// new media class

Erik Anton Reinhardt — The Entrepreneurial Knight

Critical Media: Matters of thinking (Course) — Summer 2022

The entrepreneur as a (pop-)cultural icon shapes a universal ideal of hypomanic personality traits, but also an insecurity of not being enough. Self-help tries to provide help using this ideal that makes help necessary in the first place. This is reflected in self-help measures like self-help literature or free online entrepreneurial potential assessment, with congratulations often given after successful completion.
The registered instructional self-help book “Congratulations, 1000% Entrepreneurial Potential” contains the 1000 most often appearing items+answers. It is self-help in the sense of conveying the entrepreneurial spirit as a universal ideal, but also for successfully completing the online assessments themselves. The book shows the ambiguity between conveyed personality traits and the reason online assessments are legitimized in the first place – insecurity.

Joseph Schumpeter, one of the most influential Western economists of the 20th century, argued that the “impetus” for innovation and technological change in a nation comes from the so-called “wild spirits” of capitalism (Pol & Carroll, 2006). The wild spirits are the entrepreneurs and business leaders who, according to Karl Marx’s Trinity (labour, land and capital), strive for profit maximisation by using private capital and taking risks, and thus reinvest in research and development (Schmitt, 1989). The terms “spirit” and “Trinity” allude to the Christian trinity of God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as the power of “outgrowing oneself” (Splitt, 2022). Schumpeter combined spirit and entrepreneurship, viz. Entrepreneurial Spirit, in the term Unternehmergeist, German for entrepreneurial spirit (Pol & Carroll, 2006). Later research attempted to characterise the entrepreneurial personality and identify determinants of the entrepreneurial spirit and found that many documented characteristics of entrepreneurs resemble hypomanic and narcissistic personality traits. Helen Pushkarskaya and Christopher Pittenger compared personality traits of hypomania with those of entrepreneurial spirit based on three independent studies and concluded that the “association [was] specific; none of the other [...] personality dimensions [correlated] as clearly with entrepreneurial activity” as hypomania (Pushkarskaya & Pittenger, 2022).
Polemically, Schumpeter’s wild spirit could also be called hypomanic spirit, characterised by excessive sociability, self-confidence, dedication, risk-taking, resilience, independence, optimism and a “tendency to extremes” (Pushkarskaya & Pittenger, 2022). These characteristics are often termed “grandiosity” (Elze & Elze, 2021). Cragun et al. (2019) measured grandiosity in entrepreneurial personalities in the 500 largest companies in the United States and found that narcissism affected business performance. The “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders” used to narcissism as a personality trait that seeks to continually reinforce grandiosity through self-control (Cragun et al., 2019). Narcissism differs from hypomania in that the grandiosity described is permanent (van Reekum, 2000). Whether hypomanic or narcissistic, we can speak of a pathological character within the Entrepreneurial Spirit. British philosopher Robert Halsall analysed the cultural dimension of this spirit by comparing the literary genre of entrepreneurial (auto-)biography with that of medieval hagiography (Halsall, 2016).

The main purpose of hagiography was to “turn persons into saints through the narration of their lives and activities”, i.e., to create “persons into models [...] of motivating morality” for people to remember. “Morality [...] legitimises a form of authority that encourages [recipients to] heed its lesson and act accordingly” (Halsall, 2016). Halsall illustrates a rationale for the moral authority of the supposedly holy through the concept of asceticism. Asceticism as a Christian Protestant ethic is associated with mental and physical denial strategies, including abstinence and self-control, aiming towards supposed perfection (Halsall, 2016). In his work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”, Sociologist Max Weber calls this kind of asceticism “inner-worldly”. Littler (2006) adds that “Only continuous rational self-control [cf. narcissism] can [bring] perfection and bliss according to this Protestant ethic.” The pathological characteristics mentioned earlier could be interpreted as moral authority towards supposed “perfection”. In this sense, the Entrepreneurial Spirit is not only pathological, but also a self-legitimising morality (Pushkarskaya & Pittenger, 2022).

Thus [the entrepreneur] becomes political and social power. Art and literature – the totality of social life – react to him as they reacted to the knight in the Middle Ages. Whether they celebrate him or fight him, they work with his type and the circumstances he has created. Social life is guided by his needs and tendencies. The traits of his way of life acquire a kind of universality. (Joseph Schumpeter cited in Pol & Carroll, 2006).

Joseph Schumpeter speaks of a kind of "universality". The humanities scholar Peter Bloom later adds to this remark and even speaks of an "ideal that guides ordinary citizens in their everyday lives [...]" (Bloom, 2018). The “universal ideal” of the Entrepreneurial Spirit is seen as a social role model and motivator in two ways.

