International entrepreneurial identities and behavior, as represented in five scripts
Deriving from our narrative analysis (Polkinghorne 1988), Table 2 provides an overview of our findings regarding the narrative scripts by which the founder-CEOs made sense of the “who” and the “how” of themselves (constructing identities as actors in IE). It also sets out the developmental experiences that framed the interviewees’ behavior in the evolving process of becoming and being an international entrepreneur.
As shown in Table 2, the Pioneer, Native, Diplomat, and Gambler scripts represent the “pure” types of script, within which one’s behavior and sense of self is largely dominated by clearly identifiable and consistent features of self in relation to experiences. By contrast, the Eclectic script is of a more “hybrid” type (see Fauchart and Gruber 2011 for the terms “pure” and “hybrid”). In fact, the “pure” scripts could be interpreted as, overall, less frequent in their occurrence. They may, therefore, represent, to some extent, “outliers” in the overall spectrum. For its part, the Eclectic script (resembling a “hybrid” of the four “pure” scripts) has characteristics of dynamism within the founders’ narrative sense-making regarding their behavior.
In the sections “The pioneer script: A visionary explorer of unmarked paths,” “The native script: Maybe he’s born with it?,” “The diplomat script: Building bridges between people and the self,” “The gambler script: Positive delusion is the name of the game,” and “The eclectic script: Transforming behavior, initiating change,” we elaborate how the five scripts presented in Table 2 (Pioneer, Native, Diplomat, Gambler, and Eclectic) are represented in the narratives of Kim, Mel, Per, Oz, and Joe. In the “An eclectic reading of the scripts for international entrepreneurial behavior” section, we consider our findings in terms of how the scripts compare to each other and how a more comprehensive interpretation of developmental experiences becomes relevant in such scripts.
The pioneer script: A visionary explorer of unmarked paths
Our data contained the life narratives of international entrepreneurs who described themselves as forward-looking, possessing a proactive attitude and eagerness to move along unmarked paths throughout their career. They emphasized that the experiences of becoming an international entrepreneur can be challenging but also rewarding in terms of personal growth, as when one persists in believing in something that has not hitherto been attempted. Such narrations encapsulated what we call the Pioneer script. Here, entrepreneurial acts were made sense of in terms of being persistent and visionary in one’s outlook. The narrative sense-making attached to such a script partly reflected the context of doing international business at a time when there was perhaps less external support for conducting and enacting pioneering ideas. To this extent, the Pioneer script involved sensitivity to the ideologically, politically, and culturally different times that an international entrepreneur might have encountered. He or she might have been forced either to give in, or else to fight for something personally meaningful, while developing an unconstrained yet legitimate status for one’s company and one’s self.
Kim is the founder of an international software company that has enabled knowledge transfer in large enterprises during organizational changes. For her, becoming and being an international entrepreneur was the foundation for managing sensitive organizational processes in conjunction with international business. Born in the 1950s, as the daughter of an engineer and the granddaughter of an entrepreneur, she was—perhaps unusually at the time—raised to consider herself to be as capable of doing things as her male peers. Over time, Kim preferred to take her own path, and she grew into being an independent young woman: “My brother always had a big gang around, still has [—] At school I only had one close friendship. But not this kind of big gang. That way, I’ve always taken more of my own path.”
Despite beginning her business career at a time when the field was still dominated by men, she said that she was—and had remained—straightforward, even somewhat naïve in her actions. She had always seen herself as having the same possibilities as others: “I read about what people were saying, but I never thought it had anything to do with me.”
From an early age, Kim had frequently taken responsibility, through her first jobs and her school committee. However, during high school, she encountered health problems. The health issues and related challenges had continued to appear. However, rather than indulging in self-pity, she said that for her they had developed “an exceptional ability to endure things,” plus a personal value system and motivation: “I’ve needed to go through pretty tough crises. Life has led me in a sense … that I’ve learned to look at things in a [certain] way … [—] I have these deep values, that you have to give back what you’ve learned in life. [—] It’s the feedback from giving that is the driver, the motive.”
