I watched The Big Short (finally) on Friday evening with my wife, Rachel. I had read the book and just hadn’t been able to find the time in 2015 to see many movies in the theatres besides Star Wars, which my boys forced me to see on opening night with all the initiated, most of whom were dressed as characters from A New Hope. But I was finally presented with a free date night and Rachel and I Amazon’d and Chilled with The Big Short.
While watching the movie I was once again, with deeper understanding, reminded of why I’m doing this work. More on that shortly…
On Thursday, I was part of a CEO roundtable event held by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. It was a sold out event for young professionals who wanted to have a conversation with CEOs to ask some questions, make connections and maybe gain a bit of wisdom. My conversations mostly focused on entrepreneurship, as usual. One of the conversations leaned in the direction of the consistent nature vs. nurture debate around entrepreneurship. Even amongst millennials, the idea persists that entrepreneurship is something people are born to be and cannot be taught (Often espoused by those who grew up in a household with parents who were entrepreneurs).
Perhaps it is foolish, but I simply do not subscribe to this idea.
The odds of become a professional and successful entrepreneur in America greatly outnumber the chances that one has of becoming a professional athlete in any (and probably all combined) sports. And yet that doesn’t stop countless little leagues, development programs, camps and academies from operation, dedicated to the development of young people into professional athletes. It is a massive industry. And even with the odds of becoming a professional athlete being so incredibly low for those enrolled in this industry, it is not the conventional belief that professional athletes are just born that way. Almost all of us will admit that it is a great deal of commitment, training and investment in these people that gets them to that elite level of performance.
I believe that this conventional thinking about entrepreneurs being born with a special kind of brilliance and risk tolerance not accessible to most is not much different than the superiority exuded by the investment banking world, which only ended up destroying the middle class in 2008 when the subprime mortgage crash occurred. Some have called the greater phenomena that created this concept “Market Fundamentalism”, which essentially places a strong belief on free-market policies to work to the benefit of the economy and society.
It was this kind of thinking that led to the scenario retold in the Big Short. The entire world trusting the chosen few with the ability to understand economics and securities to make good decisions that would be in the best interest of the economy and our society. It cannot be debated that the banks failed and that these elite were not just wrong, but likely knowingly fraudulent.
Carrying this situation over to entrepreneurship, there is a significant comparison to note. It is impossible to disconnect the relationship between accumulated wealth in America and entrepreneurship. And this wealth is generationally maintained in many instances. And thus, when we lean towards saying entrepreneurship is something people are born as, we also are saying that the subsequent wealth that comes from it is in some way predetermined. This is not unprecedented… we have a history of such notions in America dating back to Manifest Destiny.
Having two children in high school, I can confirm that the American educational system is not geared to teach children about the fundamentals of business. People cannot be skilled in business if they are not taught the fundamentals, just like sports. Without knowledge of the fundamentals, many of us look at those who seemingly magically operate businesses and assess how much of a risk it would be for us to attempt to do the same. Thus, the prevailing idea that being an entrepreneur is incredibly risky and only some people have what it takes to do it.
We have to stop this. We have to teach these fundamentals. We have to expose entrepreneurship more widely. Just as it was dangerous to remain ignorant to what big investment banks were doing, in a society controlled by the wealthy (campaign finance, access to quality education, lobbying etc.), we must seek to democratize access to wealth generating opportunity by teaching and encouraging entrepreneurship. Let’s not succumb to Entrepreneur Fundamentalism.
To what you can be… and the grind,