The E Factor: Entrepreneurial Competencies for Person and Business Success

David Gibson (Queen ‘s University, Belfast)

It is not often that a book on entrepreneurship yanks my chain. Usually such books are either of the motivational variety nowadays penned by some TV ‘personality ‘ or the innocuous how to start a business kind. Both have their place, I suppose. The first provides entertainment wrapped as education, while the second passes on information of the sort that you would be hard-pressed not to classify as ‘textbook tedious ‘.

They both have their limitations. At best, a book about/by Richard Branson or some Dragon ‘s Den expert can show you where you want to go. And a start-a-business book can map out your first practical steps and keep you on the right side of the law. But how can you link the two realms together? How do you get from the starting blocks to the finish line? What sort of person do you need to become?

Gibson ‘s book answers this question. And in so doing, he has written the sort of book I love one that takes elements from two worlds and blends them together to create something greater than the parts. In this case, those ‘parts ‘ are the fields of business studies and personal development. They could easily be set in opposition science versus pop psychology but Gibson instead aims for something much more complex and worthwhile: a synthesis, a holistic integration of these two realms around the core theme of success skills.

I think he achieves this aim. And he does so for one, main reason. David Gibson is an academic, but not a mere academic. Senior Teaching Fellow in the Queen ‘s University Management School, he specialises in post-graduate education. But he started off in the worlds of finance and consultancy. He has gotten his hands dirty. It is clear from his book that he still has a hunger for it. We businesspeople can respect this.

The purpose of The E Factor is quite remarkable. Gibson states from the outset his belief that successful entrepreneurship (1) is a skill set (2) that anyone can learn through practice. Some of you may have fainted at these notions; those of you who remained unmoved have not understood their revolutionary force. No longer is entrepreneurship a mystical art possessed by a chosen and lucky few. It can be delineated and analysed. It can be taught and learned. It can be modelled and practiced. This book shows how.

Gibson divides his E Factor into eight competencies and gives a chapter to each. I won ‘t expound them. But I will set out the chapter headings for you so you can see where the book takes us. And I will gather together what I have found as some of the interesting points made. Here they are:

1. Innovation and Creativity

2. Personal Mastery

3. Assertion/Negotiation

4. Personal Marketing

5. Finance

6. Influence

7. Leadership and Team Building

8. Outcome/Flexible Action Orientation

As you can tell from these subheadings, the topics range from thinking skills to soft skills, from the administrative to the motivational. Some of it resembles the content of a workshop on Personal Effectiveness or Communication Skills, while other parts are taken straight out of an introductory course in Business and Finance. Yet others belong to neither, and feel like something out of a psychology degree.

As well as this blending of diverse areas of interest, there were several others features about the book that impressed me.

Use of multiple sources of reference

Gibson has a Bibliography at the back of his book. In it, he mentions some of the authors you might expect, as well as those who would not. Since this is an academic textbook, most belong in this second category. As we cast our eye over this list, we meet a rich selection of mental maestros (Edward De Bono and Tony Buzan), billionaire businessmen (Alan Sugar and Donald Trump), self-help authors (Stephen Covey and Robert Kiyosaki), academic professors (Gavin Kennedy), the odd mystics (Stuart Wilde), and even a martial arts experts (Geoff Thompson)! As an amateur martial arts aficionado, I knew of Thompson and was impressed that Gibson did too. Even Tony Robbins gets a look-in (173).

Running underneath Gibson ‘s book is a current of more serious research and ideas. I was able to detect a few of these, although I ‘m sure many more exist. For instance, in whole concept of personal mastery, as outlined in chapter two, seems based on the principle of self-efficacy as defined by Professor Albert Bandura (Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control). Gibson also emphasises the point that successful entrepreneurs learn how to play to their strengths (99, 170). This reminded me of the business book by Marcus Buckingham (Now, Discover Your Strengths) as well as the more academic work of Martin Seligman (Authentic Happiness) and Howard Gardener (Frames of Mind) which all make the same point. Gibson also asserts the need for multiple-perspectives and openness to new information in entrepreneurial thinking (11, 145) in a similar way to Ellen Langer (Mindfulness).

