Chapter 5: Theory of trying and “we-intentions”: from individual to collective intentions in entrepreneurship and family business
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If we are to improve our understanding of the role of intentions in start-up teams of entrepreneurs and family firm succession, we need move to beyond the traditional view of individual intentions in entrepreneurial settings and toward understanding collective intentions. For example, in a start-up there is often a small group whose individual intentions for entering the firm and setting its strategic direction must blend to some form of consensus such as marketing and growth strategy. Very often the conflict of early intentions to enter and operate a firm by a team has been ignored in favor of just looking at the intentions of a single entrepreneur to start a firm, failing to recognize that this is often not just an individual decision, but one impacting the family of the entrepreneur as well. Thus, other people’s intentions can come into play with respect to the intention to start a new firm. In addition, in a family firm the intentions toward succession is as much collective as individual. If we seek we-intent to increase the possibility of successful succession, then a focus on “we” intentions allows for a better understand of the potentially conflicting intentions of key individuals. A CEO of a family firm may intend individually that a child will succeed them in the leadership of the firm. A potential conflicting intention would be the child having no intention to take over the firm. “We” intentions occur when a shared intention is reached. For example, the CEO and the child agree the child should go to work for another firm before a decision is made about the firm’s leadership succession. Although the topic of succession has been widely examined, it has always been from either the factors that influence a successor or the career choice intentions of the successor, or the individual intentions of the parent being succeeded. This chapter argues that the conceptualization of collective intent such as “we-intentions” from Bagozzi offers a better understanding of group processes from a social cognition perspective, especially those of succession. However, collective intentions (and their measurement) are still less understood. In turn, this suggests that family firms (and especially succession) might be ideal test beds for rigorous testing of models and measures of collective intent.

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