Mentoring Entrepreneurial Networks: mapping conceptions of participants in technological-based business incubators in Brazil


Mentoring in the context of new work relationships



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Mentoring in the context of new work relationships

Sullivan (2000) considers that the functions of mentoring can operate within the corporate environment as well as in the environment of the self owned business. However, given that the entrepreneur, manager of his own business (mentored), does not have aspirations with regards to hierarchical levels, many of the activities of the mentor related to career development are considered as irrelevant when the mentor assumes the role of the entrepreneur’s godfather. As such, the common vision of mentoring simply as a “strategy for helping the mentored to progress hierarchically in the organization” (Eby, 1997; p. 127) can not be applied to people who are starting their own business.

In this study the attention is on mental models that the incubated entrepreneurs use to simplify reality. It seeks to understand how they connect information that helps them to develop an entrepreneurial career through resource procurement, or support their network of relationships.

After discussing the theoretical bases that involve the entrepreneurial career and the processes of mentoring, the following section begins with a presentation of the cognitive dimension that underlies the informal social networks in the incubator environment.



    1. Analysis of informal social networks by means of a cognitive dimension

The cognitive dimension assumes a fundamental role in the comprehension of the construction of support networks for incubated entrepreneurs. In the case of entrepreneurial cognition, a review of the theoretical bases is necessary to better explain the actual work related changes taking place. One can expect that the structural and relational dimensions that participate in the generation of behavioral change within network relationships should be intimately related to cognitive dimensions (Regis, 2005). The cognitive dimension is represented by meaning sharing within the network. The learning strategies used by the incubated entrepreneurs can be considered as facets of the cognitive dimension that also participate in the generation of behavioral change. These questions will be treated next.

Seminal studies in the area of entrepreneurship have applied the concepts of cognitive science and are grouped by Mitchell et al. (2002) in the area of entrepreneurial cognition. These studies have contributed to the understanding of information processing and of management cognition with relevant contributions to the literature in the specific area of entrepreneurship. The authors clarify that the studies on this subject are not totally explored when treating social cognition, management cognition and information processing. There is, therefore, a necessity to expand the horizons of study in these areas by means of an agenda setting for research in entrepreneurial cognition.

Due to the relatively recent preoccupation of academia on understanding how self-owned business managers think and make decisions, there is a definite need for the development of definitions and concepts that involve cognitive theory in the field of organizational psychology.

Bastos (2001) demonstrates that a large part of the literature on “cognition and organizations” focus the centrality of processes and cognitive structures on the dynamics of relational and power networks that constitute the organization. The social dimension of human cognitive processes results in a specific area of research in Social Psychology, where interests lie in the processes used by people to generate knowledge and the comprehension of the daily aspects of life. In this sense, the “social cognition” rescues, scientifically, such topics as: the processes of attribution, formation of impressions, stereotyping, attitudes, prototypes, schemes and scripts.

Such a rescue amplifies the comprehension and the balancing of conflict episodes in the formation of strategies, in the analysis of environments, in the decisions on technological innovation, in the creation of learning environments, in design planning and in organizational performance itself. (Bastos, 2000).

Rousseau (1997) emphasizes the link between the accentuated process of change through which organizations are going and the conceptual transitions that impose the study of organizational behavior. The organizations being seen as a “process” demonstrates a particular attention to group level, social networks, management cognition, meaning construction, organizational sense-making, among other topics. In other words, the author portrays the organization as a social construct.

Being such, the field of organizational study also suffers from the influence of this movement that alters concepts and suppositions that have been the foundation to organizational processes, considered here as involving the collective actions of individual around specific objectives. Following, some definitions of cognitive maps are presented.


    1. Cognitive maps and the processes of social cognition

Weick and Bougon (1986) present the notion of “cognitive maps” as a metaphor for the analysis of the nature of the “organization” phenomenon. The authors affirm: “Organizations exists basically in the mind, and their existence takes the form of cognitive maps. Therefore, that which unites an organization is the same thing as that which links it to, or places it near, thoughts” (Weick & Bougon, 1986:102).

Nearly half a century ago, Zajonc and Wolf (1966) demonstrated that the members of an organization seek different interests. The maps or cognitive structures represent models or organizational theories that are internalized in people. These models guide the analysis of organizational situations and their subsequent actions.

Cognitive maps are tools for verbal data representation (oral or written information that express affirmations, predictions, explanations, arguments, rules) by which one gains access to internal representations and to cognitive elements (images, concepts, causal beliefs, theories, heuristics, rules, scripts, etc.) (Laukkanen, 1992). Bastos (2002) further explains that the maps can give access to a respondent’s suppositions, even when they are not visible to the participant himself.

Nicolini (1999) presents cognitive mapping as one of the possible strategies to represent social cognitions: “Maps can be considered only as descriptive instruments and representations that help in the discussion and analysis of some thought models and explanations of certain events” (p.836). In this way, the job of cognitive structure mapping involves “exploring the manners by which representative entities are united, transformed or contrasted” (p. 836).

Bastos (2002), gives an explanation of the methodological aspects that make the techniques of cognitive mapping an important tool for the investigation of organizational processes in symbolic, communicative and hermeneutic dimensions. They are pictured in a plurality of presentations and graphic forms.

In an attempt to organize the diversity that characterizes the capture of cognitive mapping, Huff (1990) proposes a continuum in which on one extreme the maps that evaluate attention, association and cognitive content importance are represented and capture the manifest material; and on the other extreme are the maps that specify schemes, chartings, and perceptual codes with an elevated degree of interpretation on the part of the researcher. Between the two extremes are the maps that describe categories and taxonomies, the causal maps and the maps that describe thinking and decision structures. These maps have already been studied by national authors in the organizational field (e.g. Bastos, 2000/2002; Machado-da-Silva et al. 2000). Fiol and Huff (1992) define them as:



Identity Maps: those based on content analysis to identify concepts and central discussion themes in individual enunciations. They point out the principal characteristics of the cognitive terrain and the activities involved in their construction are the bases for all the other types of maps.

Categorization Maps: those that seek to describe the schemes utilized by managers to group events and situations based on resemblances or differences, having access to the thought categorization system applied and to the hierarchical dimension that exists among these concepts.

Causal Maps: the ones most publicized in management studies and which furnish the comprehension of the links that individuals establish between actions and results along time.

The identity maps are adopted in this study to capture the significance shared by the incubated entrepreneurs with relation to their successful entrepreneurial career and on the role of the network in the development of the career. The techniques utilized to establish these maps are described in the chapter on methodology.

Baron (1998, 2000) and other researchers (Baum, Locke & Smith, 2001; Shane, 2000) have strived not only to increase methodological rigor, but create conceptual links between entrepreneurship and cognition. The psychological constructs and methods employed in these studies are relevant to the comprehension of entrepreneurial characteristics and activities.

As may be observed, the cognitive dimension of relational networks involves significance sharing. This permits the existence of a mutual recognition network, institutionalized in a social field. In practice, the significance sharing occurs as a result of individual interactions in a social structure with its own characteristics. The following section discusses the study methodology under this perspective.





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