Sections for personal application and practice

Gibson ‘s mantra is ‘skill and practice ‘. He shouts this throughout the entire book so even the most obtuse of academics can get the point. But Gibson does more than shout; he provides a space and opportunity within the book to try things out. Therefore, he peppers the book throughout with tasks, exercises and steps to take. Contrary to many academic writers, Gibson does not sideline these to the end of each chapter, like some nasty afterthought. They are integral to the structure of each chapter. This is a book written for doers, not dreamers.

Just to rub the point in, Gibson does not shy away from a little controversy. He (mildly) criticizes the education system for neglecting to teach financial literacy or communication skills (97-98; 121) at school or even or especially! university. Although Gibson labels these as instances of ‘enterprise skills ‘ he also identifies them as the sort of life-skills that everybody needs (12, 96, 133, 140). It is clear, though, that Gibson has a broad view of entrepreneurial activity, refusing to limit it to the public sector (19 but see 99). Unlike the magical ‘X-Factor ‘ of TV fame, possession of the ‘E-Factor ‘ is something that everyone could aspire too, and that everyone can attain. Gibson makes it his business literally to show you how.

Acknowledgement of the importance of the ‘inner ‘ or psychological aspect of entrepreneurship

I judge that this is a neglected element in entrepreneurial studies (although increasingly not to management theory per se). It would be easy for an academic like Gibson to focus solely on other concerns, like strategy and planning, sales and marketing, finance and growth, etc. Yet he refuses to do this. A reason for this is not difficult to find: the long-term sustainability and success of any new venture depends largely on the management skills and leadership ability of the owner. No amount of financial acumen or slick marketing can override these skills.

Although Timothy Galloway (The Inner Game of Tennis) is not mentioned by name, Gibson does refer to the need to win our ‘inner game ‘ (27) and makes use of the sporting analogy (153). The need for some sort of performance coaching, both personal and team, is a major thread running through the entire book (23, 31, 148,151, 162). Gibson is comfortable with the language of coaching, employing phrases such as ‘self-sabotage ‘ (23) and suggesting the use of ‘visualization ‘ techniques (30, 42). He grants the virtues of positive psychology (28, 32), while steering past the murky waters of positive thinking (168). Neuro-linguistic Programming, that shady cousin of coaching, is mentioned explicitly (125-6) and implicitly (41, 57, 149). Non-verbal communication, including Professor Albert Mehrabian ‘s (Silent Messages) much-misused rule (123), gets coverage (55 etc.). Inner values, probably under Covey ‘s influence, get a needed hearing too (33, 149).

Other points of note

To give away any more content would be to regurgitate the book. I ‘ll only mention three other points of interest. Firstly, I cheered to see the extensive use Gibson made of the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule, throughout the book (43, 51, 92, 94, 145, 178, 186). But perhaps a reference to Richard Koch would have been in order? Second, Gibson has the guts to refer to the issue of gender, both on the tricky issues of assertiveness (56) and of selling (135-136). Gender and business is definitely a development of the future, as Tom Peters has explained (Trends). Finally, I appreciated those observations Gibson made relative to Northern Ireland (28, 181).

When further editions of The E-Factor are printed, I would suggest a little more editorial work is required to tighten up the text. I also have a love for books that use substantial footnotes and give directions ‘for further reference ‘. A good textbook is self-contained, but can also serve as a launch pad for further research. I suggest Daniel Pink ‘s A Whole New Mind as a model for this.

David Gibson is the only recipient of a National Teaching Fellowship Award for enterprise education by the Higher Education Academy in the UK. It is not difficult to see why. This book, The E-Factor, is now used in over 100 universities, including Cambridge, where it is a core text. Very highly recommended.