inconsistencies which crop up as well. For instance, if a trait like intelligence is inherited, then it would be indeed difficult to explain how raw IQ scores have been rising globally at a rate of 3 points per decade. This was precisely the discovery of an American philosopher and political scientist named James Flynn, who found IQ scores to be increasing from one generation to the next, in each of the countries whose IQ data had been compiled.¹⁷ It is interesting to note that in Flynn’s honour in The Bell Curve, Herrnstein and Murray dubbed this trend of rising IQ scores as the ‘Flynn Effect’.¹⁸

Let us examine further another argument that apparently provides more evidence of genes as the behaviour and characteristic determinant—the dominance of African-American in certain sports. Is the unarguable dominance of the Kenyans in distance

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