The devil is in the e-tale: form and structure in the entrepreneurial narrative.
Anderson, Alistair R.
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In this chapter we explore the genre of ‘Entrepreneurial Tales’, which we refer to as e-tales. The title is an obvious parody of the proverb, “The devil is in the detail” and reflects the power of entrepreneurial narratives, a power that stems from the normative detail embedded in the moral content of the e-tale. We use the term ‘tale’ in preference to other descriptors, as the word tale is associated with imaginative creation and even fiction, and also because tales explain themselves. Tales encompass morality and immorality. The purpose of the paper is to show how moral details play an important role in communicating values as a framework to entrepreneurial actions. We demonstrate that morality is an important detail of e-tales and forms a common master theme. The chapter explains what we mean by e-tales and shows how they form narratives which exhort entrepreneurship. We attempt to illustrate how they operate, essentially as instrumental examples - ways of showing that entrepreneurship can be done. We also show how these examples are set in a moral context, one which appears to promote an entrepreneurial ethos replete with an underpinning of moral values. To develop our argument the chapter is organised by first discussing the role of narrative as a cultural dialogue and how narrative provides a legimising frame of reference which is both sensemaking and sensegiving. We then explore the entrepreneurial narrative and show how e-tales confirm the righteousness of entrepreneurial actions by signifying a moral framework and a legitimising context. E-tales are argued to first promote entrepreneurship as practice by emphasising independence, perseverance and the value of success, especially in the face of adversity. They affirm a “right” way but, the devil in the e-tale, also demonstrate the fall from grace when appropriate ethical conduct is not maintained. Several examples of narrative are then considered. First the classic hagiographic tales of Horatio Alger and Samuel Smiles are presented as stereotypcal examples of e-tales. Next we find confirmation of the same elements in both biographies and novels about entrepreneurs. We also note the similarities in academic commentries about the use of metaphor in narrative. Finally we explore personal e-tales and conclude that e-tales have a definitive structure which emphasises the twin virues of morality and success.