The first way is through elevating the entrepreneur to (pop-)cultural icon (Halsall, 2016; Maasen et al., 2007), e.g., the Australian government putting the entrepreneur Mary Reibey on the $20 note; in the United Kingdom, entrepreneurial authorities such as Lucian Grainge (CEO, Universal Music) readily accepting formal honours from the British royal family, including knighthood; Donald Trump being awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his reality show "The Apprentice" (Littler, 2006). These examples do not even consider the many (auto-)biographical literature and film adaptations based on the lives of entrepreneurial icons.
Second, the entrepreneur can reproduce the "universal ideal" in terms of self-help measures, knowledge transfer, and continuous self-control (Bloom, 2018). Self-help here reflects less the impetus within capitalism and more a "technology of the self" which, according to Michel Foucault, is designed to enable individuals to transform personality traits by their own means to attain a state of perfection and bliss (Halsall, 2016), and ultimately overcome the sense of "insecurity" of not conforming to the "universal ideal". The constant feeling of not being enough is to be overcome in the process (Kenney, 2011). It is therefore natural to interpret self-help at least partially as a form of asceticism.

The aspect of knowledge transfer is mainly reflected by "self-help literature as a permanently high-fashion genre of literature" (Maasen et al., 2007). It is not surprising then, that five of the “top 10” most highlighted Amazon Kindle e-books, even without the Bible are classified as self-help literature. Self-help books, such as "How to win friends and influence people" or "The seven habits of highly effective people" reflect the "universal ideal" of the Entrepreneurial Spirit. Even the book titles are universal in their target group orientation, whether for middle-aged single parents, students in their new adopted country or dedicated high performers.
The second aspect of the “universal ideal” is self-control through (pseudo-)psychological assessments and questionnaires, most of which can be found online. According to psychologist Clayton E. Tucker-Ladd, these online assessments can be considered "part of psychological self-help", which test personal potential (Entrepreneurial Potential) in the guise of Entrepreneurial Spirit through free or paid intelligence and personality measurements as well as career interest inventories (Barak & Buchanan, 2004; Tucker-Ladd, 2022). As with traditional psychological methods, online assessments are most often scored on a Likert-scale (from "Strongly Disagree, Disagree" to "Neutral" to "Agree, Strongly Agree") and often without direct human evaluation (Barak & Buchanan, 2004; Franke, 2002). Santos and Caetano (2013) attempted to standardise entrepreneurial potential in their measurement based on existing analyses. The Entrepreneurial Potential Assessment Inventory (EPAI) is divided into categories such as sociability, self-confidence, dedication, planning skills, resilience, progressiveness, instructional skills and optimism, which match closely with hypomanic personality traits (Santos et al., 2013). The contradiction between the personality traits (e.g., self-confidence) and why readers use self-help books ("insecurity") is strikingly diametrical. If self-help in the sense of asceticism legitimises itself through mediated morality, the following assumption can be made: The mediated morality of the "universal ideal" – reflected through self-help – insecures for self-legitimation.

The book "Congratulations, 1000% Entrepreneurial Potential" uses irony to work through this assumption. It is a compilation of 1000 items with corresponding answers from 100 "Entrepreneurial Potential" online assessments (Reinhardt, 2022). Often, after users complete their online assessments, they are congratulated on the supposedly positive results, in the sense of the "universal ideal". The "1000%" is an exaggeration of the self-confidence coined in the 1972 US election by presidential candidate George McGovern and became an idiom of everyday entrepreneurship (Trent, 1974). Entrepreneurial Potential is the indication that items+answers originally came from entrepreneurial potential analyses. The entrepreneurial origin would not be identifiable if not named.
Here, the items+answers were collected in three different ways: First, by web scraping the respective HTML element or client-side evaluation system; second, by using the evaluation manual in the case of PDF assessments with self-evaluation; third, by iterating until 100% of the Entrepreneurial Potential was reached in the case of online assessments with server-side evaluation systems. A total of 4766 items+answers were collected from 100 online assessments, with many being identical (ignoring orthographic differences). Thus, a core of 1047 items+answers emerged. Subsequent curation eliminated a further 47 items to prevent repetition of content and to emphasise the book title conceptually.
It is not clear whether other answers (e.g., instead of "Agree" "Strongly Agree") would have made it possible to reach 100%. It is worth mentioning, however, that in these online assessments, users should not answer "Neutral" to any questions using the Likert-scale. To what extent this peculiarity of online assessments reflects a hypomanic "tendency to extremes" is debatable. Furthermore, the 1000 items could be reconstructively categorised into the following personality traits (hypomania, EPAI) by alphabetical and human sorting as well as the Levenshtein distance (Reinhardt, 2022):

