It’s entrepreneurship …not innovation that is the key to economic growth

Gallup Inc. has been using its StrengthsFinder methodology to look closely at what makes successful entrepreneurs tick, and its new book, “Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder” by Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, identifies some interesting strong suits.

The book is the result of 10 years of research across more than 4,000 successful entrepreneurs and describes the traits and behaviors that propel these entrepreneurs to create, build and literally change everything known about the world today.

Four ideas advanced by Clifton, Gallup’s CEO, in the forward of the book are important to share. These ideas underline the importance of identifying and cultivating the people that possess these strengths in all of our communities.

1.         The central belief that innovation is the key to economic growth is dead wrong — it is entrepreneurship that is the key to growth. Clifton argues that if innovation is the “cart,” entrepreneurship is the “horse” that creates the customers and value from any invention and innovation that occurs.

Universities and laboratories are full of invention and innovation. Patents abound. But until an entrepreneur takes an innovation and builds a business around it that solves a problem, attracts a customer and creates a job, innovation itself does nothing for economic growth.

2.         Entrepreneurship as measured by startup activity is in trouble. Despite growing confidence in the economy and a sense that we’ve seen economic recovery, for the first time since the numbers have been tracked, the latest census data shows that business deaths were higher than business births. That means that free enterprise as the engine of job creation and employment is slowing down and that can’t be good for our future. We need more successful startup activity and that means we need more entrepreneurs.

3.         Entrepreneurship is more about nature than nurture. The research shows that 5 in 1,000 working-age Americans possess the rare talents required of successful entrepreneurs. Identifying those with the skills and intentionally cultivating their talents with systematic support can accelerate growth of successful startup activities.

4.         Economic growth hinges on the ability to better identify and nurture entrepreneurial potential in children and working age adults. While educators identify and develop students with high IQs and those with great athletic talent, they are missing the estimated 150,000 blue chip entrepreneurs in today’s high schools and middle schools.

Similarly, there are lots of adults with this same talent that aren’t being cultivated. Finding these entrepreneurs and exposing them to curriculum, mentors and experiences that ignite their inborn talents will fuel the startup activity we need for growth.


As a reader of Smart Business Cleveland, you are most likely one of the 0.5 percent of the population with the gift of entrepreneurship in your DNA. As such, there is a role you can play in helping to cultivate the next wave of individuals that can shape our country’s growth. We are queuing up a conversation in September with Gallup in Cleveland. If you want to be a part of it, contact me at [email protected] and we’ll get you involved. — Steve Millard


Steve Millard is president and executive director of the Council of Smaller Enterprises. For the last 15 years, he has guided COSE’s work to support the success of small business owners and act as a nonpartisan advocate and resource for their needs on the state and national levels. Contact him at