Having initially entered a career in the health technology industry, she constantly educated herself on various topics on and off work, seeking to gain a holistic view of her work. By the age of thirty, Kim was assigned by her employers to take over a whole division, including the task of taking the business to an international level: “Within a year they wanted to send me to North America. They’d never sent anyone abroad. [—] At that time there were no subsidiaries. No culture of doing it, but they were looking into it.”
At that time, without any Internet or educational support from the organization, she was to enter the unknown world of international business, quite alone, and in the absence of modern technology. Based on her learning, she now stressed the importance of cultural sensitivity and experiential learning, even if one might have all the access in the world to specific information: “Now everything is on the Internet and it is open, and you find it there. Back then we had nothing. [—] But of course, if you don’t have cultural understanding, it is good to acquire it from [abroad].”
Altogether, Kim’s narration of being a woman in technology and business, leading internationalization, and taking on a position that had no previously established structures, expressed strongly a sense of being a “first-mover” in many dimensions. Eventually, after several decades in employment and years of independent business consulting, Kim became convinced that no real learning was taking place in the industry. She was determined to put her unique knowledge of her subject to practical use. Pursuing her pioneering idea with a team of experts, she created innovative software that concretized her knowledge and experience. People around her considered the business idea unlikely to succeed, and only few people believed in her vision. Nevertheless, she wanted to look far ahead to future opportunities and decided to take the risk.
Now, having invested all her finances in the business idea, she was seeking to expand her team to encompass a comprehensive set of skills and knowledge. On the basis of her various managerial positions, her years abroad, and her first-hand experience of innovative venturing and strategic renewal within the corporation, she described her path into entrepreneurship as multi-faceted:
I have led organizations into growth in many ways, I have been in [both] large and family firms, and in small firms in various roles. And I’ve been a consultant in a role where I’ve had to analyze things. [—] I have always been sort of a visionary. So that I foresee things in advance, I listen to trends, signals carefully. [—] This kind of understanding of global growth, knowledge and all of this, how to grow and take risks, and think of what comes next …
From Kim’s narrative, we see that experiences have grounded her beliefs in herself and her behavior as an independent, persistent, and value-driven international entrepreneur. She makes sense of herself through her early social relationships and independence from others’ opinions (deriving from father–daughter relationship and sense of being equal with boys). Her sense-making also encompasses her self-assessed straightforward behavior and personality (i.e., her bluntness and naivety when she was growing up), her early and multiple experiences of going abroad by herself for work (i.e., summer work when she was a teenager and being the first woman as a global sales manager in an internationalizing company in the 80s), and the tough times she went through when starting her own business (i.e., sticking with an idea that people said was too difficult). Throughout her story, Kim continued to strengthen her international entrepreneurial self through an altruistic quest of putting her personal experiences to use for the good of others.
The native script: Maybe he’s born with it?
A “native script” reflects the position of founder-CEOs who are internally driven by awareness of the necessity of doing international business; also by having an entrepreneurial mindset and the privilege of being internationally and/or entrepreneurially oriented from an early period in their life. Assuming that such a person also has a personal motivation for entrepreneurial practices, our interpretation of the native script fits well with the behavior of a “born global” entrepreneur, i.e., one who has the internal abilities to adapt easily to various global “cultures” of business (by being, e.g., a “world citizen” or a “digi-native”), and to a career in which they become more and more embedded. Such characteristics—in conjunction with the push of personal interests and education and the pull of broad social networks, accentuated by the technological advances of the time—enable the person to construct a flexible identity that will endure both personal and social scrutiny.
Mel is the co-founder of a small software company. It does consultancy work and facilitation of communication and knowledge transfer in overseas projects between large multi-national clients. For Mel, both becoming an entrepreneur and being international is self-evident. A strong source of his sense-making is located in his multi-cultural family background and his digitally savvy generation. Having been born into a multi-cultural family, Mel had dual citizenship at his birth and was exposed to three different languages.
Mel stressed his family and generational foundation as useful in his international encounters today. He estimated his willingness to speak foreign languages and to deal with strangers as above average. Moreover, in his opinion, modern-day business ought to be international from the start and should follow other global developments: “One must have the international grip from the start. If one aims to do up-to-date business at all.” Like many of his age-peer international entrepreneurs, Mel enjoyed the benefits of being in the first waves of digitalization. He acknowledged the advantages possessed by the current digital-native generation and their potential in fostering entrepreneurship: “Digitalization, it has, if you like, concreteness in it, which has made it possible for a 20-year-old man or woman to do international business anywhere in the world.”
