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CUHK Business School Research Finds Individuals With Diverse Skills More Likely to Form Startups and Succeed as Entrepreneurs

Update: June, 26/2020 - 02:11

HONG KONG, CHINA - Media OutReach - 26 June 2020 - If you have ever been called a "jack-of-all-trades," you can rest assured the phrase "master of none" isn't far behind. At the very least, it is often implied. But how relevant is this old saying in today's business world?


Unless you are a jack-of-all-trades who works in an organisation that values your broader skill sets, you may feel like your talents are being wasted.


But there is good news! Recent research into individuals with diverse skill sets found that jacks-on-all-trades are more likely to start a business and succeed as entrepreneurs than those who have only a specialised skill. The reason? They can see more opportunities and are more resourceful when solving problems in an uncertain situation like setting up a new business. It doesn't stop there. Jacks-of-all-trades who are particularly passionate about developing and nurturing startups are more likely to form highly competent and motivated teams.


The study was conducted by Kevin Au, Associate Professor at the Department of Management, as well as directors for both the Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Centre for Family Business at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School. His collaborators included Anna Hsu, his PhD student; Prof. Yingzhao Xiao at Tianjin University; and Prof. Marta Dowejko, Research Assistant Professor of Department of Management at Hong Kong Baptist University's School of Business.


The researchers were curious about what lay beyond the past findings of human capital research. Such research showed that, as employees, jacks-of-all-trades did not do as good in on-the-job performance as those who had specialized skills. Past research also showed that individuals who gained a variety of skills through training were more likely to start their own business. Yet if a jack-of-all-trades is likely to become an entrepreneur, he or she should also be good at launching startups.


Delving Deeper Into Startup Development

Wishing to know more how a jack-of-all-trades does in the initial stage of the startup process, the researchers designed their study to investigate how having a broad range of skills contributed to the development of an idea from scratch in an accelerated setting.


The study, entitled Jack-of-all-trades' with passion: Keener to pursue startup in a team, was longitudinal and used data collected from CUHK Business School's Empowering Young Entrepreneurs Program. The programme's goal was to awaken the entrepreneurial spirit of young people in Hong Kong. It provided an opportunity for them to engage in training and entrepreneurial activities. Jointly organised by Google and CUHK in 2013, a total of 902 students, existing entrepreneurs and full-time employees enrolled in the programme. Multiple rounds of questionnaires were sent to the participants during a five-month period, from December 2013 to April 2014. The final results came from an analysis of a smaller subset of working adults who continued the program after the survey. This group was considered the most reliable data set.


The study found evidence that individuals with a greater range of skills are more inclined to start a business. Particularly, they are statistically more likely to follow up on their entrepreneurial intentions and take a more active role of forming a team in the startup process.


"Having a wide variety of skills makes it easier for these individuals to explore and exploit opportunities," Prof. Au explains. "It's as if they have more antennae to detect the problems and find resources that nobody has seen. Seeing those problems gives them an edge in finding creative solutions. That's where the opportunities for new businesses lie."


The Right Type of Passion

Just as interesting as the variety of skills, passion is a crucial factor that contributes to entrepreneurial success. However, the type of passion matters.


Previous studies have identified three different types of entrepreneurial passion. They are: passion for inventing, which is linked to the initial recognition of opportunities that make entrepreneurial activities possible; passion for founding, which is related to how likely a person is to establish a venture to explore an identified opportunity; and passion for developing, which is concerned with developing a venture so the original vision is brought to fruition.


"Any given entrepreneur may exhibit different levels of passion at different stages of the startup process," says Prof. Au. He notes that having the intention to start a business is not the same as having the emotional capacity to overcome obstacles that may present themselves in abundance during the startup phase of a business venture.


Specifically, the study found that when entrepreneurs possess a strong passion for developing a venture, there is an even stronger positive relationship between skill variety and team formation. "In other words," says Prof. Au, "entrepreneurs with a variety of skills are more likely to put their skills into use to form a team if they also possess a strong passion for developing."


How does that actually work? Prof. Au explains that when multi-talented entrepreneurs exhibit a great sense of passion to develop a venture, they attract like-minded individuals to form teams to turn their ideas into reality. And when potential investors witness solid teamwork and creative synergy within the teams, they are more likely to inject capital into the startups.


"Like attracts like when potential team members witness the passion and confidence of the jack-of-all-trades," says Prof. Au.


"By contrast, entrepreneurs who are lacklustre in developing their ventures are likely to be unmotivated to form teams. This in spite of the fact that they are multi-talented. As such, jack-of-all-trades must possess a high level of passion for developing their ventures to succeed in the long run," says Prof. Au.


Here is a formula for entrepreneurial success: If you are a jack-of-all-trades, and you possess a high level of passion for developing a venture, team up with other jacks-of-all-trades who share the same type of passion. The chance of your startup becoming a successful, long-term venture will increase.



Yingzhao Xiao, Marta K. Dowejko, Kevin Au & Anna J. C. Hsu (2019) "Jack-of-all-trades" with passion: Keener to pursue startup in a team?, Journal of Small Business Management, DOI: 10.1080/00472778.2019.1672708


This article was first published in the China Business Knowledge (CBK) website by CUHK Business School:

About CUHK Business School

CUHK Business School comprises two schools -- Accountancy and Hotel and Tourism Management -- and four departments -- Decision Sciences and Managerial Economics, Finance, Management and Marketing. Established in Hong Kong in 1963, it is the first business school to offer BBA, MBA and Executive MBA programmes in the region. Today, the School offers 11 undergraduate programmes and 20 graduate programmes including MBA, EMBA, Master, MSc, MPhil and Ph.D.


In the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking 2020, CUHK MBA is ranked 50th. In FT's 2019 EMBA ranking, CUHK EMBA is ranked 24th in the world. CUHK Business School has the largest number of business alumni (37,000+) among universities/business schools in Hong Kong -- many of whom are key business leaders. The School currently has about 4,800 undergraduate and postgraduate students and Professor Lin Zhou is the Dean of CUHK Business School.


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