Many of us feel the pull of contributing to something “bigger than ourselves”. It could be a cause, a charity, a movement, a great project. It could be mentorship in a collaborative organization. Some people even claim that working for the government qualifies: representing (or regulating) the people.
But doing something “bigger than ourselves” does not have to be interpreted purely as a collectivist principle (sacrificing the rights of the individual for the common good), nor as altruism (living for others and not for oneself).
Almost 250 years ago, Adam Smith pointed out that it is not out of benevolence that the butcher, the brewer and the baker provide customers with dinner. Rather, it is out of self-interest. Which is an 18th century way of describing the entrepreneurial ethic of service.
Ethic of service
In an entrepreneurially driven market, customers – by buying or not buying, repeat purchasing or not, subscribing or not – determine what is produced. To be successful, businesses serve customers. They spend an enormous amount of time and money to understand customers and their preferences and needs, and expend all of their resources in an effort to meet those needs in the way that gains approval. Customers are rational seekers of betterment – they buy what will make their lives better, from their own perspective. They seek happiness. That’s what entrepreneurs deliver: better and happier lives.
The reward for utilizing today’s resources in ways that generate the greatest future improvement to society is profit. It is society’s way of pointing to where entrepreneurs should direct their best efforts. The ethic of service is sustained by reinvesting profit into more investments that benefit customers.
The epic calling of entrepreneurs is to join and accelerate this cycle of service, betterment, profit and reinvestment.
Ethic of Innovation
The market in which customers have all the power is highly dynamic. The genius of customers is to be never satisfied. Betterment is their goal, and betterment never stops. There is always something better in the future, and always a new entrepreneurial market entrant or new R&D team to design it and offer it.
The result of this dynamic is a continuous stream of innovation – new and better products, services, techniques, delivery systems, restaurants, food, payment systems, movies, TV’s, computers, smartphones, and V/R headsets. It’s better service at every store from the high street to the mall, and every dry cleaners and every nail salon and every gas station and repair shop, because innovation includes treating people better while serving them better. The dynamics of the market means that a customer who receives good service from any provider makes that the standard in judging all others. The momentum in the dynamic entrepreneurial economy is always forwards and upwards, towards betterment.
Ethic of digitization
Digitization brings rapid betterment at an ever-increasing pace. It’s exponential. Entrepreneurs both initiate this phenomenon and harness it. Entrepreneurs brought us the internet and websites and search engines and e-mail and online shopping. They made almost infinite amounts of information available to us – certainly much more than anyone can consume or use. The digital economy brings abundance, the opposite of scarcity, which is what economists have told us is the norm in markets. Under digital abundance, all choices are going to become richer and richer, the cost we pay for things we value is going to become lower and lower (irrespective of what governments do to their fiat money – amazon.com is going to offer more and more choices and deliver better and better quality at faster speeds whatever the state of the dollar; we may pay with a different currency).
Entrepreneurs employing digital means to serve customers better will operate in this new world, pursuing and exploring the digital challenge: what are the boundary conditions of higher quality at lower cost? How can they bring digital betterment to everyone in the world?
The emerging standard of digital betterment is that new services need to be 10X better than whatever is already in the marketplace in order to get customers to turn their heads, pay attention, and change from their current services, which are already excellent. The resultant compounding of improvement will rapidly elevate our life experiences.
And, in fact, digitization puts customers even more in charge – interactive technology brings more empowerment and control to customers than ever. We can compare prices more easily, benefit from the experiences of others who supply ratings and reviews, perform more tasks more quickly and easily, and orchestrate our own system of services and experiences in exactly the combinations we prefer. Customers will decide which digital providers they choose to allow into their lives. Only the best will qualify, and entrepreneurs will strive to be in that group.
Ethic of private property
It has been pointed out, most notably by Ludwig von Mises, that the entrepreneurial system requires acknowledgment and protection of private property to operate. Investors are free to invest in projects they judge to have the potential for high returns, founders are free to allocate their own time and resources to their innovative ideas, and customers are free to spend their own money on offerings that please them. This private property-based entrepreneurial system has brought the world increasing standards of living and quality of life for roughly 250 years, lifting billions out of poverty and squalor. Today’s entrepreneurs preserve that progress, despite the efforts of socialists to reverse it and replace private property with state ownership and bureaucratic control. No calling is higher.
Better world, better society
There is no shortage of pessimists who see the world through the lens of decline. Most of this is partisan politics, which is, indeed, descending to new lows. Some of it is politics combined with scientism (as in climate change fear). A good antidote to this pessimism is Hans Rosling’s book, Factfulness, which compiles hard data from impeccable world sources demonstrating the incredible, consistent and ongoing global progress in fields like life expectancy, child mortality, reduced incidence of poverty, growth in living standards, levels of education, elimination of disease and even reduced pollution.
Entrepreneurship makes all of these possible via positive thinking, ideation, innovation, organization, and analytics. But, beyond these functions, entrepreneurship is the dominant force for good in the world. Entrepreneurs are optimistic (because they see the opportunities for progress), polite (because they value relationships), collaborative (to make relationships productive), law-abiding (the wrong side of the law is unprofitable), non-violent (violence is also unprofitable), and civil (because community building contributes greatly to success).
In Yu-Kai Choi’s book Actionable Gamification, which is an insightful analysis of human values, Epic Meaning & Calling is the core drive that is in play when a person believes they are doing something greater than themselves. Entrepreneurs experience that calling. Whatever their individual firm, invention, project or initiative, they feel the higher calling of betterment, and they derive part of their psychic profit from responding to that calling. They feel different and special because of their role and their contribution.
And their contribution is, indeed, special. They are the drivers of the free market economy that raises everyone’s potential and attainment. They are the pillars of a collaborative culture of achievement and accomplishment. They are the creative catalysts of change. Society is better the greater the role and influence of entrepreneurs.
More of us should respond to the epic calling.