Aspirational Entrepreneurialism

Through your work, do you improve people’s lives?

Successful entrepreneurs are a wonderful sort of people: They create sustainable businesses that provide great places for wonderful people to earn a living for themselves and their loving families. They create and sell products, services, and experiences that people need or want. They care for their customers with a sense of gratefulness and humility, knowing that without them, none of it could exist.

These sorts of entrepreneurs are masters of the craft, and there isn’t a whole lot farther they can go. But if there is another level to reach, I’d call aspirational entrepreneurialism.

The aspirational entrepreneur does all that the successful entrepreneur does, plus something special: the company’s output improves people’s lives.

As our businesses grow, let’s remember that it’s not about selling more things, faster. We can, of course, do just that, and inso doing we can create a good place to work, give customers what they want at a price they can afford, and make some real money along the way. But if we aspire to something more – if we accept the challenge to improve people’s lives through our work – then we won’t have to wait until we sell the business to begin our philanthropic journey, because we’ll have been doing that very thing every day for as long as we’ve been on the entrepreneurial journey.

What is an entrepreneur’s most important skill?

I read recently that an entrepreneur’s most important skill was his or her ability to execute. Upon reading that, I immediately thought of all the exceptional entrepreneurs I know who (if left alone) couldn’t execute their way out of a paper bag.

Those entrepreneurs have different skills that seem to serve them well. Their most important one may be their ability to surround themselves with and motivate a group of people who can execute.

I like how Martin Luther King, Jr. put it:

If you want to move people it has to be toward a vision that’s positive for them. One that taps important values, that gets them something they desire. And it has to be presented in a compelling way that people feel inspired to follow.

Entrepreneurship is the launching of surprises

Many years ago, I read Kevin Kelly’s New Rules for the New Economy, and that got me thinking seriously about building an internet business. Since then, I’ve found that all sorts of interesting people seem to point me back to his website for some interesting thoughts about interesting things. After one such pointing, I checked out his collection of sourced quotes and spotted one from George Gilder (I used the quote as the title of this post) pointing to this article about entrepreneurs and the creation of wealth. The internet is pretty cool.

I regularly find myself attempting to and failing to explain the importance of entrepreneurship and how entrepreneur means something different than business person or capitalist. Well, yes, entrepreneurs are often business people and might even describe themselves as capitalists, but seldom is a capitalist or a business person an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are, in fact, very rare and getting rarer.

One day a couple years ago, I got annoyed by so many people describing themselves as entrepreneurs–feeling that it dilutes the value and meaning of the career–that I tried to wrap some definition around the phrase. I much prefer the way Gilder characterizes entrepreneurship. It’s more than simply making new stuff work; entrepreneurship is about enabling prosperity.

I love how he differentiates between wealth creation and wealth extraction. Some wonderful excerpts:

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