Mel’s entrepreneurial journey began at the end of his college years. He displays some characteristics of a born entrepreneur, insofar as he became an entrepreneur fairly quickly, without any notable prior working experiences. However, the spark to the co-founding of a company came from experiences in other environments. Growing from a fairly shy boy to a sports enthusiast and to a confident performer in his city theater in his early adulthood, Mel started to find his internal motivation for an entrepreneurial career before became he aware of it himself:
At the time of my studies, these experiences, like establishing the (sports) team, and some courses, about establishing a firm, where you create your own business idea and gather substance around it … It was like actualizing a dream. [—] that’s when it gave the spark, like, “damn, how cool was that, managing to do such a thing!” At the end of my studies, I had already decided that I’d become an entrepreneur.
Without having the kind of definite entrepreneurial family background that can often spark a positive attitude to work and an entrepreneurial mindset (or the opposite), Mel had been raised to work hard and always to do his work as well as possible. His farmer grandfather had engraved in Mel the image of working for one’s own livelihood and aspirations, and Mel could not imagine working for someone else’s dreams. He had recognized the importance of personal passion in working and had experienced great joy in creating something meaningful for himself. Despite a deepened knowledge of network management gained during a short period of employment at the university, his internal motivation, personal desires, and ideas were realized only after he became an entrepreneur. During the short period of employment after graduation, Mel had established trust with clients who shared broader visions with him. Conveniently, all of them were willing to take the risk of starting a business collectively:
I am definitely not an entrepreneur doing it all by myself. [—] When we three established the company, we had strengths that were complementary, at least when it came to my own strengths. They probably could have made it by themselves, but I would have not survived. I am the kind who wants to do things together … I really enjoy the success which we can reach together.
In Mel’s narrative, experiences from his early childhood and his studies were profound in making sense of the self-evident path by which he became an international entrepreneur. Mel’s memories emphasize his birth into a multi-cultural family, respect for “entrepreneurial” work (i.e., a farmer grandfather as a role model), being part of proactive teams (i.e., in playing in sports teams or acting in the theater), finding the spark to establish a team on his own (i.e., founding a sports team), and having people as mentors and partners around him from the start (notably a professor in the university). Yet, overall, the most critical developmental experience in Mel’s case was surely that he was born into a multi-cultural family and that he heard and spoke several languages at an early age. Furthermore, the episodes of Mel’s narrative demonstrate the IE journey as a more or less self-evident career choice, one that was both externally driven (involving international business, digitalization, and university, clients) and internally driven (involving a multi-cultural identity, personal dreams, and motivation).
The diplomat script: Building bridges between people and the self
According to our interpretation, some of the founders’ identity constructions and behaviors unfolded according to what we call a “diplomat script.” The diplomat script seems to gain momentum from personal cultural and social encounters that both challenge and provide learning opportunities, constructing knowledge of the international context over time. As seen in Per’s narrative in subsequent texts, this script manifests a developing path of internationalization, arrived at through introspection, with interpretation of interactions with people from different backgrounds along the life trajectory. In this sense, the diplomat script seems to be grounded in people-oriented experiences. It fits well with the demands of contemporary internationalization and of entrepreneurial careers that build on social relationships and networks.
Per is a founder-CEO and partner consultant in a knowledge-intensive business service firm. For him, IE is about helping domestic and international companies (small- and medium-sized) to develop their international services. Per was born into a normal working family without any initial entrepreneurship influences. However, there were pressures from his father and grandfather to perform to the best of his ability, personal challenges in balancing between studying and working, and eventually, the responsibilities of becoming a father in early adulthood. These were factors that developed Per into conscientious young man.
As a challenge-seeker, Per said that he easily became bored. In learning to balance his life between being a father and building a corporate career, Per had already gained extensive managerial experience by his thirties. His working career in different corporations had up to the present given him diverse work experience, both domestic and international: “I left [company X] when it started to feel so … maybe boring is a wrong word, but easy? And I saw that [company Y] was looking for a candidate to go to North America. And I sought the position, or applied, and got hired.”
