A few weeks ago I was involved in a “culture” discussion at the Northern Ireland Science Park as part of one of the CONNECT initiatives. I raised the point that it is unfortunate that the word “opportunist” has such a negative connotation.

op·por·tun·ist [??p??tju?n?st]
One who takes advantage of any opportunity to achieve an end, often with no regard for principles or consequences.

and the word itself has become synonymous with self-seeker, back-scratcher, bottom-feeder, carpet bagger, hustler, operator and timeserver. None of which are particularly complimentary and none of which you would, as a careers advisor, encourage your wards to pursue.

Of course, we have to consider that the definition of Entrepreneur is eerily similar.

en·tre·pre·neur (ntr-pr-nûr, -nr)
A person who organizes, operates, and assumes the risk for a business venture.

You only have to look at The Apprentice to see the qualities of hustler, carpet bagger and bottom feeder displayed for the world. Notably, many of these self-seekers are lauded as selfless saints once they return to normal life.

The difference being the interpretation of “no regard for principle or consequence” as compared to “assumes the risk”. Both will attempt new things, or old things in new combinations. Both will possibly risk reputation, personal credit, and the goodwill of others in order to succeed. An both will shrug off failure easily because in their minds they haven’t “failed” per se, just found one more way not to become a billionaire.

So if we stopped talking about “entrepreneurs” (a word, which, much like “innovation” has become utterly meaningless) and started talking about opportunists, we might understand them better.

I say “we”, I mean “they”.

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Matt Johnston

Technologist, Futurist, Humanist

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