I was reviewing a 2006 article on pattern recognition and entrepreneurship in preparation for my undergraduate seminar, when this passage jumped off the page:
…the findings of several studies indicate that the broader entrepreneurs’ social networks (the more people they know and with whom they have relationships), the more opportunities they identify. This finding, too, is consistent with a pattern recognition perspective. Social networks are an important source of information for entrepreneurs, information that may contribute to the richness of their store of knowledge and the development of their cognitive frameworks. Further, social networks may be especially helpful to entrepreneurs in terms of honing or refining these frameworks (prototypes, exemplars). For instance, by discussing opportunities they have recognized with family, friends, and others, entrepreneurs may form more accurate and useful prototypes for identifying opportunities— cognitive frameworks helpful in determining whether ideas for new products or services are practical and potentially valuable rather than merely interesting or novel. (p. 113)
Baron’s discussion connects with my growing interest in network theory and also resonated with the experience I had just completed, teaching a two-day “Arist/Entrepreneur” workshop in Tucson for the Arizona Commission on the Arts “ArtsWorker” program. Thirty artists of diverse backgrounds and experiences participated. Some came into the room with network ties already in place. I observed that about half of the participants belonged to one of at least three “nodes:” painters; fiber artists/crafters; and long-time members of the tightly knit Tucson artist community. Others did not yet have in place the strong or weak ties that created the sub-networks in the room. It was clear that these local networks had already fertilized the recognition or development of opportunity (for example, the five painters were considering pooling their resources to hire one shared business support assistant).
For the first interactive exercise of the day, I allowed the existing nodes to remain physically in place (that is, the members sat together), but as the weekend progressed, I incentivized interaction across nodes and between people of dissimilar knowledges. In doing so, each individual added information into their newly forming network, helping its other members to develop the cognitive frameworks that support opportunity recognition. By the last exercise of day 2, participants wanted to hear more from each other than from me about the possibilities afforded by their new knowledges – a marker of success in building the ties that will support their individual arts entrepreneurial success moving forward.
 Baron, R.A. (2008). Opportunity recognition as pattern recognition: How entrepreneurs “Connect the Dots” to identify new business opportunities. Academy of Management Perspectives, February 2006, pp. 104-117.
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