What if the generalized approach to life was something like this: my most fulfilling and most profitable pathway is to first help other people – make their life better – and thereby help myself to a better life.
This is not the generalized approach today. It’s more common for people to think that they live in a system that they have to fight against, and that they help themselves by gaming it for advantage. That’s the mindset behind student loans, credit card debt, welfare, and many more common life strategies.
It is the ethic of entrepreneurship to choose the outer-directed course. To start from the point of view of identifying other people’s wants, and to undertake to address those wants with marketplace solutions: goods and services designed specifically for customers’ wants. The customer’s satisfaction is the object of the entrepreneur’s activity, creativity, investment and commitment to getting the commercial formula right, i.e. identifying the right benefit and the right cost so that the customer feels value.
A great part of the entrepreneur’s ethic of customer service and satisfaction is embracing the uncertainty of the market. Economists use the term “uncertainty” to indicate that hoping for a good result in the future – perhaps setting your heart on it – is unwise, simply because the future is unpredictable. It can’t be known, and so it’s improvident to wish for it. Entrepreneurs accept this uncertainty; they embrace it. They’re not discombobulated by it. They take on that stress for others who don’t have the calling. They provide a calming influence that’s beneficial for everyone in society. Customers don’t need to experience uncertainty; they’re certain of a supply of everything they need or demand, because multiple entrepreneurs are competing with each other to serve customers better. The entrepreneur’s uncertainty is the customer’s surety.
Similarly, the entrepreneur is undisconcerted by change. Many of us feel we are living through a period of change that has exhibited more volatility than we’ve seen in a lifetime. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, make change their metier. Every element of change is, for them, an opportunity. “Bring it on!”, they say to change. They make lemonade when change delivers lemons. For evidence, look at the flood of new businesses being formed during the coronavirus pandemic. While politicians are forcing businesspeople to close their current businesses, and are forcing workers into unemployment, they are unable to repress the entrepreneurial spirit.
Change may be continuous or discontinuous, happening gradually or hitting us over the head with a massive, seemingly instantaneous radical change to our circumstances (like the one we are currently living through). Possessors of the entrepreneurial spirit respond with a question: what new unmet needs are emerging and how can we help people to meet them? The solutions they imagine and produce may range from new ways to provide jobs to new ways to communicate and collaborate to new ways to provide safety and re-ignite confidence and energy. The judges of how accurate the entrepreneurs are in their imagination, design and production are customers. They declare their decision by buying or not buying and the entrepreneur moves on to improve or take a new direction. Entrepreneurs bring us dynamism with their adaptive responses to customer wants and needs and purchase decisions.
What is this entrepreneurial spirit? It’s an ethic, a commitment to serve others. John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods describes entrepreneurial business as “an expression of love in action”. Entrepreneurs are servants, who prioritize the needs of others”, says Mackey. They are following a heartfelt impulse to help.
And, although the term “entrepreneur” can sometimes be interpreted as implying a standout individual who leads a dynamic company by exercising her or his own charisma and leadership, Mackey writes that businesses “depend on interacting networks of actual people – engaging, refining, inventing, imagining, sharing, and building on one another’s work.”
All of us can adopt the entrepreneurial spirit, especially when we exercise it collaboratively with others in a team. That’s the entire concept of the economic principle of the division of labor. We all find and identify our own special contribution – the knowledge and skill that we alone possess and are capable of exercising on behalf of others – and then we deploy it in a joint effort with others towards the shared goal of serving customers, first producing collaboratively with others so that we can, later, consume individually based on our own preferences.
How do entrepreneurial team members contribute? Based on the personal resources they bring. There are unlimited ways. One point to note from John Mackey’s book Conscious Leadership is that IQ is not a good measure of contribution and we are wrong to try to measure it quantitatively. Focus on IQ and other measures of “intelligence” or educational achievement can obscure the “multiple kinds of personal competence” that individuals can bring to teams and productive networks.
Thus the cultivation of the entrepreneurial ethic is good for all individuals, good for collaborative production and innovation, good for family, friends and neighborhoods, and good for society. We should be elevating this ethic in the minds of our children and not permitting teachers’ unions and left-wing educational authorities and institutions to teach that capitalism is evil.