Employers compete for employees; Industries compete for entrepreneurs

Many great companies offer some pretty compelling enticements to join their teams. For a long time, we’ve seen perks like great health benefits, team happy hours, and lunches or breakfasts. More recently, employers have started offering unlimited vacation and 20% time. The trend is toward treating employees like creative, responsible adults. This is great, and I hope to see it continue.

Why is this happening? Speaking personally, we seek to offer this sort of work environment at GuildQuality because I want the people in my life to be in constant pursuit of self-actualization. Entrepreneurs seek to make the world into their image of how it should be, so those who value freedom and respect responsibility seek to bring freedom and responsibility to their workplaces.

But that’s not the only reason. More practically, businesses need great people, and great people want to work in great environments, on great projects, with other great people, where they feel they’re having a great impact. As a result, businesses compete for employees by creating as positive a work environment as possible.

Entrepreneurs, for all their quirks, aren’t so different from employees. They, too, want freedom. They want to work with great people. They want have a positive impact. They want to spend as little time as possible on administrivia and bureaucracy. They want to spend as much time as possible being creative and bringing their ideas to life.

Imagine, then, that industries are like employers for entrepreneurs. The best employees are selectively choosing where they’ll work. They ask themselves questions like,

Where will I have the freedom to be creative?

Where will I be rewarded?

Where will I get to work with wonderful people?

Where will I be able to have an impact?

And where do people want to work now? The internet. And why? Because they have no restrictions on their freedom or opportunity.

Unfortunately, we can’t eat the internet. The internet can’t heal us, nor can it shelter us from the elements. So if we’d like to start seeing real innovation — like the kind Tyler Cowen argues we’ve lost in The Great Stagnation — then as a culture, we have two choices:

1) We could aggressively regulate and corporatize the internet, so that all the profits from that industry would concentrate among only a few really big businesses, and all the time spent being creative and innovating would be consumed by time spent prostrating before bureaucrats for permission and favors. That would make entering the internet industry as distasteful a prospect as it is for other industries, thereby pushing more talented people toward industries that feed, heal, or shelter people.

2) We could strip the drag from the other industries.

Imagine what the built environment would look like if technology’s greatest entrepreneurs pursued a career in real estate development. They wouldn’t, of course, because this is too common a story.

Can you imagine people like Sergey, Larry, Steve, and Bill suffering impediments to their creativity? Of course not. As a result, we can’t dwell in the neighborhoods and homes they build. Nor can we be healed by the procedures they invent, or eat the foods they grow or serve.

“He who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me”

Thomas Jefferson had some specific thoughts about the unnaturalness of intellectual property:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

Unfortunately, modern politicians disagree with TJ. Only last week, I had naively suggested the state couldn’t figure out how to drive innovators away from the Internet. I was wrong:

There is, however, an influential group of people that rejoices at the passing of this type of legislation.