Issue: March/April 2012
It’s Entrepreneurs, Stupid
It sounds simple, but, as a nation, we’ve forgotten that kindling a culture of entrepreneurship creates jobs.
When Bill Clinton unseated President George Bush with the words, “It’s the economy, stupid,” he couldn’t have possibly imagined how right history would prove him to be. I haven’t heard a saying used more often in the last five years.
Because it’s so true, it makes you sound very intelligent when you say it.
But the maxim actually explains the problem, not the solution. And since America has yet to answer the economic riddle, I would like to give my country a saying that captures the solution: “It’s entrepreneurs, stupid.”
There is nothing as frustrating as seeing my government wrestle with an issue to which it has part of the solution but not the whole. Like horseshoes, close doesn’t count when it comes to solving problems, especially serious problems.
The problem is that our economy needs fixing. We have had to re-learn it runs on jobs. It is a lesson we never should have
Everyone understands that America needs to create more jobs. However, saying this is only one-third of the solution.
Although there are still politicians and protesters who believe businesses have an obligation to hire people because they are hoarding unseemly profits, the people I know understand the relationship between growth companies and job creation: growth companies create jobs, no-growth companies do not. Understanding that growth companies create jobs gets us two-thirds of the way to the solution.
More and more people — even politicians — are beginning to grasp that growth companies grow jobs. What is puzzling is the lack of understanding about the third part of the solution: Who creates the growth companies that create the jobs? It is, of course, entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs have made America what it is today. In Walter Isaacson’s revealing book on Steve Jobs, Isaacson places Jobs in the company of America’s greatest entrepreneurs: Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. It is the highest compliment Isaacson can bestow on Jobs.
Peter Drucker, who in 1985 wrote a book titled Innovation and Entrepreneurship, proposed America end its 100-year-run as a modern welfare state and become “a society of entrepreneurs.” Drucker struggled in trying to define the common traits of entrepreneurs, but he didn’t struggle in knowing one when he saw one. He spent most of his book singing the praises of Walt Disney, Ray Kroc of McDonald’s, Tom Watson of IBM, Henry Luce of Time and many more, including Edison and Ford.
If we know entrepreneurs have gotten America to where it is today, why are we unsure of who will take us where we want to go tomorrow? Why haven’t we done more to acknowledge the role of entrepreneurs in America’s success? Why haven’t we done more to create what was obvious to Drucker in 1985? Clearly, the United States needs a culture of entrepreneurship.
My best guess is that it is the same problem we have had all along in understanding our great entrepreneurs, whether they are Steve Jobs, Walt Disney or Henry Ford. We have not yet invented a machine that can measure passion, determination, persistence and creativity.
If Americans can’t organize it, measure it, teach it, grow it and socialize it in some orderly fashion, we don’t want anything to do with it.
Would you let some guy in jeans and no shoes pitch you on a billion-dollar idea? Honestly, I probably wouldn’t.
But if I understood that most entrepreneurs are college dropouts bent on big ideas and not social graces — people such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg — I would hope I’d be more attentive.
Since entrepreneurs are hard to spot until they succeed, it is the spirit of entrepreneurship we need to rekindle.
We have known for 200 years that entrepreneurs have grown our economy. With the amazing results our latest batch of entrepreneurs are achieving, maybe we will return to what we have always been: a nation, first and foremost, of entrepreneurs.
If we ever need reminding of what the entrepreneurial spirit is all about, we can read and re-read the opening words from Isaacson’s book on Jobs. They are from Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” commercial: “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
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