In addition to his extensive international experiences, Per increased his “intrapreneurial” orientation and his pursuit of strategic renewal in the corporations where he was employed. However, he emphasized that these involved lower risks than entrepreneurship, to be undertaken either by starting up a business or investing in buying one. He further elaborated on the motivating aspects of entrepreneurship, how he worked without counting the hours, seeing needs for change where others refused to see them: “Maybe I’ve always been a bit workaholic. That I haven’t counted the hours I’ve worked. Maybe in that sense I’ve been an entrepreneur … or entrepreneurially oriented.”
Freedom was a strong element in Per’s narration. The way in which he liked to be led himself was the way he liked to lead others. In attempting to be a leader rather than a manager, he had been determined to give his employees autonomy. He saw it as necessary not to control people too much: “Maybe it has been one of the weaknesses in my leadership that I haven’t followed up enough … or controlled. Control is exactly the kind of management that I don’t like.”
He had met his father’s international business friends from an early age, worked as an expatriate for several years, and had specific experiences of being challenged by cultural differences among colleagues. He had thus grown to appreciate the need to encourage efforts for international relations in the workplace:
In some cultures, they do things I can’t accept, in a sense. But, it becomes understandable, if you give it a chance. [—] there are different kinds of people and different cultures and different kinds of ways of doing things and none of them is the right one. [—] The world view of the other person may be a somewhat different from one’s own, and I’m not sure if my own is any better.
Furthermore, in reflecting on his growing international interests and mindset, Per indicated the connections between his experiences abroad and intuitive urges in his managerial decision-making. The fact that he took experience and enthusiasm for granted influenced his evaluation of ways to proceed: “At that point, I had lived abroad a good period, and somehow it felt natural. [—] I thought I’d try at an early enough stage to internationalize its operations. I didn’t really think about it. Maybe I should have.”
Despite encounters with various challenging situations and mistakes as an international manager, none of his experiences had made him regret his engagement with international business. In fact, those international experiences had changed him into what he was now and had given him the internally strong desire to seek development in international business, especially the development of small firms. Eventually, when one employment contract ended, Per found himself creating himself a “new” career as an entrepreneur, putting his knowledge and interests to specialized use: “Know-how is maybe the wrong word [—] but it has become natural for me in the course of many years. Then, in this firm, perhaps one aims to advance what one is good at. [—] First one ends up in international tasks, then it feels natural, and then one seeks to take these on.”
From Per’s narration, we can extract his experiences of pressure to work hard (from parents and grandparents expecting a good performance in school), exposure to cultural diversity from early on (from his father’s international work colleagues and a cultural training program), the need to balance work and family life (returning from being an expatriate), and leading internationalization (as an employed manager). In fact, Per had been continuously handling situations which required balancing acts. Overall, he became an international entrepreneur after and through various life and career transitions. The founding of the company eventually emerged as a concrete service, concretizing his motivated approach to work, networks, and know-how from previous international assignments. Through his own learning of the international field, he had gained the motivation to help and serve less experienced peers, via his consulting, mentoring, and research-related work. It was perhaps no wonder that such a committed person would find it fulfilling to contribute in developing the internationalization processes of small firms, having himself had life stages of being an expatriate and a manager of a small firm.
The gambler script: Positive delusion is the name of the game
The gambler script manifests the behavior surrounding risk-taking amid the uncertainties of founding an INV. If the script is followed through, taking on calculated risks provides the thrill of the game. Moreover, as in the case of Oz (see subsequent texts), an international entrepreneur who takes on the gambler script tends to be one with big dreams. Thus, to take the example of Oz, reaching millions of online followers worldwide is both the motivation and the means for international venturing. As one might expect from such individuals, a pre-eminent characteristic is intelligence, applied to dealing dispassionately with human cognition and emotions. Thus, the founders following this script seem to have taken on responsibility for their risk-taking actions, as an integral part of their personality. If one disregards the negative connotations of “gambling,” the narratives highlight the positive aspects of such behaviors. IE makes sense as a kind of “sport” of logic and problem-solving, one that makes it necessary to keep a close eye on competitors’ actions and reactions. International entrepreneurs following a gambler script seem to have good abilities to handle emotions and manage their own reactions in stressful situations. It may also be that without the slightly “delusional” mindset, the interviewed founders in this category would never have gone beyond the average level.