Sociability == "I'm outgoing and talkative." (125 items)
Self-confidence == "I am self-confident." (124 items)
Dedication == "I feel that I am dedicated." (117 items)
Risk taking == "Taking risks is easy for me." (107 items)
Planning skills == "You love planning." (99 items)
Resilience == "I have very good resilience." (88 items)
Independence == "You don't need direction." (86 items)
Progressiveness == "I do not like routine, I am progressive." (85 items)
Instructional skills == "I like instructing others." (85 items)
Optimism == "I am optimistic." (84 items)

As mentioned, without the reference to the entrepreneurial potential analyses, the entrepreneurial origin would not be identifiable. Thus, in a group of ten people, only three were able to establish a connection to entrepreneurial potential analyses when the book title was concealed. Nevertheless, all ten people tended (tendency 1: "Strongly Disagree"; "Disagree", tendency 2: "Neutral", tendency 3: "Agree"; "Strongly Agree") to answer the items "correctly" by intuition in the sense of the online assessments, without knowing the "correct" answers or book title. These results make no claim to representativeness but underline the assumption of an ambiguity of the entrepreneurial origin of the "universal ideal". The book "Congratulations, 1000% Entrepreneurial Potential" thus becomes an ironic knowledge transfer of the successful completion of online assessments as well as the characteristics of the Entrepreneurial Spirit.
Individual recipients also described feeling judged or controlled by the publication. This feeling is reinforced by items such as: "I think old dogs can learn – even invent – new tricks" ("Strongly Agree") or "Everyone can develop" ("Agree"). The self-legitimation of the assessments becomes even more obvious elsewhere; for example, the moral call "to invest regularly in books to improve one's life situation" (Reinhardt, 2022).

Since both aspects of self-help are fulfilled, the publication can be registered as "self-help" literature (more precisely: "instructional self-help"), at the self-help standard price of $16.95 (EAN) with assigned ISBN. The 100 online assessment websites are listed in the ISBN "Author Information". This information can currently be traced via the book itself, the Opus4 Repertory of the Berlin University of the Arts, but not the German National Library.


Barak, Azy, Buchanan, Tom (2004) "Internet-based psychological testing and assessment." University of Westminster, London.

Bloom, Peter (2018) "CEO society: the corporate takeover of everyday life." Zed Books, London.

Cragun, Ormonde Rhees, Olsen, Kari Joseph; Wright, Patrick Michael (2019) "Making CEO narcissism research great: a review and meta-analysis of CEO narcissism." University of Minnesota - Duluth, Minnesota.

Elze, Sandra, Elze, Michael (2021) "Was ist eine Hypomanie?" https://depressive-störungen.info/hypomanie (Retrieved: 5.9.2022).

Tucker-Ladd, Clayton E. (2022) "Psychological self-help." https://www.psychologicalselfhelp.org (Retrieved: 22.9.2022).

Franke, Gabriele Helga (2002) "Die Symptom-Checkliste von Derogatis (SCL-90-R) - Deutsche Version – Manual." Hochschule Magdeburg, Magdeburg.

Halsall, Robert (2016) "The role of CEO (auto-)biographies in the dissemination of neo-ascetic leadership styles.” Aberdeen Business School, Aberdeen.

Kenney, Jeffrey T. (2015) "Selling success, nurturing the self: self- help literature, capitalist values, and the sacralization of subjective life in Egypt." International Journal of Middle East Studies, Arkansas.

Littler, Jo (2006) "Celebrity CEOs and the cultural economy of tabloid intimacy." University of London, London.

Maasen, Sabine, Sutter, Barbara, Duttweiler, Stefanie (2007) "Self-help: the making of neosocial selves in neoliberal society.” Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Pol, Eduardo, Carroll, Peter, (2006) "An introduction to economics with emphasis on innovation." Thomson, South Melbourne.

Pushkarskaya, Helen, Pittenger, Christopher (2020) "Wild spirits: elevated hypomanic tendencies are associated with entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial success." Yale University, Connecticut.

Reinhardt, Erik Anton (2022) "Congratulations, 1000% Entrepreneurial Potential." Universität der Künste Berlin, Berlin.

Santos, Susana Correia, Caetano, Antonio, Curral, Luıs (2013) "Psychosocial aspects of entrepreneurial potential.” University of Lisbon, Lisbon.

Schmitt, Klaus (1989) "III. Teil: Anarcho-physiokratische Antworten auf einige wichtige Fragen." http://userpage.fu-berlin.de/~roehrigw/schmitt/3_10.htm (Retrieved: 26.9.2022).

Splitt, Carsten (2022) "Heiliger Geist" https://www.ekd.de/Heiliger-Geist-11216.html (Retrieved: 26.9.2022).

Trent, Judith S., Trent, Jimmie D. (1974) "The rhetoric of the challenger: George Stanley McGovern." University of Dayton, Ohio.

Van Reekum, Robert (2000) "Can traumatic brain injury cause psychiatric disorders?" The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.