The Impact of Negative Knowledge to Develop Rescue from Entrepreneurial Failure Competencies: An Intervention Study on the Upper-secondary Level

University of St. Gallen, Swiss Research Institute of Small Business and Entrepreneurship
University of Fribourg, Department for Educational Sciences

Lead researcher:
Prof. Dr. Susan Müller, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Fritz Oser (em), University of Fribourg

Duration: 01.03.2016 – 28.02.2018

Entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful drivers of growth and prosperity in the modern global economy. Few factors have as great an impact in creating jobs, producing innovation, or generally contributing to a dynamic and competitive economy. It is therefore not surprising if policy makers claim that "Europe needs more new enterprises and more innovation". (European Commission, 2012, p. 21) This has led to renewed calls to anchor entrepreneurship in the curriculum of vocational education in order to stimulate the entrepreneurial mind-set of young people and to create a more favorable societal climate for entrepreneurship.

Despite this enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, the odds are stacked against start-ups: Many entrepreneurs fail, both in boom times and in bad times. Statistical evidence shows that half of start-ups exit the market in their first five years of existence. This reality calls for more than the legendary need for achievement, resilience, and risk taking propensity usually associated with entrepreneurs. Launching a new business venture necessitates a can do attitude since entrepreneurs must be convinced that the opportunity they are pursuing will find market acceptance. In other words, entrepreneurs must have a "Sense of Success" (SoS). But they also need to acquire knowledge about potential pitfalls and competences to deal with difficulties in all areas and at various stages of the start-up process. That means that they must exhibit a "Sense of Failure" (SoF). Whereas the SoS has long been recognized in both academic and practical terms, there are not many pointers to the SoF.

SoF is a prevention mechanism concerned with security, safety, and responsibility. It is a kind of seventh sense which is responsible for applying the emergency brake at the right moment. This sense includes items capturing negative knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and behavior, albeit these are of a completely different kind compared to the SoS. As a central component of SoF, negative knowledge has been conceptualized as knowledge about how something is not, does not work or strategies which are inappropriate to solve certain problems. As information about wrong aspects of a bad concept or strategy, negative knowledge is supposed to support the identification and development of good concepts or strategies. Thus, negative knowledge has a preventive functionin our context, of entrepreneurial failure.

Building on a stream of research projects successfully completed by the research team, the objective of this project is to conduct an intervention study at the upper secondary level in Switzerland in order to instill SoF (alongside the traditional SoS) within an entrepreneurship program. In the intervention, the researchers plan to develop SoF through learning based on authentic cases and learning with relevant errors in the field of entrepreneurship. In this vein, the researchers intend to teach students about recognizing and addressing potential pitfalls in entrepreneurship and to evaluate the impact of this program on the capacity of students to rescue an enterprise from entrepreneurial failure.

In terms of vocational training, the researchers posit that learning what errors typically occur in the entrepreneurship process, reflecting and analyzing their general and specific causes, and learning action strategies to handle occurring errors can contribute to error prevention and improve entrepreneurs’ task performance. Ultimately, it is anticipated that this new project can make an important contribution to the education of would-be entrepreneurs in all trades and services. Specifically, it could contribute to the development of a new competence profile that can potentially help to decrease the number of failing enterprises.

Project on the website of HSG

Teilprojekt 1: Die Zwillinge "Sense of Failure" und "Sense of Success" bei Jungunternehmern: Entwicklung von Kriterien des "Sense of Failure"

Teilprojekt 2: Die Zwillinge "Sense of Failure" and "Sense of Success" bei Jungunternehmern: Entwicklung von validen und reliablen Messinstrumenten für den „Sense of Failure“ und den "Sense of Success" im Gründungsprozess