Oz is the founder of a small online gaming company, one that brings scientific knowledge to the wider public. His sense-making narration of his path to becoming an international entrepreneur emphasized the logic of psychological human development. Oz was born and raised in a family that encouraged him to think independently and responsibly. “Verbal debates” at home developed his argumentative skills, a strong interest in sports and games from early on created a competitive drive, and an eagerness to continuously read and learn more gave him a foundation to holistically understand himself and to reflect on the world around him. He acknowledged personal experiences as important in shaping his thinking and values (i.e., being socially responsible) and placed an emphasis on parenting, society, and a university education in natural sciences.
Oz mentioned that his early background in sports had influenced his move to becoming an entrepreneur. Since he was seven years old, he had constantly played either soccer or ice hockey. Having participated in sports at a high level, he reflected on an early dream of becoming a professional athlete: “This might not be a surprise, but many entrepreneurs have sports in their background. And why sports, it might be something with the goal-directedness. Maybe competitiveness. [—] I have always loved games. [—] And I was very goal-directed already at a young age.”
On coming into his twenties, Oz realized that he could not create a career in sports. At this time, he discovered online poker. Oz now liked to link this to his philosophy of wanting to reach goals, and his longing for action: “[Online poker] was this really intriguing mode of sports, competition, and games, and then, it was also logical. I’ve always liked math, physics, these kinds of logical subjects, problem-solving things. It was so fascinating. This combined it all.”
After a relatively successful start with his online poker career, Oz decided he did not wish to continue down that road. He did not wish to become networked with the people he was meeting online and at events of the industry, as he could see how certain values held in that community would have gradually altered his own perspectives. Along with pursuing a degree in natural sciences, Oz had an idea developing in his head. This came to fruition after a motivational speaker, who was also a successful entrepreneur, pressed his “emotional buttons.” Less than a year later, Oz had established his own company and had managed to book a meeting with a leading online gaming company in the country. During the first year of his company, Oz’s major realization was that he had to concretize the ideas that he had in his head and to go beyond merely developing and learning new things in theory. Finding a co-founder who had the same love for the games as Oz was a turning point in getting his ideas into a realizable form.
For Oz, his internal drive of being an entrepreneur could be compared to that of an athlete. In soccer, one can see the desire to succeed in the way the players fight for every ball, without any certainty of achieving a final result:
When you have an uncertain end result, you still very strongly believe that it will happen. You have no proof that it will, but you believe that it will happen. It links to when you present a vision to the investor, saying that such and such will happen, because we’ll do such and such a thing. You have the arguments for it. [—] It’s really hard to fake it, it shows through [—] Everything is based on this kind of strong manipulation of people.
(Authors’ note: Term “manipulation” is a direct quote and the context is the convincing of people of a grandiose vision.)
Describing himself as a person who rather makes intellectual guesses and develops his own opinion of where things are headed, Oz was skeptical about looking into the past and at the fluctuation of trends. Relating such a behavioral orientation to the dynamics of poker, he talked about forecasting, or predicting the future:
The predictions are based on who you play with. The person you’re playing with is much more important than the cards you play with. Who you play with, what they are thinking, their backgrounds, why they play and all sorts of things. [—] In a way, entrepreneurship or visioning, or anything, it’s exactly the same.
Oz argued that of more importance than intelligence is how you handle your emotions. In gambling, as in life in general, one ought to understand and process feelings of failure, loss, success, and the entire spectrum of emotions. One must recognize what is fear-oriented and what is desire-oriented: “It’s far more important than whether you can, as if were, logically do something. [—] That’s what I strive for, reflecting on how I react.”
For Oz, having an international start for the company was self-evident, due to the online nature of the gaming industry. However, realizing that he lived his own childhood in the 80s, Oz indicated that it was impossible to compare things now with what they would have been back then. The changes brought by the Internet have made “international” a starting point, “the default” position in any business. One interesting point was that though his poker career had been global by default, for Oz, traveling was never in itself a large part of the deal: “I think if I had started to travel, it would have been addictive in many ways.”
