In research into entrepreneurship, the notions of self-efficacy, desirability and feasibility and the propensity to act are key elements and useful markers that help us to understand and decipher intention. They provide a framework for this fundamental drive to mobilise each individual’s talent in a different way.


Bandura’s contribution and social cognitive theory

One of North America’s most renowned psychologists, Albert Bandura, laid the foundations of the social cognitive current in the 1970s. Bandura placed the individual at the core of a series of interactions between cognitive, behavioural and contextual factors. Social beings thus appear to be both the producers and the products of their environment. As Lauriol said, the socio-cognitive approach (or social cognitive psychology) “is based on the understanding that cognition is social in that the entire process of producing knowledge is intrinsically, inevitably and profoundly social.”

Bandura demonstrated that a sense of competence and belief in one’s ability to adopt a target behaviour constitute a powerful attitude that drives decision making and thus introduces the notion of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the sense of one’s own competence i.e. the belief that it is within one’s power to do something specific. It is a person’s conviction that they can effectively accomplish certain activities and take responsibilities.

It is also an individual’s belief in their own ability to organise and perform specific actions necessary to accomplish a goal. The notion of self-efficacy (like the locus of [internal] control) is also a crucial variable for the process of resilience, when faced with adversity and hardship.

Self-efficacy and entrepreneurship

In the 90s, new research put forward the idea that self-efficacy played an important role in the development of entrepreneurial intentions and actions. It put forth the idea that self-efficacy makes it possible to predict entrepreneurial potential.

If we take a closer look at these studies, which were led in order to examine the role self-efficacy plays in entrepreneurship, the results are as follows:

  • Self-efficacy is a determining cognitive variable in the evaluation of entrepreneurial behaviour (Levander and Racuia, 2001) ;
  • Self-efficacy is fundamental to entrepreneurial intention and activities (Markman and Baron, 2001) ;

Entrepreneurial self-efficacy is the perceived confidence of entrepreneurs in themselves and in their own entrepreneurial capabilities before they are in a position to start a business. Perceiving self-efficacy is the key pre-cursor to perceiving opportunity.

  • Individuals with a heightened sense of self efficacy tend to see situations as achievable opportunities;
  • Entrepreneurs, compared to non-entrepreneurs, have a strong sense of control over their future;
  • The notion of entrepreneurial optimism is related to belief in self-efficacy.

Sense of self-efficacy and the need for accomplishment

People with a low SSE (sense of self-efficacy) in a particular field, will avoid difficult tasks, which they perceive as threatening. They do not aim high and are not invested in achieving the goals they have set. When faced with difficulty, these people focus too much on their personal weaknesses, on the obstacles and the negative consequences of their acts, rather than concentrating on how to obtain more satisfying results. They tend to reduce their efforts and to be easily discouraged when faced with a problem. It takes them a long time to recover their sense of efficacy after a failure. To them, an unsatisfactory result is symptomatic of their own deficiencies and the slightest failure will shake their belief in their own capabilities.

Combined, these characteristics reduce the opportunity for accomplishment and expose the individual to stress and depression. Therefore, the notion of a sense of self-efficacy is a determining factor for an individual hoping to take their life in a new direction.

On the other hand, a heightened SSE galvanizes the need for accomplishment and personal well-being in several ways. People who are confident in their capabilities in a particular field will see a problem as a challenge to overcome rather than a threat to avoid. These individuals set stimulating goals and maintain a strong commitment to achieving them. They increase and maintain their commitment and effort when faced with difficulties and thus rapidly recover their sense of efficacy after a failure or setback. Failure is considered to be due to insufficient effort or a lack of knowledge or skill, which can be acquired, rather than a fatality. Threatening situations are approached with confidence because these individuals feel in control.

Combined, these characteristics of self-efficacy favour personal accomplishment, and reduce stress and vulnerability.

Here, we intersect with the issue of resilience. Resilient people have forged their sense of self efficacy through hardship and have developed the ability to hold their course in order to reach their fundamental objectives, without ever losing their concentration – even though they may feel discouraged at times.

Making the transition to entrepreneur

These studies reveal that a sense of self-efficacy means that the entrepreneur will see opportunities all around. Whether or not they decide to create a company will depend on the three following aspects:

  • Perceived desirability: the extent to which one is personally attracted to the idea of creating a company. Belief in desirability is twofold: on the one hand there is the belief pertaining to the outcomes of creating one’s own company and those pertaining to the social environment on the other, as Ajzen and later Shapero and Sokol demonstrated. The notion of desirability is also interesting when we consider how well a person will ‘bounce back’ following brutal failure, because it is closely tied in with the recovery of one’s self-esteem.
  • Perceived feasibility: This reflects the degree to which the individual is personally capable of creating an organisation.
  • The propensity to act: Shapero describes “the propensity to act” as a person’s disposition to act upon their own decisions. Thus, the propensity to act reflects the much deliberated component of intention. Conceptually speaking, this propensity to act depends on both the context, and how the individual perceives their ability to control the consequences of their actions on the environment. This concept is what lies at the heart of intention and seems to nourish the reconstruction process, which occurs by acquiring new talent, experiencing hard times and facing adversity. Someone like Steve Jobs embodies this concept perfectly.

Marie-Josée Bernard, emlyon business school

Marie-Josée Bernard

My main mission is to promote the development of collective and relational intelligence within organisations. This contributes to a company’s good balance and health by respecting and strengthening the physical, moral, psychological and emotional well-being of the individuals who create value for these companies.
The approaches mobilized allow the individuals to grow their potential while respecting their own personal values.
Management and leadership skills are crucial to the creation of new forms of human dynamics.

More information on Marie-Josée Bernard:
Her CV online
Her Viadeo page
Her ResearchGate page