Critics, protesters, and activists often complain that the capitalist system is closed to non-elites, that the system is “rigged” so that those who already have capital are uniquely able to accumulate more capital, and those without are condemned to always being on the outside looking in.
The opposite is the true case. Markets are the most open system for anyone and everyone to raise their own standard of living by enhancing the quality of life of others, and getting paid for doing so. The name for this mechanism is entrepreneurship. Everybody can be an entrepreneur, and everyone can succeed at it. How so? Because the two essential skills of entrepreneurship are innate in every one of us.
The first is empathy. That means being able to sense when someone else is dissatisfied or disappointed. They wish things were better in some way. They might not be able to articulate precisely how, but they can communicate dissatisfaction to someone who is actually listening to them and paying attention. Dissatisfaction is everywhere; everyone wants things to be better. Dissatisfaction is the universal resource available to everyone who cares to tap into it. Where are there business opportunities? Just listen, you’ll find dissatisfaction – and therefore opportunities – everywhere.
The second skill is creativity. How can entrepreneurs solve a customer’s dissatisfaction in a new, better, and compelling way? They think of something that no-one has thought of before. They imagine putting together components in a combination that no-one else has tried. They make a suggestion, and see what kind of a response they get. They run some experiments to gain some more information about what might work commercially. Creativity is innate in all people. We’re all unique, we all think differently, we all have ideas that no-one else has.
So far, so good, you might say. But aren’t a lot of people barred from implementing their business ideas by a lack of – and lack of access to – resources? That’s the wrong way to think. The right way is to assess the resources you do have. Professor Saras Sarasvathy calls this the “bird in the hand” approach. Don’t focus on resources you wish you had. Focus on the resources you do have. In a paper called “What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial?”, she tells the story of the start-up of U-Haul, a company that today generates over $US4 billion in revenues. Founder Leonard Shoen didn’t have enough resources for a down payment on a house for him and his new wife – and, in fact, he realized that it would have trapped him if he did so. He started a life as a nomad, moving around between in-laws, hauling the family’s goods around in a trailer he made himself. Realizing this might be a market, he found a farm outhouse where he could live and assemble trailers from available materials. With a lot of scrambling and experimenting and partnering and hard work, the U-Haul business was eventually established and stabilized.
Shoen had no business plan. He was never “in control” in any way. He epitomizes an entrepreneurial type that believes that it is impossible to predict or control future outcomes, but it is possible to shape those outcomes. The most productive approach is to take action – whatever action is possible – to shape the yet-to-be-made future.
Who can do this? Anyone. One of the tropes we are required to deal with today is that access to opportunity is restricted – by class, or race, or income level or wealth level or education level or gender or some other individual attribute that is viewed as restricting entry. This is simply not the case. Take, for example, Mauricio Miller, who runs the Community Independence Initiative. This initiative works to unleash entrepreneurship in individuals, families, and groups in some of the poorest parts of the world. Is it a charity? No. Does it help people? Not in the way you might think. In fact, Mauricio believes that trying to help people with charity or training or contributions is exactly the wrong thing to do. Empowering them to think like entrepreneurs is the right thing to do.
stories, data, and research shows that the paternalism of charity slows progress and promotes racial stereotypes. It is actually a barrier to its own mission. A focus on weaknesses hides indigenous talent and potential. There are embedded solutions and leaders in the very communities these experts seek to help. If, instead, outsider efforts focused on the strengths of low-income families we would all see they are important contributors to societyhttps://www.ciialternative.org
Mauricio emphasizes indigenous talent and potential. Dale Caldwell, who runs the Entrepreneur Zones program for deprived families in distressed inner cities in the US, likes to cite the historical example of the so-called Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK. In the pre-World War II era, in the Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, segregated African-Americans co-operated with each other to develop a thriving economic community, providing transportation services, hospitality, professional services, construction services, retailing, and manufacturing in the context of the burgeoning oil industry of the times.
There is no shortage of examples of individuals, families and communities who have carved their own path to prosperity through entrepreneurship. Today’s entrepreneurship is an open method, one based on action rather than resources, and defined by possibilities rather than by existing markets or industries. Adaptiveness and fluidity provide the dynamics.
Nothing is closed to aspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is the fairest system there is. It’s open to everyone in every family, community, town, city and country. It requires ideas and action more than resources. This ideas and actions attractresources, because people want to support – and invest in – the dynamics of entrepreneurship and the who apply them.
Entrepreneurship is collaborative, characterized by mutual support among fellow-entrepreneurs, supply chain partners, and customers. Entrepreneurs operate in a value generation network that’s open to anyone in the systemic drive to serve everyone.