It was clear that Oz had found a career in which he was not just doing something for a living. His motivation was the passion for the game:
In poker they call it “investment in loss,” meaning how much we are able to invest in the losing and learning process in the game, in everything, including in life. I realized I was doing something that I loved tremendously. I believed I could break through at some point and I was willing to accept quite a lot of loss, in that I could learn from it at some point.
Showing admiration for internationally known entrepreneurs, such as Elon MuskFootnote 1 and Richard Branson,Footnote 2 Oz talked about the positive “delusion” he would foster in being an entrepreneur. One’s belief may not really correlate with the present or “what is,” but the positive illusions of “what could be”: “It’s really interesting how many entrepreneurs want to live out of that. That they can dream big. [—] in a way, when we look at people who have succeeded in life, as measured in many ways, it is dependent on your values, what you see as valuable.”
Oz’s narration included the experience of an intellectually challenging childhood (family debates), being attracted to competition (playing games from an early age), and being intensively engaged in an environment of personal risk-taking, plus the emotional involvement associated with it (online poker). All in all, his narration emphasized the importance of a “delusional” mentality, plus an understanding of emotions as the basis for people’s behavior in start-up venturing. Containing plentiful metaphors from the poker and sports world, references to successful entrepreneurs, and mention of phenomena in the natural sciences, his narrative stressed his “positively delusional” outlook on the future, together with philosophical attributions regarding his engagement with entrepreneurship. Oz’s story, incorporating notions of both nature and nurture, aptly illustrated how personality, upbringing, personal behavioral choices (e.g., resisting addictive environments), and decisions on education had all affected the behavior that unfolded in the narrative.
The eclectic script: Transforming behavior, initiating change
In the eclectic script, many of the founders were both eager to and able to learn, with a strong willingness to be transformative in the dynamic and changing international business context. In addition to an internal motivation to initiate and to work diligently for the next big thing, these founders were reflexive persons, willing to reflect on and re-interpret their interaction with their (social) environment on the way. Manifesting a profound sense of one’s own self—but also the ability to challenge assumptions following feedback from others—an eclectic script seems to give people possibilities to adopt a myriad of approaches within the complexity of IE.
Joe is the founder of a company that develops software solutions for education modeling. His narrative could be seen more or less as a hybrid version of the behavioral elements found in the four narratives mentioned previously. In general, the path to international entrepreneurship had been paved with both challenges and beneficial events that had affected his views on how he saw things coming together.
Born into a fairly small town, Joe was only 16 when he moved on his own to a larger town. Joe’s narration on his youth was marked by independence from early on. Making sense of his personality now, Joe thought that he had found a good fit between his autonomous behavior and the work he was doing.
In recounting more details of his youth, Joe made sense of himself as a person who always wanted to come up with something that no one would have expected: “I’ve always been like that, I get bored, I need to do something new. Change something, start something totally new. It marks my actions a lot. I’m the kind of person who wants to try out things. [—] I did things no one was expecting. Good and not so good.”
In line with this (here, resembling the pioneer script of doing something novel, and also the native script in terms of the desire to do something personally meaningful), Joe saw himself as an initiator, with the drive to create something new. On the other hand, he described himself as being the kind of person with a fearless attitude towards the things he had decided to do. New challenges, embedded in uncertainty, had become one of the main drivers of his actions. Here, he manifested a resemblance to the gambler script:
I think actually, that quite many of those who have succeeded in growing something big, have something wrong in their head too. They don’t think like other people. It’s some kind of fearless orientation, or maybe it’s just stupidity, I don’t know, but it’s the kind of thing that means you are not afraid. If you don’t think about it too long, you may actually get something done.
The internal drive of to try out new things led Joe to set up a small two-person IT-support firm with a friend, while they were finalizing their engineering degrees. It was something that he was really enthusiastic about. In the manner of a native, Joe had grown up in a generation that enjoyed the increasing availability of information technology, forming the foundations for digitalization. After graduation, Joe and a couple of his friends could not find jobs in their home town: “We decided to do things differently, to found a company and sell our own thing. [—] We didn’t want to move from home. [—] There were four of us. One left during the first year, because he couldn’t handle the pressure of not knowing if there was money coming in or not.”
