The Death of the Entrepreneurial Spirit
Where are all of the entrepreneurs? Where did they go? What happened to them? Has the entrepreneurial spirit faded into the history books?
One of my goals is to enable a resurgence of entrepreneurship. I want the number of small-business owners to increase dramatically over my lifetime because of my influence.
But, I have to wonder, what happened to the entrepreneurial spirit in the first place?
About 150 years ago, everyone was an entrepreneur. Sure, you had employees and employers, but most businesses were small businesses, and the number of entrepreneurs was possibly at an all-time high.
Then, in the early 1900s, Henry Ford introduced the world to the assembly line. The following years saw people migrating from rural areas to the city to be closer to their jobs.
The Risk of Ownership
When you own your own business, the risk falls squarely on your shoulders. As more and more people moved to cities and began working in factories, that business risk shifted from a lot of people to the hands of a few people.
And as the risks shifted, the responsibility shifted as well.
Opportunity < Security
Instead of taking the risk and responsibility of being a farmer, a craftsman, or store owner, and being the employer instead of the employee, men and women all over the country were willing to give up an opportunity for the sake of security.
See, as the business owner, if one of your products fails or doesn't sell, you lose revenue. Your bottom line is impacted, and your ability to pay your bills decreases. Conversely, if your product does sell, your ability to pay your bills increases and turns into an ability to save, invest, and become wealthy.
As a business owner, you take all of the risks, but you also have a chance at significantly higher earnings.
The Appeal of Being an Employee
So, when Henry Ford offered the chance to work in a factory and reduce or eliminate any risk, people jumped on it. Entrepreneurs who were once able to support their families with their businesses were now choosing to remove risk, work for someone else, and collect a paycheck.
100 years ago, working for someone else was a safe bet. You might not earn a lot, but you wouldn't lose a lot either. You might not have a lot of freedom or opportunity, but what you did have was virtually guaranteed.
And so the workforce went for the next 60 to 70 years.
The Need for Standardization
Over next few decades, the world experienced two major world wars and multiple regional conflicts. Maybe it was the need for consistency on a large-scale, but the small business was hurt even more during this time. After all, if you're going to buy 50,000 uniforms, machine guns, helmets, boots, and anything else an army of soldiers needs, you want to ensure a level of quality and consistency that might not be possible if you have to source from 200 different small businesses, each with their own processes and procedures.
Compliance > Innovation
Also during that time, as the demand for quality and consistently made products increased, the demand for compliant labor skyrocketed. No longer was it required for people to think outside the box. What was needed most was the ability to follow instruction, follow a recipe, and produce the desired result.
Ingenuity and creativity were less desired than reliability and predictability. What the marketplace needed in 1850, were not the same things the marketplace needed in 1950.
The World Gets Bigger
The 1930s gave us Kentucky Fried Chicken. The 1940s gave us McDonald's. The 60s, Taco Bell. And in the 1980s, we got On the Border and Outback Steakhouse.
As the popularity of TV, radio, cars, planes and mass transportation spread, the world got bigger. When soldiers came home from war and spread throughout the states, we experienced the rise of chain restaurants and franchised businesses. Travelers wanted to know they could get a quality burger, chicken wing, or burrito whether they were at home or visiting their cousin four states away.
And again, the small business suffered.
The World Gets Smaller
Then we got into the computer age. Companies with factories that made things evolved into businesses with call centers that sold things. With the birth of the internet, all of a sudden, we could communicate with and sell products to a person we'd never met or seen before. Factories that once required humans to run are now being run by machines and technology.
And that's where we've been for the past 30 years.
That's how long we've had the ability to make, create, connect, and do business on the internet. Yes, it's gotten faster. Yes, it's gotten more mobile. And, yes, it's gotten more powerful.
But we've had the same ability to do business for the past 30 years.
Millenials & The Death of the Entrepreneurial Spirit
Though I don't really consider myself one, I'm technically within the range of people who are classified as Millennials. Though those of us at the older end of the spectrum still remember days before AOL, we still suffer from the same problem as the younger members of our demographic.
Our entire lives have been laid out for us.
We've been told what to do, where to go, where and how to sit and stand, what to study, what to play (and what we couldn't play), and even what to think. In an attempt to give us a life that was better than theirs, our parents inadvertently removed all ability for us to think for ourselves. We were raised on chain restaurants (because they were consistent and easy) and expected to go to college so we could get a good job.
Millenials have been told to think outside the box but forced to work inside it. When you've been given a box to live in all of your life, it's very difficult to think outside of it. And, when you've been trained to play it safe for twenty years, it's hard to shake the habit.
Fuel Your Entrepreneurial Spirit!
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What Happened to the Entrepreneurial Spirit?
And this is where we find ourselves today. We have a generation of people entering the job force who've never had to work for anything, never had to compete or deal with a crushing loss, and who received participation trophies for showing up. While trying to create a “safe place,” we handicapped the bold and punished the go-getter.
But each of those things we weeded out of the Millenial generation are the things required to win in life and in business.
Entrepreneurs have to work for everything. They have to know how to compete, and the market won't give you its money just because you showed up. The entrepreneurial spirit empowers the bold and the go-getters, and they're the ones who take risks, make things happen, employ others, and change the world.
No One to Blame But Ourselves
Though I went to college so I could get a job, I have no one to blame but myself. The options available today were largely available in 2002 when I graduated from high school.
At several points in my life, I could have started my own business. I could have chosen to buck the trend, ignore the status quo, and try my own way. But I didn't.
I never considered myself an entrepreneur until I was over 30 years old. The entrepreneurial spirit was hidden inside, buried beneath 100 years of standardization, globalization, and fast food franchises.
Even when I was laid off though I hadn't done anything wrong, I didn't get it.
I didn't know any entrepreneurs. No one in my family had started a business before. And working in Corporate America was all I knew. Bouncing from one Fortune 500 company to another was the norm, and working hard for five days a week so you could chill on the weekend was expected.
The Easy Path
I took the easy path. I got a job, saved 10%, and minimized my risks. I fell for the false security of working for someone else, only to find out that my eggs were all in a single basket. Sure, that basket came with a new computer, a fancy monitor, a badge to swipe at the door and sometimes a nice salary. But, it was still one basket.
Finding My Entrepreneurial Spirit
In 2014, I was forced to face my entrepreneurial spirit. To either embrace it with open arms or turn a cold shoulder.
Fortunately, for me and my clients (and their clients), I chose to give my entrepreneurial spirit a big bear hug. I chose risk over the illusion of safety. And, though it was contrary to how I was raised, I started my own business. I joined the legions of entrepreneurs out there who've chosen to buck trends, forge new paths, and find their own way.
5 for 2
Unfortunately, there are still millions of people out there who trade 5 working days for 2 days of freedom, and who've ignored their entrepreneurial spirit.
I don't know when it died; I don't know when it was snuffed out for an entire generation. We can blame the system, the schools, or maybe even our parents.
But what I do know is that we have to find our inner entrepreneur again.
We have to learn to love competition. We need to learn to pick ourselves up after a loss. We must embrace the inner fire that grows from risk. And we have to create, collaborate, make things and move mountains if we want to change ourselves, our futures, and our world.
Do you think the entrepreneurial spirit is dead?