Coping with uncertainty in entrepreneurship

Interview with Bob Bastian

Postdoctoral Researcher, Entrepreneurial Judgment, Decision-Making & Uncertainty, University of Pavia, Italy and Visiting Researcher, University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

Keywords: Entrepreneurship, decision-making, cognitive tools, entrepreneurial ecosystems, higher education.

How to reference this article: Bastian, B., 2022, Coping with uncertainty in entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurial Mindset Network, accessed [insert date], <>.

This article was first published in 2022 in the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE Volume 5 no 2.

How did you first become interested in entrepreneurship?

I’ve been thinking about launching a business since my bachelor studies back in 2015. Particularly in my last year, I started to meet with same-minded people on a regular basis, in order to develop an idea. Then, a year later, when I moved to Italy, my university launched a business plan competition for people that are somewhere between the idea-phase and the early stages of a start-up. I decided to apply and made it to the last 10 toward the final. I did not win but It made me think that there was potential in my idea. A year later, while I was finishing my studies in France, I applied for an incubator program and tried to make it actually work. At the same time, I felt in love with the topic of my thesis that I was writing in parallel, a cognitive perspective on entrepreneurship, so I decided to apply for a PhD program. Back then, I had the feeling that I could perhaps still launch a start-up while studying entrepreneurship. I have to admit that the love for academia became stronger over the years.

What is the most important question you were trying to answer in your PhD?

How entrepreneurs move their projects from an unknowable future toward something more knowable. Entrepreneurship is dominated by uncertainty and is radically challenging, especially in the last two years, while I was writing my dissertation. If you ask people to look back at something they are usually able to rationalize and explain things logically, but this is different during the process in which most aspects are, at that moment, still unknowable and random. To give you an example: it is very logical for anyone to now explain why and how online services such as Zoom and Amazon saw exponential growth patterns in the beginning of 2020, but just a few saw that in the first few weeks of COVID chaos. There is a serious illusive risk here, we are fooling ourselves systematically, so my dissertation advocates that it is essential to develop the right cognitive tools to cope with these uncertainties.

Image credit: Pixabay

Do you intend to generate recommendations from your work that would be of practical use to an entrepreneur?

An interesting point for entrepreneurs is that we are able to teach and train cognitive tools. One of the main recommendations of my work has been the development of self-awareness, which I see as a more valuable asset than simply knowledge. In my studies, I have seen that entrepreneurs need to create a habit of self-questioning to overcome illusions and make better decisions. In many cases, for this to happen, you need the help of others to reflect on your own thoughts based on the feedback that people give to you, so this means that it becomes increasingly important for entrepreneurs to establish a network with experts on which they can rely on. Governments have a crucial role to facilitate the infrastructure to help entrepreneurs to increase their networks, for example, with the creation of incubators and entrepreneurial eco-systems.

What is the most useful thing you have learned about how to teach students about entrepreneurship?

Although most of my students are, in the end, not opening their own business, the University still has a crucial facilitation role that allows students to explore entrepreneurship. Too often, I have heard entrepreneurs that did not have the possibility to work on an entrepreneurial idea during their studies. Entrepreneurship within universities should be open to any discipline; engineering, medicine, or biology, and not just to a management or economic faculty.

Have you any ambition to become an entrepreneur yourself one day?

I have been conducting quite some qualitative research in the last years and honestly, every time that I talk with an entrepreneur, I feel the fire still burning. The great thing of studying entrepreneurship is that it gives you access to an incredibly interesting group of self-employed individuals, it inspires me and for us in academia, it is important to stay as close as possible to practice. ◼️