Becoming aware that surrounding companies, founded locally, had survived, and were striving internationally, Joe gained the confidence to start venturing. He perceived that one could do global business with a local attachment. From this realization, “international” emerged as a self-evident dimension to his venturing: “I saw that there were other international firms, successful IT firms who had made it, so why not us. One local company in particular was a great inspiration. [—] When I saw that, I was like, why not. They’re no different from us, the same kind of guys, and they have made it in the world.”
Referring to having played with a cousin who had a different national heritage as a kid, Joe did not consider being international as something extraordinary. Rather, it was just something that had to be understood: “I’ve always thought that people are equal and the same, but they’re different because they’ve been born into a different culture and stuff.”
In addition, Joe’s contextual embeddedness intertwined with his growing ability to navigate between different managerial perceptions, thus following a diplomat script. In broad terms, Joe’s narration indicated his willingness to transform and adapt as needed in his IE journey. In learning to lead a rapidly internationalizing firm, he had formed a strengthened understanding of himself, the international (business) environment he was working in, and the people he was leading. Manifesting traits similar to Per’s motivation to understand, help, and serve the people around him, and to connect with people of different backgrounds, Joe reflected on in his willingness to learn, and to analyze how to lead an international firm better: “You cannot blindly lead this kind of a company. It’s not the kind of old-school management like in a metal shop. You have to create personal relationships with key people, and they need to trust you, and you them.” In addition, bound up with Joe’s social context of IE venturing, he had friends with similar job positions. Thus, he could reflect on phenomena behind and beyond the daily issues he was encountering in business.
Another behavioral aspect of the script, as revealed in Joe’s narrative, was his tendency to make fairly rapid decisions. This became apparent in his reflections on both himself and the firm. Joe’s preference for quick decision-making seemed to be driven by a deep tendency to become “bored,” to need change: “That boredom has driven me further. [—] Two, three years and we change something. [—] It’s probably one of the things that it demands, you have to be able to constantly change. If you don’t like change, you shouldn’t be doing this.” At the same time, Joe described himself as having something of an attention deficit disorder,Footnote 3 since his way to get things done was to have too much going on at the same time. This gave him the right amount of pressure to complete the tasks at hand.
On the other hand, Joe said that he did not like surprises. Hence, he constantly considered “worst case scenarios” to deal with feelings of uncertainty. In some respects one can relate this to the Gambler script, which involves keen observance of the possible reactions of others. It is interesting that in making sense of the global landscape of his business, and the implications for his work, Joe found it hard just to settle for what he has achieved. Again, as in the Gambler script, Joe’s attitude showed a certain degree of “positive delusion,” insofar as there was always something more to conquer on his IE journey: “A person has climbed to the top of the mountain, but then, he’s not at all excited about the fact that he’s up there. He’s just thinking “what should I do next?” There is always something [—] will not even take a cup of coffee to celebrate it, instead I’m already thinking of the next big thing.”
An eclectic reading of the scripts for international entrepreneurial behavior
Identification of a Pioneer, Diplomat, Native, Gambler, or an Eclectic script leads to a multi-faceted perspective on what it is to be an international entrepreneur. The scripts shed light on individuals’ interpretations of the essence in IE behavior. Figure 2 sets out a comparative framework for the five scripts, providing an overview of their strengths, plus situations that pose challenges for the individual who follows such a script. We also identify certain learning points that are crucial for each international entrepreneurial actor.
Overall, with regard to what it means to be an international entrepreneur, the five scripts show both an internal orientation (as with Oz, in following his internal “delusional” attitude towards executing new ideas) and an external orientation (as with Joe, in having to adjust his managerial approaches when his staff extends beyond borders). To some extent, all of the five scripts reflect IE behavior manifesting an internal drive to take on challenges, to seek freedom in working, to utilize one’s knowledge, and to adjust or align behavior according to different (social) contexts. All of the scripts contain various similarities and differences.
The Gambler script prioritizes making one’s mark in a bold, daring international venture, while doing the things one enjoys most within a value-driven, independent quest to put one’s personal experiences and understandings to good use. In a similar way, the Pioneer script manifests motivation by large deeds, perhaps done in an altruistic way, helping one’s “followers” to venture into a better world. A Pioneer develops a proactive and visionary identity in pursuing international and entrepreneurial opportunities. A Gambler, on the other hand, finds a thrill in setting “delusional” goals, forecasting the future, and making reactive intellectual guesses about different environments—in other words, the Gambler interprets his/her own reactions and those of others, in specific situations where people come from different backgrounds.
