Purpose – Autonomy is a primary motive for a large majority of small business starters. As an explanation of why people want their own (autonomous) business it is tautological. This study sets out to focus on an explanation of the autonomy motive itself: why small business starters want autonomy. Design/methodology/approach – Data were collected using semi‐structured interviews with a sample of 167 nascent entrepreneurs. Findings – There are two types of autonomy motives: a proximal motive which is associated with task characteristics of being self‐employed (decisional freedom), and distal motives for which autonomy is instrumental (to avoid a boss or restrictions; to act in a self‐endorsed and self‐congruent manner; and to be in charge). Research limitations/implications – Autonomy measures should either operationalise autonomy only in a proximal sense without regard to underlying motive sources, or take distal motives into account and offer items that reflect these autonomy motive sources. Practical implications – Persons who resist bosses and rules now must be a boss and set rules themselves. People who want to express their personality and creativity in their work might be so busy and occupied that there will be little space left for personality and creativity expression. People who want autonomy because of the power and control it brings them may find that as a small business owner they have to deal with several types of uncertainty. Practitioners must resolve these tensions. Originality/value – In spite of the intimate relationship between freedom and entrepreneurial motivation, this is perhaps the first paper to focus exclusively on autonomy as a start‐up motive.
Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jan 1, 2006
Keywords: Business formation; Freedom; Small enterprises
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