In comparison to the Pioneer script, the Diplomat script, too, demonstrates a strong motivation to advance and develop international business, and utilize personal knowledge for the common good in the matter. However, one can see a Diplomat’s approach to leadership and international relations as involving matters for negotiation in dialog, whereas the Pioneer is a “spearhead” for actions, in other words the person showing the way. If one adheres more to a Diplomat script, one will devotedly advance international collaboration, showing sensitivity and tact when dealing with others. Correspondingly, one who is drawn to the Pioneer script could perhaps learn ways of approaching people and organizations from a different culture in a more diplomatic manner—even while maintaining elements of straightforward pioneering behavior. Then again, in contrast to a Diplomat, who emphasizes the developing nature of international inclusiveness and leadership, a Native will pursue the IE journey as a natural path, based on an internalized entrepreneurial mindset and an inherent multi-cultural identity.
A founder with a Diplomat script may face difficulties in holding to a firm position in relation to other actors in the venturing processes. By contrast, a founder with a Gambler or a Pioneer script may find difficulties in taking a step back with their competitive visions, letting others take action when a firm grows or when they could profitably seek help from others. There are challenges in the Native script and possibly in the Eclectic script also, in that one may not truly identify with anything, or with any career. The dynamic working contexts may appear too complex to grasp, and there may be increasingly numerous options and venturing possibilities. All this could result in too many contradicting identities, or in no identity at all—producing internal chaos, and, at worst, burnout.
Interpreting the contextual underpinnings of behavioral scripts
Modern life has elements that are more or less irreversible. These involve the exponential development of technology and disruptive innovations, multi-cultural environments as default situations (i.e., in families, schools, workplaces), and the requirements for current generations to pursue an (international) entrepreneurial career in times of increasing uncertainty. The most intriguing differences in the scripts relate to developmental experiences pertaining to particular contexts.
The Pioneer script seems to be constructed over time in relation to developmental experiences in relation to historically bound contexts (i.e., ideological, political, economic, or cultural contexts) which represent certain broader agendas for behavior in a society. A founder following a Pioneer script will have developed a strong sense of the “self” in the context of international business (whether through “naivety” or through overall stability in the self-assessment of who the person is). He/she is able to operationalize personal visions without doubts encroaching from external voices (notably those of colleagues, business networks, gendered discussions).
The Native script seems to involve assumptions stemming from generational embeddedness (in a multi-cultural family, in the digitalization of business, in a contemporary working culture). Through such embeddedness, the person has developed certain IE behavioral tendencies. Persons with a Native cognitive script do not need to specifically identify with being either “international” or entrepreneurial. They take these phenomena as self-evident in the contemporary global business context. Becoming a Native in IE actually expresses a sense of freedom in constructing a global identity within the modern international business environment—an identity that is perhaps less and less fixed to any particular context or country.
The Gambler script stresses the “emotional context” of one’s sense-making, with behavior being related to affective experiences. The founders of risk-taking small firms who follow a Gambler script have the advantage of an emotional affect grounded in a rapid start-up scene. Within this context, emotionally intelligent founders can attract investors who seek innovative courses of action; these may themselves be “delusional” entrepreneurs, seeking to revolutionize the world.
The Diplomat script seems to involve making sense of social interactions. Hence, the dialogical approach within a Diplomat script favors learning from interaction-oriented challenges, such as the culturally and socially diverse situations IE inevitably imposes on founder-CEOs. Such a script serves as a guidepost for customizing approaches in dealing with international business networks. It also encourages moderation in entrepreneurial opportunities.
All the scripts have certain beneficial aspects. Nevertheless, given fluctuations in trends, the emergence of disruptive innovations, and the necessity of internationalization, “hybrid” scripts have considerable advantages. They favor adaptability to change, with possibilities to adjust approaches to the varying demands of IE over time. Hence, in preference to internalizing any one fixed type of behavior or identity, there are good reasons to pursue dynamism in identity work, generating novel understandings of the “cycle of interactions with elements of the surrounding environment” (Randerson 2016: 582).